University of Southern California (USC) – Acceptance Rate, GPA, and Requirements

Located in Los Angeles, California, the University of Southern California was established in 1880. As the state’s oldest research institution, the school has a long and proud history of excellence.

Over the years, it has graduated 11 Rhodes scholars and 12 Marshall scholars, and 29 of its graduates have become billionaires.

Additionally, the school counts ten Nobel laurates, six MacArthur Fellows, and a Turing Award winner among its graduates and faculty. 

USC was a crucial part of developing the internet, as it serves as the birthplace of the Domain Name System. Other technology advancements stemming from USC include antivirus software and image compression.

Thanks to these achievements, USC has received praise from several observing outlets. ranks USC at number one on its lists of Best Colleges for Design in America, 

Colleges with the Best Student Life in America, and Best Big Colleges in America. Even better, U.S. News & World Report puts USC at #27 on its list of National Universities.

Simply put, USC is one of the best schools in the United States.

But what does it take to get accepted into the school? Find out more about USC’s acceptance rate, requirements, grades, rankings, and more.

University of Southern California Acceptance Rate

University of Southern California
EEJCC, Waite Phillips Hall, University of Southern California, CC BY-SA 4.0

As one of the best schools in the state of California, the University of Southern California is a popular destination for the best students in the Golden State. 

For the 2021 academic year alone, 70,000 hopefuls applied to study at USC. The school sent offers of admission to 8,400 of them for an acceptance rate of 12%.

To be sure, that’s a very low acceptance rate. But it isn’t out of line of other schools of USC’s caliber. 

The school’s closest rival, the University of California at Los Angeles, admitted 15,602 students out of 108,877 applicants, giving them an acceptance rate of 14%.

Still, just because USC has an acceptance rate as low as other schools of similar quality doesn’t mean that it’s easy to make it in. Out of every ten students, at most two will be accepted, and usually only one will make it through. Most observers consider USC to be a very competitive institution.

That’s a demanding standard to meet, but there are benefits to such a high standard. 

For one, the more elite a school is, the higher prestige it carries. Furthermore, when a school has high admission standards, only the best students get in, allowing everyone to bring out the best in one another.

University of Southern California GPA

Although the school does not have a minimum GPA requirement, USC wants students who rank in the top 10% of their class. To keep in line with that standard, students should try to have a GPA of at least 3.79, if not better.

That kind of grade can only be earned by mainly getting A’s in high school classes. Achieving high grades in AP or IB courses will only improve your chances, especially in courses that relate to your major. 

While occasional B’s will not greatly harm your chances, those lower grades should only come in courses outside your major.

Still, it’s important to remember that grades aren’t just an indication of a student’s intelligence, but also of their ability to do well in college. 

If a student earns good grades in high school, then they can clearly handle the demands of higher education. For top schools like USC, these grades assure the University that their new first-year students can keep up with expectations.

That said, it’s essential to keep in mind that grades aren’t the only thing that USC looks at when considering admission. 

The school wants not only dedicated and intelligent learners in their student body but also well-rounded people with much to offer to others. Grades are only part of that equation.

University of Southern California SAT & ACT Requirements

USC Aquatics Center
Spatms, Uytengsu Aquatics Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

At the University of Southern California, students are not required to submit their scores on standardized tests. However, they certainly can include standardized test scores as part of their applications.

That might sound strange to people who think of standardized tests as an unnecessary distraction, an extra annoyance that teachers make students run through in high school. 

However, tests such as the SAT and the ACT can be great indicators of a potential student’s aptitude for higher learning.

In fact, about 42% of accepted students submit their ACT scores to USC. Out of that group, they tend to score between a 31 and a 34 overall

That score breaks down between 32 and 35 in the English portion of the ACT and between 28-34 in the math portions.

SAT scores are more common among USC students, with 62% submitting their scores in their applications. Out of that group, the scores tended to range between 1360 and 1530. Students scored between 670 and 740 on the reading portion of the test and between 690 and 790 on the math portion.

Again, USC does not require any applicants to submit their standardized test scores. But as these numbers indicate, scores can significantly enhance an application, especially when compensating for shortcomings in other areas, such as GPA.

With excellent standardized test scores, applicants can show the admissions committee that they belong at USC, even with lower high school grades.

Other Requirements and Admission Tips for USC

While grades and test scores are certainly important, they are just part of USC’s application process. Students must complete a few more steps to fully apply.

One of the most critical parts of the process is completing the common application. The common application records a student’s basic information, including address and high school information. 

By using a common application, students do not need to submit new information for each potential college.

Additionally, USC asks students for most programs to submit at least one letter of application (however, those applying to the School of Cinematic Arts must submit two letters). 

Letters of recommendation serve as a type of introduction on your behalf, through which the recommender describes your abilities as a student.

According to USC policies, the main letter should come from either a high school counselor or a teacher at your school. You may consider a personal reference for your secondary letters, such as a respected social figure or a religious leader.

Whichever people you decide to go with, your recommenders must be those who can best vouch for you. That means the letter writers should know you well and should have a level of respect from the university.

Additionally, USC requires those applying to certain majors, such as art or design, to submit a portfolio. In some cases, applicants will also have to perform an audition. These extra elements are all part of the application process.

Although some programs, such as the School of Cinematic Arts and most music programs, require all application materials sent in by December 1st, applications for the large majority of majors are due by January 15th each year.

Essays for USC

As with most schools, USC allows students to impress admissions counselors with supplemental essays. Students may write two essays of 250 words each, written according to paragraph-long prompts provided by the school.

For the 2021-2022 school, the prompts provided by USC focus on issues such as diversity, interdisciplinary studies, and the applicant’s personal qualities. 

These essays help admission counselors better understand the applicant’s personality, which helps them plan for a better student body.

Because these supplemental essays are based on an applicant’s personal characteristics, no one set of right or wrong answers exists. However, there are techniques a student can use to improve their chances.

Because students are limited to 250-word answers, they must learn to be both clear and concise. 

One of the best ways to make a strong argument is to use concrete details. Instead of using empty and common phrases like “In today’s world,” try to be more specific, saying something like “When I entered high school in 2018…”

Using the more direct phrase and active voice sentences also strengthens a piece of writing. To achieve the latter, use strong and active verbs instead of using “is” or “are.”

Following these tips won’t guarantee admission into USC, but they will ensure a more striking essay.

Is University of Southern California Right for You?

Without question, the University of Southern California is one of the best schools in the nation. Many of its programs have earned the respect of the world, including the School of Cinematic Arts, which counts among its graduates influential directors like Judd Apatow and Ryan Coogler.

Even better, USC boasts a vibrant social life, full of exciting offerings. In keeping with its strong film and television program, the school has many student-run outlets, such as the radio station KXSC and the newspaper, the Daily Trojan.

These and other aspects make USC an excellent choice for many students, especially those who plan on entering the entertainment business or have a love of sports. 

Located in Los Angeles, with connections to film and television studios, USC can give students a link to their future careers. And with several heralded athletic programs, the school is a delight to any sports fan.

That said, it’s important to remember that USC is not the cheapest school in the state. Yearly tuition for undergrads is $60,275 a year, nearly twice as much as its Los Angeles neighbor UCLA.

But with so many positives, that rate is no cost at all for a student who wants to study at one of California’s top universities.