First-year applicants are evaluated on the content and rigor of their high school course work, their grades, standardized test scores, activity summary, essay, short answers and counselor/teacher recommendations. There are no absolute “cutoffs” or minimums for grades, rank in class, or test scores. We are interested in the interplay of these elements as well as your personal accomplishments and potential for success.
Some majors such as architecture, cinematic arts, fine arts, journalism, music, and dramatic arts have additional special requirements. These may include an audition, portfolio, additional essays or writing samples, and/or additional recommendation letters. See Additional Requirements for Selected Majors for information on your intended program.
The most fundamental expectation of each entering student at USC is that she or he will have completed a rigorous high school curriculum in English, mathematics, science, social studies, foreign language and the arts. We realize, of course, that individual talents, circumstances and opportunities vary greatly. Therefore, there is no specific prescribed curriculum. However, we do expect that prospective students will take advantage of the highest level of classes offered to them in their secondary school.
Grade Point Average
When assessing grade point average, consideration is also given to class rank and to the strength and frequency of Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate course work in a student's curriculum. Naturally, we are interested in consistently strong academic performance throughout your four-year high school record. However, we realize that some bright students, for one reason or another, don't always get off to a great start in ninth grade. In these cases, special attention is given to steady and substantial improvement throughout the sophomore, junior and senior years.
Standardized Test Scores
SAT and ACT
USC requires either SAT or ACT scores (with the optional Writing test) from:
- All first-year applicants.
- Transfer applicants who have accumulated fewer than 30 transferable semester units since graduating high school.
For students who take the SAT more than once, USC records the highest scores for each section – Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing -- even if achieved in different sittings. For students taking the ACT, USC will record the highest composite score.
SAT Subject Tests
We only require SAT Subject tests from first-year applicants who do not attend a regionally accredited high school (e.g., home school, some non-accredited parochial or community based programs, even some newer schools). These students must submit three SAT Subject exams, including one in mathematics. For all other applicants, these exams are optional, but recommended. We find them helpful in evaluating applications for merit scholarships.
First-year applicants who have taken Advanced Placement (AP) examinations are encouraged to provide those results.
English Proficiency Exams
All international first-year and transfer applicants whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL, IELTS or PTE Academic exam. International first-year applicants with minimum scores of 600 on SAT Critical Reading or 27 on ACT English are exempt from taking the TOEFL. Scores on the TOEFL, IELTS or PTE Academic should be recent, earned within the past two years from application date.
We are particularly interested in learning about our applicants' activities outside the classroom. The application's activity summary gives you the opportunity to highlight special skills or talents, interesting experiences and personal accomplishments. When reviewing activities, the admission committee is looking for those experiences that might suggest your potential for leadership and involvement at USC. We are interested in seeing activities that show passion, potential and a significant investment of time; an activity summary listing a large volume of cursory involvement is often much less impressive than one showing ongoing commitment to, and leadership in, a smaller number of activities.
Essay, Short Answers, and Quick Takes
These written elements give you the opportunity of speaking directly to the admission committee in your own voice. USC carefully reads and considers everything submitted, so make sure to use a style and vocabulary with which you're comfortable. Content, organization and thoughtfulness are just as important as grammar, spelling and diction.
Counselor or Teacher Recommendations
All first-year applicants should submit one Counselor/Teacher Report and letter of recommendation. You may submit additional forms and letters; however, the number of recommendations received does not factor into our decision-making process.
Personal interviews are an optional part of the first-year application process. We offer on- and off-campus interviews throughout the fall. Students can choose to interview with the Office of Admission or one of our academic units.
The size of our applicant pool precludes us from interviewing every applicant, therefore this element of the application is strictly optional. Appointments are limited, and available on a first-come, first-served basis. History has shown that there is no appreciable difference in the admission rates of students who are not interviewed.
To sign up for an admission interview, please click here.
Students who have been home-schooled (or attended classes offered in non-traditional formats) are expected to maintain a comparable level of academic and personal achievement. Please review the application requirements for home-schooled students detailed here.