Grades and test scores are important in the admission process; there is no doubt about that. However, while we are looking for students who have challenged themselves academically and who have performed well in school, we rely on the qualitative factors of the application to arrive at a decision. At this point in the process, high school seniors should focus their attention on the presentation components of the application: the essay, short answers, extracurricular activities, and the letter of recommendation.
The essay is a student’s opportunity to tell us who they are, not only as a person but also as a student. The most successful essays are the most authentic essays. We are truly trying to get to know who our applicants are. The best advice I can give to students is to “be yourself”.
They are called short answers, buuuut they shouldn’t be too short of an answer. The short answers are taken very seriously in our review process. They give us valuable insight in to a student’s academic interest as well as their commitments outside of the classroom.
We are looking for students who are going to be active members of the USC community. I always recommend that students list any commitments they have outside of the classroom. This includes traditional clubs, sports, volunteer organizations, work experience etc. But it also includes, non-traditional activities such as taking care of siblings or other family members, productive hobbies like photography, marathon training or climbing Everest.
Students often feel like they do not have control over their letter of recommendations; yet, students do have control over whom they approach to write a letter of recommendation on their behalf. We require that at least one recommendation come from someone who can comment on the student’s academic character and potential (i.e. counselor or teacher).