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Helpful Tips for Writing the USC Supplemental Essays

School Supplements
Bex Ehrmann
Bex Ehrmann

    The University of Southern California requires several short supplemental essays, in addition to the Common Application. In this guide, we’ll help you choose between the prompts and show you how to write strong USC essays.

    ‍Step One: Choose a Prompt

    The first of many USC supplemental essays will give you the opportunity to show the reader a facet of your identity that is not reflected in your Common App essay.

    Please respond to one of (the three) the prompts below (250 words):

    • 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. Please discuss the significance of the experience and its effect on you.
    • USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning. 
    • What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

    Before choosing a prompt, reflect on what your Common App essay already conveys about who you are and what you care about. You’ll want to ensure that this short essay adds depth to your application. 

    • The first prompt (similar to the third Common App prompt) focuses on intellectual flexibility. Choose this prompt if challenging conversations have led to meaningful personal growth.
    • The second prompt (similar to the sixth Common App prompt) focuses on intellectual curiosity. Choose this prompt if asking questions and seeking out answers adds dimension to your life.
    • The third prompt (similar to the first Common App prompt) is more open-ended. Choose this prompt if your identity was shaped by a formative experience, a passion, or your cultural background.

    (By the way, our complete how-to guide for nailing the Common App personal essay might be helpful to you as you answer these questions.)


    Step Two: Brainstorm

    Regardless of which prompt you choose, you’ll want to support your response with details from your life. Reflect on the stories that come to mind when you consider your chosen prompt. How have your experiences changed you for the better?


    Step Three: Your Core Message

    The final step is writing a core message that leaves the reader with an implicit understanding of your values.

    Here are some examples:

    • “My heated political debates with my dad ultimately taught me to keep my temper in check. I came to understand that we both had good intentions. Before I could shift his views, I had to understand his perspective.”
    • “Though I don’t plan to enter politics myself, I want to participate in American democracy as an informed citizen. For that reason, I’m eager to learn more about the impact of economic policy on our society.”
    • “My childhood role models were not teachers or older siblings but rather the heroes of fantasy novels. Bilbo Baggins, Meg Murray, and Harry Potter weren’t ready for the adventures that were thrust upon them; they only discovered their strength along the way. These characters inspire me to face the unknown head-on.”


    Next up — the “Why USC” prompt:

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

    In your response, you’ll want to share your academic passions with the reader and explain how you’ll take advantage of the many resources (such as classes and internship opportunities) within your major. This essay is a fantastic opportunity to highlight your professional goals and explain why you’re interested in USC over other schools! For additional guidance on how to approach this essay, check out our Why Major blog post.


    Closing out the USC supplemental essays are a bunch of fun short-answer prompts.

    Describe yourself in three words (25 characters each).

    Tip: This prompt is a great opportunity to share your sense of humor. For instance, this writer might describe herself as, “punster, storyteller, cat-whisperer.”

    What is your favorite snack? (100 characters)

    Tip: You have some room to provide context. Do you love Frosted Flakes with milk because that’s the first thing you learned to prepare on your own? Do you like making s’mores over the stove because they remind you of camp?

    Favorite app/website (100 characters)

    Tip: Social media apps like Instagram or Snapchat are predictable, unless you make them more meaningful through context. Instead, choose an app or website that reflects one of your unique interests.

    Best movie of all time (100 characters)

    Tip: If you’re not a cinephile, take this prompt as an opportunity to showcase your personality! But do remember that you’re applying to college — this may not be the best place to share your love of Pineapple Express.

    Hashtag to describe yourself (100 characters)

    Tip: Have fun and be creative! You can twist existing hashtags to make them your own or come up with something entirely original. This writer might use the hashtag #NotAllTauruses or #FueledByCoffeeAndChutzpah.

    Dream job (100 characters)

    Tip: Your answer should be at least tangentially related to your first choice major!

    What is your theme song? (100 characters)

    Tip: Consider how the song’s lyrics reflect on you. You have space to provide a brief explanation, so use it!

    Dream trip (100 characters)

    Tip: Make sure to provide a compelling reason for your answer. Do you want to visit a place where you have roots? Is your dream trip connected to your academic passions?

    What TV show will you binge watch next? (100 characters)

    Tip: Don’t forget to share why this TV show appeals to you!

    Place you are most content? (100 characters)

    Tip: You have some room to describe this environment for the reader. For example, this writer might say something like, “The shores of Lake Michigan on a summer day, bare feet dangling in the water, good book in hand.”

    As you write your USC supplemental essays, don’t forget to have fun. These essays and short answers give you the chance to showcase your unique personality. Happy writing!

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