How to Write the USC Short Answer Supplement 2019-2020

USC is a large school in Los Angeles, California with a rapidly declining acceptance rate. Our students (and students all over the world) love USC for its school spirit and excellent programs. Last year, it had an 11% acceptance rate. Fight on.

Before we begin, huge shoutout to @USC for getting rid of the horrific hashtag question from last year! We received at least 100 emails about it! It was awful! We are hoping that that question never comes back because it tripped the kids up and, more importantly, it was an objectively useless question when evaluating a person. 

USC’s short answer supplement is a chance to have some fun and be creative. Try not to take yourself too seriously. Some questions are purely subjective (as in name your favorite movie) and some actually give you an opportunity to show the admissions team something about yourself (favorite book). Do this part after you finish your long answer supplement to ensure that you aren’t repeating information. For most of these, we recommend making longer lists of 8-10 answers and then picking out your best one.

The questions are below. Spoiler alert: USC loves superlative questions.

Describe yourself in three words.

There are a few different directions you can go in here. The safer route would be to make a list of ten adjectives that describe yourself. And think beyond personality. Are you super short or really tall? Ask your friends and family how they would describe you, too. Once you have your list, compare it with the rest of your application. If the takeaway of your common app essay is that you’re intellectually curious, cross that off your list of ten. Look at your responses from the long answer portion of the application and make sure you aren’t doubling down on anything.

Also, don’t pick the three most flattering words on your list. A lot of students will go the “empathetic, dedicated, and passionate” route, which isn’t great. Dedicated and passionate are too similar, and the list is too self-important. Be realistic about who you really are (aka pick one of the three above) and look towards the end of your list for something that hits closer to home.  

Another way to go about this question is to create a three word sentence that describes you. The best one we’ve heard so far: Always. Eating. Tacos.  

Whatever you do, don’t use anything that you saw on the explore page of Instagram, a billboard, on Pinterest, or heard in a movie or song. Do not plagiarize.  

What is your favorite snack?

Spoiler alert: this question is not that deep. And it is subjective. There is no right answer. There is basically no world in which you can get this question “wrong.” Plus, who doesn’t love thinking and talking and food? Don’t overthink things and again, write town ten of your favorite snacks and then pick the best one. Avoid super boring snacks like “chips.” If you love chips, what kind? If it’s PB&J, what kind of peanut butter?

Here’s a short list of our favorite snacks:

  • Cherries

  • Sun Gold Tomatoes

  • Frozen cotton candy grapes

  • Soup dumping

  • Popcorn

  • Homemade Popsicles

  • Peanut butter spoons

  • Pickles

  • Olives

Best movie of all time:

This is an objective question, and USC is just trying to get a handle on your preferences. Asking someone the best movie of all time is a way to do that. What you shouldn’t do is try to pick something that makes you sound smart, such as Citizen Kane. We’re not saying it’s not a great movie, but is it really your favorite? Probably not. General rule: don’t pick anything that if someone were to probe you on it IRL, you wouldn’t be able to back up your answer.

Plus, there are obviously only 5 best movies of all time:

  • Glitter

  • Gigli

  • Hot Tub Time Machine

  • From Justin to Kelly

  • Sharknado  

Dream job:

The word dream is literally in the prompt, so dream big. This question does give you an opportunity to hone in an interest, which as discussed, most of these questions don’t. You should take advantage of that. There is no wrong answer here, just put any potential obstacles and “what if’s” out of your mind and think about what you would do if you could do anything.

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

If you can swing it, this is a good opportunity for humor. Remember: there is a difference between favorite song and theme song. Think of ten songs and pick the best one. Don’t pick anything cheesy like the Trojan Fight song.

Dream trip:

The requirement here is that your destination is highly specific. And if you can, your destination should say something about one of your interests. Instead of saying Italy, say Rome and Florence. Steer clear of the huts above the ocean in Bora Bora, as all that suggests is that you want to lead a life of luxury and like pristine water.  It’s also okay to choose domestic places.

What TV show will you binge watch next? 

Just tell them what you’re staying up late tonight to watch.   

Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?

For this question, think about the characteristics that you want in an ideal roommate. Do you want to live with someone really smart so you pick their brain all night? Do you want to live with someone who will inspire you to be a better person? Once you have the qualities listed out, find a person that fits the mold. Your reasoning for choosing this person should be extremely obvious when reading your answer. BUT you can’t say why. Below we’ve listed the ‘why’ so you can understand our reasoning.

Here’s a list of people we want to live with, and why:

  • Monica Geller – one of our writers has only child syndrome and likes things super clean.

  • Nearly Headless Nick – he’s a ghost that would never be there, and we love alone time.

  • Ina Garten – we are Roasted Chicken enthusiasts  

Favorite Book:

New question alert! Like most of these questions (movie, roommate, theme song) this is a great question because you have an opportunity to shed light on an interest or personality trait. It should go without saying, but it should be a ~new~ interest or personality trait. Shy away from the classics because that’s typically overdone.   

  • Here are some of our favorite books:

  • We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby

  • White Teeth – Zadie Smith

  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding – Kristin Newman

  • All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

  • A House In The Sky – Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding

If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be?

The topic that you choose probably shouldn’t have to do with what you’re writing about in your “Why USC” essay and it should aim to solve a problem that you care about and/or fill a market. Think of ten things, and then consider what it says about you. It’s okay (or maybe even better) if you would like to teach a class that would appeal to a niche market.  

A few ideas we’ve discussed are:

  • Financial literacy

  • Self reflection for dummies

  • Business Writing for Corporate Adults


We love helping students brainstorm creative ideas. Contact us here if you need help.