USC Vs. UCLA – Which School is Better?

When it comes to great college rivalries, few are as deep-seated and intense as the one between the University of Southern California and the University of California – Los Angeles. 

It’s easy to see why the two schools dislike each other. Both are located in Los Angeles, and they both have proud records of academic achievement, successful alumni, and legendary sports teams. 

USC was the first on the scene, opening its doors in 1880, making it the oldest research university in the state. UCLA came nearly forty years later, starting in 1919 as the Southern Branch of the University of California. 

UCLA is one of a select group known as the Public Ivies, public schools with an academic reputation equal to that of Harvard, Princeton, and other private Ivy League schools. 

In its over 100 years of existence, UCLA has been associated with 27 winners of the Nobel Prize, five winners of the Turing Award, and numerous other leaders in government, business, and academics. 

Big brother USC has its own proud history. Its alumni include 11 Rhodes scholars and 12 Marshall scholars. Among its faculty and graduates are 10 Nobel laurates, six MacArthur Fellows, and a winner of the Turing Award. 

USC is known for excellence in business and technology, as 29 of its graduates have gone on to become billionaires. The school has deep ties to the birth of the internet, as the Domain Name System was developed at USC, as was DNA computing, antivirus software, image compression, and more. 

It’s clear that both schools have much to be proud of. But which is the best choice for you? 

Academic Requirements for Admission

University of Southern California
EEJCC, Bovard Auditorium at dusk, University of Southern California, CC BY-SA 4.0

Because of their similarities, it should come as no surprise that both UCLA and USC demand the best in their incoming first-year students. 

UCLA looks at several factors when deciding to offer admission to an applicant, including personal qualities and contributions to the school’s culture. But the most critical aspect is your academic record. 

Although the school’s website only lists the standard course of study expected of any college-bound student, admissions statistics indicate that UCLA only takes the best of the best. 

On average, students entering the school have a 3.9 GPA, a 1405 SAT score, and a 31 ACT score. Furthermore, the school prefers those who earn those grades in the most challenging classes in their intended field, especially AG and honors courses. 

That said, UCLA does also takes into account personal qualities. The school requires applicants to write an essay answering “personal insight questions.” 

These questions seek to better understand the student’s unique life experience and perspective, so admission counselors can better understand what the student offers the school. 

USC asks for similar materials, with slightly different average numbers. 

Like UCLA, USC wants students who fall within the top 10% of their class and score within the top 5% on standardized tests. On average, that means that students entering the school have a 3.79 GPA, 1440 on the SAT, and a 32 on the ACT. 

That said, USC insists that it does not judge students according to a formula and that it looks even more closely at personal qualities. The school requires that applicants submit letters of application and a personal essay, which gives students with lower grades an opportunity to make their case for admission. 

In short, while both schools do look for students with the right histories and personal experiences, they also have the highest academic standards for their applicants. 

USC Vs. UCLA – Rankings, Acceptance Rates, and More

Alboychenko08, UCLA lawn, CC BY-SA 4.0

Although USC slightly edges out UCLA in acceptance rate, both schools are considered highly selective. 

In 2020, 108,877 people applied to UCLA, and 15,602 were admitted, for an acceptance rate of 14%

For the 2021 academic year, USC had an acceptance rate of 12%. They received approximately 70,000 applicants and admitted only 8,400. 

So while UCLA has the higher acceptance rate, it’s essential to keep in mind that far more people applied to that school than did those for USC. So while a higher percentage was accepted to UCLA, a larger raw number was rejected from that school than were from its rival across town. 

Both of these schools are so exclusive and so popular because they rank high on scales provided by observing outlets. gives both schools an A+ rating. UCLA gets the number one spot in the site’s lists of Best College Campuses in America, Best College Food in America, and Top Public Universities in America. The same site puts USC at number one on its lists of Colleges with the Best Student Life in America, Best Colleges for Design in America, and Best Big Colleges in America.

Washington Monthly takes a different approach to ranking schools, rating them according to social mobility, research, and public service. UCLA gets the decisive win on that list, taking the 22 spot and USC coming in at 95th place.  

Out of all ranking outlets, none are respected as much as U.S. News & World Report. Once again, UCLA is the overall winner, placed at #20 in the National Universities list, ahead of USC at #27

But the site’s specialized lists let the two schools stand apart from one another better. 

U.S. News lists UCLA as the 5th best college in the nation for veterans and at 1st place on its list of top public universities. USC is listed as #1 in the field of game/simulation development, #7 in Real Estate Marketing, and #9 in Accounting. 

As these numbers show, both schools are respected, and both are highly competitive. 

Sports Programs – Which School Is Better Throughout History?

Given the academic competition between the two schools, it should come as no surprise that UCLA and USC have proud athletic traditions. Both part of the NCAA Division I Pac-12 Conference, the two teams have met and battled numerous times throughout their history. 

Overall, the USC Trojans have won 107 NCAA team championships. Its men’s program has won 97 national men’s team championships, more than any other school in the nation. 

The basketball team has made 15 appearances in the NCAA tournament, reaching the final four twice, and the football team has won 11 national championships

In women’s sports, USC has won 27 national team championships and 64 individual NCAA championships. Two Women of Troy athletes have received the award for collegiate athlete of the year, and eight have won the Honda Award for the top athlete in their sport. 

For its part, the UCLA Bruins have won 119 NCAA team championships, more than any other school outside of Stanford. 

The men’s basketball team has won the national championship 11 times, while the women’s softball team has won 12 titles. Although the football team has won several division and conference championships, it only took the national championship one time, in 1954. 

Those are close numbers, so the only natural way to tell the difference is to look at the contests between the two schools. 

Each year, the Crosstown Cup goes to the school that wins the most in the 19 sports in which they both compete. Since the two started playing for the cup in 2001, USC has won 13 times, and UCLA has won 7 times. 

When it comes down to it, USC is the clear winner over UCLA in athletic history. 

Deciding Whether to Go to UCLA or USC

Beyond My Ken, UCLA Royce Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

If acceptance rates, admissions requirements, and sports records can’t help you decide on the school for you, then there are a few other things you can look at. 

If you’ve come to Los Angeles to enter show business, then USC is could be a solid choice. 

The School of Cinematic Arts is one of the most respected film and performing arts schools in the country. Its graduates include Judd Apatow, Ryan Coogler, John Singleton, and other leaders in film, television, animation. 

That being said, UCLA’s School of Film, Theatre, and Television is among the highest-ranked worldwide.

For those planning to continue their studies past undergrad, UCLA boasts some of the nation’s top programs, including the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

At USC, you can enjoy a vibrant student life, with longstanding traditions and oddities. The school features several student-run media outlets, including the newspaper The Daily Trojan and the radio station KXSC. The annual KXSC fest brings in the best in indie and alternative acts. 

Traditions at UCLA include the Midnight Yell, in which students get together during Finals Week to blow off steam by yelling at Midnight. 

On the other end of the spectrum, students operate the UniCamp each year for underserved children. In the annual LA Hacks competition, students raise money for charity and show off their skills for some of the biggest names in tech. 

But the most critical factor might just be the money. For California residents, USC tuition is $60,275 a year. UCLA is much cheaper for those same California residents, charging only $36,297 a year

Which School Is Better – USC or UCLA?

University of Southern California
Sitao Xiang, USC VKC building, CC BY-SA 4.0

As you can see, both USC and UCLA are excellent institutions. 

Both offer the best possible academic experience, not just in Los Angeles, but in the entire United States. The graduates of both schools have gone on to win the highest awards in the nation and are recognized as leaders in the field. 

But which school is the best? If this article has proven anything, it’s that there is no hard and fast answer to that question. 

So instead, we need to revise the question: which is the better school for you

If you plan to go into show business or have a love of college sports, then USC may be the better choice. The entertainment connections are second-to-none, and the Trojans have a history of dominating their opponents. Sure, it costs more, but that might be worth it for you. 

On the other hand, UCLA is the better choice for the serious scholar who wants to follow the academic track. Professors at UCLA include the world’s most effective innovators and tend to be ranked higher on most scales. 

Whichever choice you make, you should know that it won’t be easy. Both schools demand the best out of students and only offer admission to those with the highest possible grades. 

Simply put, there’s no one clear choice. If you have the grades and the desire, you’ll be proud to study at either school, whether you’re wearing the blue and gold of the Bruins or the Trojans’ cardinal and gold. 

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