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Last updated March 8, 2023

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How to Use the USC Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

If you're applying to USC, then you should have five things in mind: course rigor, GPA, test scores, essays, and recommendations. Those are the most important factors in the USC application evaluation process.

The University of Southern California Common Data Set gives us insight into the USC admissions process. In this post, we explore the data in detail and give you concrete recommendations to improve your USC application.

Let’s get to it.

How USC Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

The University of Southern California only lists five factors as “very important” in their application evaluations: course rigor, GPA, standardized test scores, application essays, and recommendations. Even extracurriculars, talent and ability, and personal character are secondary. There are also a few factors, like class rank and interviews, that USC doesn’t take into consideration at all.

Very Important Important Considered Not Considered
Course Rigor Extracurriculars First-Generation Status Class Rank
GPA Talent/Ability Alumni/ae Relation Interview
Test Scores Personal Character Racial/Ethnic Status Geographical Residence
Essay   Volunteer Work State Residency
Recommendations   Work Experience Religious Affiliation
      Applicant Interest

Does USC track demonstrated interest?

No. Applicant interest is not considered in the University of Southern California evaluation process. You should still engage with USC to make sure it’s a good fit and to gather information for your supplemental essays, but don’t worry about interacting to look good. It’s probably better to spend that extra time working on your essays.

Does USC care about standardized test scores?

Yes, standardized test scores are very important to USC admissions. As test-optional policies have become more popular, the importance of standardized test scores has generally decreased. But not for USC. USC remains one of the schools that still ranks test scores as one of the most important factors in admissions.

This importance is also reflected in their SAT submission rates. Of all the enrolled first-year students, 47% submitted SAT scores, and 26% submitted ACT scores.

Does USC care about essays?

Yes, essays are one of the most important factors in USC admissions. They’re just as important as GPA, course rigor, and test scores, so you’ll want to focus a lot of time and energy on them. (For help getting started, see our USC supplemental essay guide.)

What GPA do I need to get into USC?

The USC Common Data Set gives GPA and class rank information for enrolled first-year students. If you look at the GPA breakdown, over 75% had a high school GPA of over 3.75. That’s unsurprising, because 99% were in the top half of their high school graduating classes, and 80% were in the top tenth. While USC may not evaluate applicants based on class rank, these numbers are telling about the kinds of academic performance admissions officers look for.

So you don’t need a perfect GPA to get into USC, but there’s a good chance you’ll need a pretty high one.

GPA % of Enrolled Students
4.0 26.25%
3.75-3.99 49.67%
3.25-3.49 16.57%
3.50-3.74 4.73%
3.00-3.24 1.59%
2.50-2.99 1.06%
2.00-2.49 0.13%
below 1.0 0

USC Acceptance Rate

USC received 71,031 applications. That’s one of the highest applicant pools around—among our CDS profiles, it’s second only to UMich and NYU. and offered admission to 8,884 of those students. That makes the acceptance rate about 12.5%.

Of the 8,884 offered admission, 3,668 enrolled.

USC Early Decision Acceptance Rate

The University of Southern California does not have an Early Decision application plan.

What’s the right application option for you?

Since USC doesn’t have an ED option, you’ll have to choose between applying Early Action and Regular Action. For many other institutions, the admissions results between Early Action and Regular Decision aren’t all that different. But for USC, there may be some important incentives to applying early.

According to the USC admissions website, about 20-25% of acceptances are awarded in the Early Action round. What’s more, applying early means you’ll be considered for the USC Merit Scholarships.

Early Action applications aren’t available for all majors, so see if yours is one of them. Applying EA might be worth managing the earlier application deadline.

Most Popular USC Majors

Looking at the percentage of degrees awarded in the primary academic fields tells us what most USC students study. From the chart below, you can see that 22% of graduates in 2020-2021 were awarded a business or marketing degree. Other popular majors include those in the social sciences, visual and performing arts, communication and journalism, and engineering.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Business/Marketing 22
Social Sciences 12
Visual and Performing Arts 11
Communication/Journalism 9
Engineering 9
Interdisciplinary Studies 7
Computer and Information Sciences 6
Biological/Life Sciences 4
Architecture 3
Mathematics and Statistics 3

Paying attention to the most popular majors can show you what a university is most recognized for. USC has a great balance of majors. But it’s clear that the university excels in a few key areas. If you’re looking to study business or marketing, for example, then USC might be a great place to start looking.

What should you do with all this information?

With an acceptance rate of 12.5%, USC isn’t easy to get into. But with the Common Data Set information here, you can craft your application around what matters most to USC admissions officers, factors like GPA, course rigor, test scores, essays, and recommendations.

From these factors, it’s clear that what’s really important to USC admissions officers is academic achievement. They want to see that you’ve taken challenging classes, earned good grades in them, and have established good relationships with your recommenders. They want to see that you can do well on standardized tests and write excellent essays.

If any of these “very important” factors are lacking—maybe you have a GPA blip, for example—consider focusing your essays on an intellectual interest or a moment of academic achievement. Similarly, because extracurriculars are ranked secondary to academic factors, USC might be a good place to apply if you have great extracurriculars but not jaw-dropping ones.

Aim to balance all of these factors across your entire application. For a place to start, consult our How to Get into USC guide.

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