essay prompts

What Are the New USC Essay Prompts?

After several years with the same Common Application supplemental questions, the University of Southern California has decided to change things up—just a little. Instead of asking you to expand on an extracurricular activity, USC now poses the following 250-word limit prompts for you to choose from:

Option A: USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view.

The USC admission staff is dedicated to building a diverse community and they know that, with diversity, come a lot of different opinions and life experiences. This essay prompt is your chance to show them you will enter college with an open mind and receptivity to the ideas and beliefs of others.

Option B: Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

USC not only encourages but expects students to explore areas unrelated to their majors. An engineer who wants to take a ballet class? Great. A poet who wants to learn to develop apps? Wonderful. The more unlikely the combination of interests, the better! So don’t hold back, even if you’re that future accountant who wants to minor in animation and Portuguese.

Option C: What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

This is a broad question, so anything goes, but I encourage you to focus on something non-academic for this prompt. Ask yourself, what makes you tick? What has made you who you are today? Is it your family, your hometown, your culture? Is it your love of playing the flute, or the fact that you can’t go a day without escaping into a book for at least a few minutes? Is it something more intrinsic, like your ambition or your compassion? There’s no right answer here, but make your response personal so the reader walks away with a sense of who you are and what matters to you.

And finally, the following questions remain unchanged from previous years:

Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests at USC. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 word limit)

Get specific! If you could simply copy and paste the name of any university into your answer because it’s that generic, scrap it. USC wants to see that you know the University and the majors you’ve selected. Cite particular programs, research opportunities, faculty, and courses to show off your academic side. You can also talk about non-academic aspects of USC, like the campus, student body, and the alumni network, but don’t let your answer get too fluffy.

Quick Takes

Have fun with this series of very short answers. And I mean short—when they ask you to name your theme song or choose a hashtag to describe yourself, do just that. Don’t write an additional sentence to explain your choice. These are meant to be enjoyable and light (and often provide a much needed laugh for your overworked application reader), so don’t overthink it.

Essay-Pitfalls-CTA

Written by Emily Toffelmire
Emily Toffelmire is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Emily worked as an admissions officer at University of Southern California as well as a college counselor at high schools in the US and Thailand.