USC Supplemental Essays 2023-24 Prompts and Tips

September 1, 2023

usc supplemental essays prompts

When applying to a school like the University of Southern California, it is important to grasp that their acceptance rate in 2023 is lower than Harvard’s back in the late 1990s. Last cycle, USC received roughly 80,000 applications and admitted just 9% from that pool (their first time in the single digits). We don’t bring up these numbers or the Friends-era Harvard comparison to cause future applicants unnecessary fear. Rather, we want aspiring Trojans to realize that in addition to strong high school grades and standardized test scores, they need to excel in other critical areas of their application as well. This brings us to the topic of the USC supplemental essays.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into the University of Southern California? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into USC: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

The supplemental essay section offered by USC is a fairly epic one and presents just such an opportunity for students to differentiate themselves from swarms of other qualified applicants. In addition to several short essays, you are also required to answer 10 short answer questions. Below are the USC’s supplemental prompts for the 2023-24 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one.

2023-24 USC Supplemental Essays – Required Prompt #1

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (Approximately 250 words)

This is part “Why Us?” and part “Explain Your Major” and your aim is to seamlessly touch on both topics in a tightly woven 250-word composition. For a deeper dive, let’s examine a list of characteristics of a winning USC “Why Us?” essay:

In any “Why Us?” composition, you need to show that you’ve done your homework on a given school, but you don’t want it to read like a robotic list of items that you Googled ten minutes before writing the essay (even if the timing of the Google search is roughly accurate). In addition to the pure research element, a lot of the time and skill required in creating a stellar USC essay will involve connecting the classes, professors, opportunities, etc. of interest that you have uncovered to your distinct values, talents, aims, proficiencies, and future goals.

USC Supplemental Essays – Short Answers

(#1 provides 25 characters for each word, and #2-10 provide 100 characters each)

  1. Describe yourself in three words.
  2. What is your favorite snack?
  3. Best movie of all time
  4. Dream job
  5. If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
  6. Dream trip
  7. What TV show will you binge watch next?
  8. Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
  9. Favorite book
  10. If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

USC Supplemental Essays (Continued)

It would be a bit silly to try to advise you on what your favorite snack is. Obviously, the USC admissions committee wants to hear “Pepperoni Pizza Combos” but will also accept “Ranch-flavored Bugles.” As such, we’ll keep our advice on these a bit broader:

  • This is a chance to make a personal connection with an admissions officer. Don’t overthink these or pick movies, books, songs, or trips that you think an admissions officer will find impressive. Just be genuine.
  • For #1, try to avoid words like “interesting” that are…well, not very interesting, or words that could describe most of USC’s applicant pool, like “hard-working” or “dedicated.”
  • For #10, don’t pick a general topic in a traditional discipline. Instead, pick something about which you are passionate. This could be a blend of pop culture and academics or a highly esoteric topic that you happen to be obsessed with (e.g., the Beatles 1965-67 mid-career era, the history of jai-alai, or how to groom a ferret).
  • You have 100 characters to utilize, so do include some short explanations that infuse your answers with extra personality. For example, you could jazz up Ranch-flavored Bugles as follows: “Ranch-flavored Bugles, me and my mom’s go-to Jeopardy snack.”
  • Final tip: if you feel stuck, try brainstorming a few options for each one before choosing your favorite.

USC Supplemental Essays – School-Specific Prompts

In addition to the required essays noted above, you’ll also need to answer at least one additional essay question that is dependent on the school or college you are applying to at USC. Below, we’ve broken down the most popular options:

Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Many of us have at least one issue or passion that we care deeply about – a topic on which we would love to share our opinions and insights in hopes of sparking intense interest and continued conversation. If you had ten minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your talk be about? (250 words)

What makes you tick? What keeps you up at night? Which subjects could (and do) you talk about for hours if given the opportunity? If you could address one problem in the world, large or small, what would it be? Here’s your chance to tell us all about it. You’ll then want to explain “why”—why will (or should) your passion/topic of choice be made relevant to a wider audience? Why is it so important that others hear your message? Your answer will give admissions readers greater insight into what type of issues are most important to you.

Viterbi School of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and their 14 Grand Challenges go hand-in-hand with our vision to engineer a better world for all humanity. Engineers and computer scientists are challenged to solve these problems in order to improve life on the planet. Learn more about the NAE Grand Challenges at and tell us which challenge is most important to you, and why. (250 words)

The NAE Grand Challenges list is expansive and includes a number of pressing issues, like clean water access, solar energy, and nuclear terrorism. Basically, you are 100% guaranteed to find at least one item on this list that resonates with you. After reviewing the options, which one are you most passionate about, and why? Is there something from your personal background or experiences that inspired your interest in this area? Alternatively, have you engaged with this topic either inside or outside of school, and if so, how? What would you still like to learn about it? If you choose an issue that you are genuinely interested in and clearly convey your reasoning for doing so, you’ll be well on your way to a compelling response.

USC Supplemental Essays (Continued)

The student body at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering is a diverse group of unique engineers and computer scientists who work together to engineer a better world for all humanity. Describe how your contributions to the USC Viterbi student body may be distinct from others. Please feel free to touch on any part of your background, traits, skills, experiences, challenges, and/or personality in helping us better understand you. (250 words)

Take note of the wide-open nature of this prompt. You are essentially invited to talk about any of the following topics:

  1. A perspective you hold
  2. An experience/challenge you had
  3. A community you belong to
  4. Your cultural background
  5. Your family background
  6. A personality trait
  7. A skill you hold

Although this prompt’s open floor plan may feel daunting, a good tactic is to first consider what has already been communicated within your Common App personal statement, activities list, and other USC essays. What important aspects of yourself have not been shared (or sufficiently discussed)? The admissions officer reading your essay is hoping to connect with you through your written words, so—within your essay’s reflection—be open, humble, thoughtful, inquisitive, emotionally honest, mature, and/or insightful about what you learned and how you grew. No matter what type of story you tell, the goal is to have the reader come away saying, “I can definitely see this applicant as a contributing member of our talented and engaged Viterbi community.”

How important are the USC supplemental essays?

There are five factors that USC considers to be “very important” to their candidate evaluation process and the essay section is one of them. Along with GPA, standardized test scores, rigor of high school coursework, and recommendations, the Common App and supplement essays play a huge role in the USC admissions staff’s decision-making.

Want personalized assistance?

Lastly, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your USC supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote today.