How to Write the USC Long Answer Supplement 2019-2020

USC is a research university in Los Angeles, California. Last year, 66,000 people applied. For TKG clients, USC is one of our most applied to schools. It’s also the school that we receive the most emails about from blog readers. The acceptance rate for the class of 2023 was 11%.

USC’s supplements are below:

Respond to one of 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.

With this prompt, USC is saying that they’re ~down with diversity~ and they want you to tell them about a time when you interacted with someone different from you. This can mean that the person you met, spoke to, or engaged with had a different upbringing, background, perspective, set of beliefs, or experience than you have had.  It’s worth noting that when working with TKG clients, we do not choose this prompt because the two questions below leave much more room for creativity.

If you choose to answer this prompt, you need to think small. Your goal is to tell a story that shows USC that you are open to engaging with people who have different perspectives, and that you are able to challenge and reflect upon your own values when faced with new information. 

Let’s say that you are a firm supporter of waiting period laws for gun ownership. Then one day, you meet someone who tells you a story. They say that their family member was being harassed and threatened by their partner, and that they had children in the house and feared for their safety. After the altercation, they wanted to purchase a gun for self-defense, but they were unable to do so because of the waiting period laws in their state. They returned home fearing for their life. 

Does hearing this story mean that you walked away a changed person? No. Of course not. This is not to say that after one conversation you were no longer a supporter of common sense gun laws. It means that you met someone with different views, and while you still don’t necessarily agree with their viewpoint, you were able to find empathy for them. They became more human, and for a moment your beliefs were challenged in some way. You hit pause. You thought to yourself, “I still don’t necessarily agree, but I understand.”  

A good answer to this question will show both humility and growth on your part. It will also suggest that you are not so stubborn in your beliefs that you are unable to examine them from another vantage point.  

If something like this comes to mind, write down everything you remember about it. Your answer should be told in the form of a story with a beginning, middle, and end. And then tell USC where you landed on your issue of choice, which will demonstrate growth and progress. But, again, our clients would almost never choose this prompt.

USC faculty place an emphasis on interdisciplinary academic opportunities. Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

FYI: This is the same question as last year, except USC added the first sentence.

We love this question because there are two directions that you can go in. We are going to contradict ourselves from last year, but we’ve evolved a bit in our thinking. This question does not specify that it has to be something you can study at USC. The only requirement of this question is that what you write about is a true and genuine passion. Whatever you choose, you need to go an inch wide and a mile deep. If it’s something you only cared about in passing, it’s a no go. Think about the things you’ve cared about forever, the YouTube rabbit holes you go down when you can’t sleep, and the hobbies and interests you’ve worked to foster over the years.  

This leaves you with two options:  

  • Pick something that builds upon your major. Maybe you’re applying to USC because you want to major in Film and Television Production, but your end goal is to make a documentary about Architecture in your hometown. If you go this route, you’re picking something that will help with your intended career path. It should also be something that isn’t directly, or necessarily logically, related to the major that you write about in the second required supplement. Maybe you’re majoring in English because you want to be a writer, but you want write scientific journals so your second interest is Biology. Remember that when this prompt asks you to “describe” something outside of your intended academic interest, they are not asking you to describe the field itself. They know what Biology is. You need to explain why it’s of interest to you, and how studying your secondary field will further your goals.

  • Pick something that reveals another side of you and/or speaks to a hobby you hold near and dear. Think about your personality characteristics, interests, hobbies, and passions that you have not had the chance to write about yet. If this sounds more appealing to you, quadruple check that you aren’t writing about something that appears elsewhere on your application. Maybe you’re secretly obsessed with Indian cooking or didn’t have room in your activities to write about your stint as editor of the yearbook. Or maybe you’re majoring in Math but read history textbooks for fun. Again, you’re adding another layer of depth to your application that might even shock the reader when it crosses their desk. Focus on your interests that are important to you, but are unrelated to the things you’ve already shown about yourself with the rest of your application.

We are big fans of this question, but keep in mind that there is a mandatory “Why USC” question below.  Make sure that your answers aren’t repetitive if you choose this prompt.  

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

This is the best option. But make no mistake, this is a second common app essay. A much shorter one, but a common app essay indeed. Let’s get a few things that you definitely shouldn’t do out of the way.  


  • Write about an extracurricular activity

  • Write about anything else that has been shown with the rest of your app

  • Write a trauma essay. If you’re experienced trauma, we are so sorry and hope you’re okay. But you should write about anything related to hardships in the additional information section of your application.

  • Get on a soapbox. No one likes a teenager on a soapbox. When we write about issues we are passionate about, it often goes poorly and can get cringy. Also, the essay is no longer about you.

So what should you do? Go back to basics. Revisit your list of personality characteristics that didn’t make the cut for your common app essay. Revisit the topic that almost made the cut for your common app essay but was cast away last minute. Text 5 friends and ask them to describe you. Ask your parents to throw some adjectives your way. Think about your morning routines. Think about what you do before bed at night, and why you still have that one keepsake from 10 years ago even though it’s broken.  Read this blog post. Think about your family and your role within it. Ask your friends what they come to you for help with. Ask them if you have any quirks.  

You should think small here, and somewhere throughout the process above you should come up with an idea. When we write this essay with TKG clients, we go for lighter topics. It doesn’t have to be funny, but it probably should be. Don’t be afraid to show a little bit of vulnerability either, as that is how we ~connect with others~.  

The second (mandatory) prompt is below:

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)

In this prompt, your goal is to show USC why it’s the only suitable place for you to continue your education. It’s a “Why Do You Want To Go here” essay, and it’s strictly about academics.

The first (and very important thing) to understand is that you need to choose a major. Read this blog post for the full breakdown, but you can not apply as undecided because 1) USC wants to create a balanced class of incoming freshman and 2) they are also looking to admit students who will graduate in four years. If everyone applies as undecided, they can’t balance the class (they might end up with an entire class of budding architectures,) and it’s more likely for an undecided student to negatively affect their four-year graduation rate because they might take a few years to figure out what they’re going to study.

We’ve found that students tend to fall into one of three categories:

  1. They either have no idea what you want to major in

  2. They have narrowed it down to 2-4 majors but aren’t sure which one to pick, or

  3. They already know what they want to major in

If you have absolutely no idea what you want to study, make a list of your favorite classes, topics, books, and projects. Figure out a few potential areas of interests and look through USC’s majors. There’s really no need to look at every major (in fact, you shouldn’t) because you should be able to cross some things off of your list right away. If when starting this exercise you have already identified areas of interest, compare the program pages and pick your favorite.  

Once you’ve decided what major you want to write about, you need to do a deep dive into the course offerings. Saying that you want to go to USC to major in Earth Sciences isn’t enough, because there are many other schools that have similar programs. You need to explain why you want to major in Earth Sciences at USC.  

You’ll do that by talking about specific classes that you want to take within your program of choice. Pull up the course catalogue for your major and spend a lot of time there. Read everything, and we really do mean everything. Find 1-2 upper level (200-300) classes that you want to take, and write about why you want to take them. You can’t choose entry level or introductory classes because those are offered everywhere. You need to have specific reasons as to why you want to take the classes you choose. It can’t just be that you think they sound fun. Relate your experience (high school coursework, summer programs, online classes, books you’ve read) to the subject matter of the class.

If there’s a minor that you’re interested in, follow the same research plan and explain why/how it pairs with your major and why you’re interested.

Back on the homepage of your major program, read about the professors teaching the courses and any special programs available. This will require some digging, but write about a professor that you would like to work with.

There should also be research opportunities, study abroad programs, guest lectures, etc. that catch your eye. Again, link anything you write about back to what you’ve already done in high school. So if you’re interested in Earth Sciences and pitched your high school on how they can use renewable energy, find something similar that’s being done at USC at the Wrigley Institute.  

Once you’ve addressed your specific major, look into USC’s unique academic offerings. In other words, what do you want to study at USC that you can’t study anywhere else? Maybe there are classes outside of your intended academic discipline that could help you with a niche career goal (but don’t repeat information if you answered prompt #2) or a summer program you plan to apply for. The more specific, better.  

We’ve given you the information that should be included in your response, but your job is to weave these facts about USC into a story about yourself. Your answer shouldn’t read as a book report on the school, it needs to be a story about yourself with a beginning, middle, and end. Think about how your academic interests came to be and show that there is a natural yet strong link between your background and USC’s offerings. 


If you’d like to work with someone one-on-one, contact us here.