How to Write the USC Long Answer Essays 2018-2019

USC is a research university located in Los Angeles. In 2018, USC’s acceptance rate was 13 percent. For the USC long answer essay portion of the supplement, applicants must write two essays. For the first essay, students can choose between one of three prompts and all applicants must answer the final “Academic Interest” question.

Choose One:

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.  

We find ourselves in the throes of a very intense political moment. The nation is grappling with its own identity and high schoolers across the country are engaging in protests, walkouts, and lively debates. As such, a lot of schools are asking this question. Basically, they want you to tell them about a time you met someone who was different from you and you were okay with it. In other words, what they are saying is, “we think diversity is good. Tell us why you agree.”

Not surprisingly, there is a Common App prompt that pretty much asks the same thing. The point of this question is to have students show an evolution of their thoughts. If you choose to answer this question, your objective should be to demonstrate growth. The point is to show the admissions committee that you’re open, you listen, and you’re actively challenging your notions and beliefs on a continual basis. If you have never had an experience where you met someone who helped you changed, don’t answer this question.  

One of our writers had a friend who really challenged her beliefs on criminal justice reform. Our writer had previously been very conservative when it came to punitive measures and crime, but after learning a bit more about the private prison industry from a friend, she started to get interested in learning more about how the criminal justice system works and also, how it disproportionately affects communities of color.  Gun control is another great issue to discuss in this essay.

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

If you don’t have someone who is helping you with college applications, this is the one to answer, because it’s the easiest one NOT to mess up and it also allows you to add another layer to your application. Let’s say you’re really interested in business and economics, but you also love modern dance. Perfect! That’s what you’re going to talk about.

The goal is to talk about an ancillary interest that is really different from your core focus in life. So, what you don’t want to do is write, “I’m interested in econ, business, and foreign policy.” It should be a completely distinct field of interest. Also, this discipline must be something that you can study at USC. So, you can’t say econ, business, and French cooking. They don’t have that there.

OR What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

If you have someone who is working with you on college applications, choose this one. This is the essay that allows you to be the most creative. For this essay, the admissions committee wants to know something about you that is essential to understanding you. If we were writing this essay, we might talk about how much we love things with butter on them. If you were attempting to write that essay on your own, you run the risk of that kind of essay sounding shallow and frankly, stupid. But if you do have a professional guiding you through this prompt, you might just be able to write this story in a way that has layers, story arc, and humor.

The admissions team is going to read thousands of essays. They want moments of levity and humor. The “butter approach,” if you will, is not serious, but when properly executed can demonstrate depth. It also introduces a new side of yourself. We like to talk about food often because everyone has to eat and we try to create moments of guaranteed empathy and connection in the application. One of your goals should be to find commonalities with the anonymous, presumably older, admissions person reading your essay. Food is one of those things.

The trap with this one is that kids are always trying to get deep. Give yourself a break! You’re 17. You don’t need to discuss something traumatic or intense to convey your personality.


 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)

Start off by reading this prompt as “Why do you want to go to USC?” except don’t talk about any of the other cool things the school has to offer. This one is about academics. We, at The Koppelman Group, do not allow our students to be undecided about their academic interests. In our experience, it doesn’t tend to produce effective results.

USC is looking for decisive people who are going to graduate in four years. If you’re not sure, start by looking at areas of study that you like. Then, look at USC’s majors. Find one that is adjacent to your area of study and pick one. Now pick one more and write about them.

Remember: this essay is not binding. When you get to your university, they’re not going to hold you to what you said in your admissions essay. So, play the game a little and write a good essay and decide for real when you’re a sophomore in college.

This essay should be the origin story of how you arrived at those two areas of interest. Talk about actual classes offered inside that major at USC. Google the professors and talk about them, too.


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