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What are my chances?: Read this first

madbeanmadbean Registered User Posts: 3,236 Senior Member
For all the applicants and parents of applicants to USC this year, it may be tempting to ask this question. But the truth is, of course, none of us knows the minds and hearts of each individual admissions rep, nor the exact make-up of a year's admitted class as it's being composed. So while one year, a needed tuba player may be golden, another year there may be wayyy too many tuba players. This won't likely ding the tuba player, mind you, but it is less likely to be a tip into the admitted pool for an otherwise on-the-cusp applicant. And so on.

USC's admissions are holistic, which means the committee will look at all aspects of the application, paying particular attention to essays, LoRs, and activities and accomplishments outside the classroom as they look to build a class that fits the institution's needs. That includes their need for diversity, geographic breadth, top talent for the arts majors, athletes, innovators, and leaders. However, it can be most instructive to really study the USC Freshman profile for the current year (2013 admits) to see the trend in objective criteria: gpa and test scores. You'll find the most recent year here: http://www.usc.edu/admission/undergraduate/apply/documents/FreshmanProfile2013FINAL.pdf

So how to interpret this data? First, the most important category to check is ADMITTED STUDENTS. This is the group you are attempting to join.

Top of the Heap Numbers: Those applicants who fall in the top 25% of ADMITTED students (both SAT + gpa unweighted), have the highest likelihood of being admitted this year. Not all will be, of course, so it's never a given when a school admits less than 20% of applicants. But those students would seem most likely. If these sorts of top academic students don't take their app seriously, dash off sloppy essays, make careless mistakes on the app, goof off on the short answers, use their Stanford essay and forget to swap out USC for Stanford (that sort of thing), or give off a whiff that they are collecting trophy admissions, but really really expect to go to another college, the adcom may see through their app and deny. It has happened. Many times. OTOH, if a stellar candidate takes the USC app seriously, writes excellent essays, and connects to the School they are applying for, by doing research, visiting, or in other ways shows how well they would fit into USC, and show passion and leadership in their major field, the chances are good this above-top-25% score/gpa applicant may be invited to interview for one of USC's top scholarships. In these cases, the invitations are awarded by each individual School, so achievements beyond the normal great student type of activities will help.

Top of One Heap: A top applicant with slightly mismatched scores/gpa--for instance, above top 25% SAT or ACT score, but a gpa that falls at about the middle of the 25-75% unweighted range (or the reverse), is still a serious candidate and should feel hopeful for a good outcome. In these cases, the supplemental material will certainly add to the decision. At USC, one's major will matter, and an applicant with particular accomplishments, awards, honors and/or special distinction in his/her field can definitely make a difference. Having an unusual life story, overcoming extreme adversity, and other hooks also come into play. In some cases, strong hooks will pull this type of applicant up into consideration for one of the top merit scholarships as well. Make sure to apply by the first deadline!

National Merit Scholars: The great news is, USC is the highest ranked university that offers guaranteed 1/2 tuition scholarships simply by scoring well on one test, on one day junior year. Congratulations to these students!! The not-so-great news is: NMF is not a guarantee of being ADMITTED to USC. There have been bitterly disappointed applicants in the past, who mis-read the language on USC's website, believing they were automatically admitted. No. But if your UW gpa and other criteria are good, you have an excellent chance of admissions.

Right in the Middle: Applicants who fall near the average GPA (currently 3.83 UW) and near the middle SAT (50% mark is not spelled out, but you can make a good guess by looking at the 25-75% range: ACT: ~32 SAT: ~2140) of Admitted Students have a good chance of admission. But there are many many applicants in this range and the competition keeps getting more intense. This might be considered a match school, but to be realistic, it's probably 60/40. Of course, this student would be a great asset to USC, but there are limited spots. Keep working on that supplement.

Hope for those in the lower quadrant: USC offers many students spots who fall below these numbers. After all, 25% of offers of admission (last year that was about 750 big envelopes) go to those whose scores or gpas are in the lowest quartile of scores. Who gets these spots? Most likely, the students with extraordinary talents or other life experiences that USC wants. This may include extraordinary individuals from households with economic challenges, serious adversity, or from countries/cultures with less advanced prep schools. In addition, USC has excellent talent-based Arts Schools (USC’s Arts Schools (Architecture, Cinematic Arts, Dramatic Arts, Roski School of Fine Arts, Thornton School of Music) who value talent and potential as well as academic strength These applicants are judged on extra material, whether that means in-person auditions, creative supplements, and/or art portfolios. The same is true for gifted athletes who are recruited for one of USC's many Division I teams. There is no published information on how heavily talent/potential will count towards admission decisions. But all decisions must be approved for academic worthiness.

Help or No Help:

When looking over these published numbers, please do not forget that USC knows almost all of the sending high schools around the globe. They know schools with grade deflation as well as those with grade inflation. They know which students are taking the most rigorous schedule available, and those who do not. They definitely factor that information into their evaluations. Look at your own school's naviance and compare to the USC Freshman Profile. If students with slightly lower gpas seem to be admitted regularly, it is a good sign that your school is well regarded, despite school-wide grade deflation.

Best of luck to all applicants in this year's cycle.
Post edited by skieurope on
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Replies to: What are my chances?: Read this first

  • alamemomalamemom Registered User Posts: 6,384 Senior Member
    May I suggest that this thread either be stickied to page one or kept there via bumps for the application season (and beyond)?
  • ColtronColtron Registered User Posts: 68 Junior Member
    In your post you stated that the average for USC admitted students was a 32 act and a 3.89uw. Would a 30 act score and a 3.5 GPA uw, 4.0 w, have a hard time being accepted? My school is pretty competitive, hence the low GPA. However I am taking a full AP schedule this year. How much would these two factors play in the admissions process? USC is my first choice school, so any help is much appreciated.
  • menloparkmommenloparkmom Registered User Posts: 12,567 Senior Member
    EXCELLENT post Madbean!!
    This should be a MUST READ for all students [and parents of students] who are considering applying to USC.
  • ArtsandLettersArtsandLetters Registered User Posts: 505 Member
    @Coltron,

    The point of Madbean's post above is all the "chance me" and "do I have a chance" threads are not productive. NO ONE can tell you if you have a chance. Admissions is more than grades and scores.

    The "middle" 50% of enrolled students is 29-33 on the ACT. Stop worrying. Most colleges know if a student is from an academically rigorous school and that not all A's and B's are equal.
    47,358 students applied for 2,922 places in the freshman class. Approximately 20 percent were offered admission, and one-third of that group enrolled.

    The question is not whether you would have a chance but whether application presents a picture of the type of student the university wants that year. And no one can predict what that is. A lot of students with perfect stats get turned down at colleges across the country. A lot of students with imperfect stats get accepted. Why the latter? Because they're dynamic, interesting, and had some spark that caught the Adcom's attention.

    Try to read Madbean's post again. It is an excellent explanation of how admissions works (which is true of colleges across the country btw).
  • madbeanmadbean Registered User Posts: 3,236 Senior Member
    Thanks ArtsandLetters, that is exactly what I mean. There is no reason to ask a Chance Me question. It's very understandable that applicants would love to have more sure footing as they enter the process, but post #1 is a realistic, honest assessment of everyone's chances. Final Answer! Read it and try to see where you fit and what you can do to improve your chances.

    ADDENDUM: Talent-based Majors/Schools

    I wanted to address those who ask to be chanced year after year who are applying to School of Cinematic Arts (w/Supplement), or School of Dramatic Arts BFA and Thornton performance (by audition), or Arch and Roski Fine Art (w/portfolio), etc.

    Of course (of course!!), no one here can evaluate a hopeful applicant's talent. Not only that, we will not see all the hundreds auditions or see all the thousand Film School supplement submissions. But here's what you can do:

    *Ask your art teacher/choral director / film class teacher to look over your portfolio or other material and give you feedback. Ask what you can do to improve it. Listen. Rewrite. Rework. Do a few new pieces.
    * Consider taking a summer class between junior/senior year that focuses on producing your kind of art. Summer Arch programs allow you to do renderings and build models. These can be very useful in your portfolio.
    * Make sure you have thought carefully about your creative voice and what experiences/emotions from your personal background you are putting into your art. These make the best essays as they show the School your unique voice and give a clearer picture of what you will bring to USC.

    In addition to the extra essays, supplements, and auditions/portfolios you will submit, here are some additional things that will be evaluated and can help impress the Arts Schools admissions officers:

    * Significant Honors and awards (state, national, international)
    * Professional gigs (professional theatre, films, operas, gallery shows in known galleries or exhibitions, orchestras, published articles, books, etc)
    * Invited to work / interned with noted industry professional (extra credit if they write a glowing LoR)
    * Special individual achievements: Invented your own artistic style, started a theatre company, got over 1,000,000 hits on your YouTube video, invited to sing at the White House, etc.
    * And more!

    If a younger student is reading this advice, now is the time to get going and submit your sculpture to the Young Arts competition, etc. When it comes to applying to selective colleges, it is really helpful if your resume matches your passion.

    The biggest unknown for many who are applying to USC's very selective majors/Arts Schools is how much weight the arts materials and auditions will have on admissions decisions. We simply do not have that information. It has been suggested in prior years that even the applicant with the most impressive talent will ultimately have to be admitted with the approval of USC's Dornsife AdCom. It is their job to assure that every admit is capable of thriving in the university's serious academics. A talented artists who blew off doing homework during HS in order to achieve very high artistic goals may send the signal to the general Admissions Office that he/she may do the same in college. This is the sort of student who will not be admitted. My advice is to make sure your HS record shows clear evidence of academic achievement, too. Those who have exceptionally high gpas and test scores in addition to talent will often be rewarded with merit scholarships!
  • ArtsandLettersArtsandLetters Registered User Posts: 505 Member
    Bump - 10 char. This post needs to be made a permanent part of the USC page.
  • Mom2MMom2M Registered User Posts: 2,083 Senior Member
    Bump---excellent information!
  • blueskies2dayblueskies2day Registered User Posts: 916 Member
    Good stuff. And applicants -please refrain from saying you come from the most rigorous/best/highest achieving/most demanding high school in the state/country to justify your gpa or what classes you take. First, everyone says that, so it's not always true. Second, as madbean says, USC knows every high school out there and where they fall, so it is unnecessary. Making excuses never sounds good.
  • RandomNewGuyRandomNewGuy Registered User Posts: 505 Member
    USC gave me a shot, so I feel like anyone has a shot as long as they are willing to put in the effort. I have seen students with way better stats than me get shot down, so there's also no telling.

    Co-sign +1
  • Mom2MMom2M Registered User Posts: 2,083 Senior Member
    Bumping up this excellent information!
  • madbeanmadbean Registered User Posts: 3,236 Senior Member
    Bumping to add:

    Frequently asked questions about tips, hooks, and exceptions!

    *But... I'm from California. I'm in-state!

    Sorry, but as a private university USC does not have any requirement/ extra motivation to admit instate students. If anything, coming from a different state--preferably a very exotic, out-of-the-way state--might be a real tip as every college looks to have geographic diversity. If you are from Tibet, even better.

    *But... I'm sending an arts supplement recording of myself singing a soprano solo from a Verdi opera for an all-state honors performance, even though I am NOT majoring in music and don't intend to do singing as an EC at USC.

    Save yourself the trouble of sending in such a supplement. To be clear: Arts supplements are part of the requirements for arts majors/Schools. If you don't intend to apply to those majors, your arts accomplishments will be noted as an EC. And, a HS EC will not act as a tip into college acceptance if one is not going to continue in college.

    *But... I was team captain of my HS field hockey team for 4 years, and we won all-state 2 years in a row!

    If you are not being formally recruited for this sport by USC, this wonderful achievement is not a tip. Your sport will be looked upon as an excellent EC and evidence of great leadership--both are important to a strong applicant--but will not do more than that.

    * But... my dad went to USC! or But... my six uncles all met their wives at USC! or But... the last four generations of my family went to USC! Will being a legacy help?

    No. Legacy status is no longer considered by the admissions committee.

    *What?! Wait! 20% of USC's admitted freshmen are legacies? It's gotta help! Right?

    Not really. While ~600 freshmen sounds like a big number (approx. legacy students who attend), of the 47,000+ applicants to USC last year, a significant portion were legacies. The admitted legacies possess the same stellar qualifications listed in the first post, in addition to being legacy candidates.

    * So... not even a tip?

    Perhaps not, but USC does value its relationship with its alums. All legacies who are not admitted to USC are invited to meet with an admissions officer to discuss the Trojan Transfer Plan, a method by which the student can qualify as a transfer to USC if they wish to pursue that option.

    * But...my sister attends USC right now? or My brother graduated from USC in 2012?

    Better news here. We've seen a trend that USC likes siblings and appreciates a family who has a current student who has thrived at USC. If the all the other criteria are good for USC, this may be a real tip. Congrats.

    * But... my great aunt gave a building to USC in 1961 and it's named after her. Will that get me in?

    No. It is probably true that donating big $$ to a private university will earn a lot of gratitude from the development officer who is interacting with the family, however the amount of gratitude (in the form of extra tip to a related applicant) may depend on 1) the tradition of giving -- as a Stanford admissions rep said, if a family has been giving annually for over 10 years, that is a tradition. If a family with a HS senior suddenly becomes generous, that is more like a bribe. That will get the family exactly nowhere! 2) Brace yourself. Assuming a family has a tradition of giving, only a really really large donation (high 7 figures) might rise to the level where it would be noted. 3) The benefit of that notice would only be felt by the direct offspring--not nieces or grandkids. In any event, IF an applicant meets all of these criteria, the extra hook would only go so far. Could it lift a low-match student into the accepted pool? It is possible. No one has any real information, but common sense suggests that as low as the university may dip (gpa/scores) to admit a top athlete is about as low as they would go even for the daughter of a generous booster. What may be most shocking to some, is not that 3 or 4 very generous donors might get their lower quartile statted sons and daughters into USC, but the fact that 95% of donors get little extra admissions consideration for their kids at all.

    * Nothing??

    Well, we can't really know but we do see many students / families who are sorely surprised when the letters come out. At gatherings of USC's alumni groups, the topic is well-known because so many of these families have witnessed the changes in selectivity at USC over the past 20 years. For qualified students (see post 1), this tip may pull them up out of a pack of equally qualified applicants. Anecdotal info has shown that many development legacies make up a portion of well-qualified students who are admitted Spring semester. So--it's not Nothing, but it's not everything, either.

    Good luck everyone as application season heats up.
  • ron4scron4sc Registered User Posts: 19 New Member
    Great details and explanation of how our school works!

    As an alum with an 11th grader, I'm not thrilled by the lack of bump legacy status provides. No surprise. I do think that there are other schools that do a better job of helping guide legacies through the admissions process without giving them preferential treatment in the admission decision. These are benefits that are offered to paying members of alumni associations so it helps increase contributions as well as provide information on how to present the most compelling application when it's time to apply.

    I'll go back to eating my sour grapes now. :)

    Overall, great information from a great university.

    Fight On!
  • bbggbbgg Registered User Posts: 496 Member
    Love your recent post Madbean!
  • jkeil911jkeil911 Registered User Posts: 6,009 Senior Member
    thank you, times three, mad bean. gonna tape it to my door.
  • Mom2MMom2M Registered User Posts: 2,083 Senior Member
    just a bump-- lots of great information
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