Application Tips

Check out some tips on applying to USC from current Viterbi Students!

College Apps are Hard Stuff.
We Get it, and We’ve Been There.

College applications are the next step in your future and are worth spending the extra time on doing your school research and refining those dreaded essays. Here are some tips on applying from current Viterbi students that have successfully gone through the process. We broke up the tips into categories so you can easily find the tips you need!


Don’t know where to apply? These tips will help ease the decision making process.

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Applying to college is so much more than grades. It’s time to showcase who YOU are!

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Not sure if you’re ready for engineering? Or what to study? Read these tips.

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They aren’t that bad. We promise. Read what we have to say about our experiences.

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General application tips to help you on the other stuff; all curated from Viterbi’s very own.

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“There are thousands of colleges in the world. How am I supposed to pick some to apply to?” said every single one of us.

Colleges are as different as and as abundant as cereal brands. You walk down the grocery aisle and see everything from the outside, but how do you know what it’s really going to be like? It’s hard and ridiculously overwhelming to figure out where to start. Start with what you know and some of these tips will help guide you though the process.

College is what you make it, and it’s better to take a chance than live with regret. When I applied, I narrowed down my list of schools to 6 because I only wanted to apply to schools that I could really see myself at. I know other people applied to as many as they could so they could better their chances of going to college. Figure out what works best for you (focusing in on a couple or casting a wide net) and work at it!
Aarya, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

College is so much more than just academics, don’t forget to think about where you’d like to be living for the next four years, what kind of people you’ll be spending time with, and what sorts of activities you’d like to be able to do outside of the classroom!
Shayna, B.S. Electrical Engineering

Talk to students! When you visit campus it’s important to see whether you can see yourself there and if you fit into the student life. Also, think about your top priorities in a school, like undergraduate research or maybe great athletic facilities, and ask about what is offered there in those categories.
Celeste, B.S. Biomedical Engineering


  • To be ready for college classes, take the most challenging courses that are offered at your high school. If you can succeed in these courses, college courses will be easier to handle. You will be prepared for the academic load and will know how to handle challenging assignments. – Natalie, B.S. Computer Science and Business Administration
  • In my opinion, organization and time management skills are really the most essential tools for academic success in college. –Daniel, B.S. Biomedical Engineering

Activities and Interests

Get involved in clubs you love, take risks and work hard; a well-rounded high school experience prepares you so much better for college than just grades and test scores!!
Rhea, B.S. Biomedical Engineering
Pursue your passions! Instead of building your resume, grow personally by understanding what exactly makes you want to study engineering!Shuntaro, B.S. Chemical Engineering
While I did get pretty good grades in high school, I did whatever made me happy. I did a bunch of random stuff that I loved even if it didn’t scream “perfect college applicant.” Bria, B.S. Environmental Engineering

Be Passionate!

Don't force creativity, but rather let your passion flow! Don't try to guess at what the university wants to hear. If you write about something you really care about and are invested in,

that passion will come across and will be much more compelling than writing about something you don't really care about.

-Daniel, B.S. Biomedical Engineering

Be Genuine!

Pursue activities outside of school that you are genuinely interested, not just what you think looks good on a college app. You'll have more fun and the admissions will have a better idea of who you are.

Viterbi is home to so many diverse people, and if you did band instead of robotics, but you're still interested in engineering, that is only a positive!

-Shayna, B.S. Electrical Engineering

Be Prepared!

Do your research and visit the school to get a full perspective and see what really draws you in! Look into what kind of cool clubs and opportunities each college has that you could see yourself joining!

Try to also articulate what specific clubs and organizations you want to be part of on your application!

- Nathan, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

Be Experienced!

Get some leadership and team experience. Not only does it look great on your resume, but it will be super helpful for working on group projects, interviewing for internships, and getting involved in clubs in college.

These are skills that will stay with you for a long time.

-Sophie, B.S. Chemical Engineering



  • Take your time! Writing the essay is a process. It’s all about organic creativity – don’t force it because the final product will suffer as a result. Rather, seek the advice of others and have them proof-read your work along the way. – Daniel, B.S. Biomedical Engineering
  • Begin writing your essays early and have everyone and their mom review it before you submit it. I remember having my parents, teachers, and mentor all review my essays before submitting them. Not only did that help me feel confident that there weren’t any errors but I also knew that a variety of people liked the essay which made me more comfortable with it. – Bria, B.S. Environmental Engineering
  • Make your essays specific but relatable! Don’t just compliment the school, they get that all the time. One tip I got that helped me really craft a unique application was “if they can find it on the website, don’t put it on your app.” – Rhea, B.S. Biomedical Engineering
  • Articulate the specific value you’ll be getting out of the college you’re applying to.  – Shana, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

Be Yourself

  • Just be yourself. Don’t try to guess what admissions is looking for or write about what you think an ideal student would sound like. Honestly just write your essays with your own great personality from your heart – it will sound so much better and be easier for you to write.
    Sophie, B.S. Chemical Engineering

  • Represent yourself in the most authentic and sincere way possible. Showcase the aspects of your life that are important to you and you are passionate about, even if they seem insignificant to you. Be comfortable with who you are and what you bring to the table, don’t stress, and have fun with your application!
    Jose, B.S. Industrial & Systems Engineering 

  • Be yourself! Even if yourself has nothing engineering-related at all. Write about what you’re passionate about, because that’s how your writing will stand out the most. Also, don’t fret about average test scores. They’re called “averages” for a reason.
    Aarya, B.S. Mechanical Engineering 

  • Don’t write your essays to please a certain audience. If you write your essays like you’re talking to your best friend or a family member, your personality will shine through. Your essays are a few places where you can stand out among other applicants who may have similar test scores and grades.
    Natalie, B.S. Computer Science and Business Administration, Physics

  • Don’t force your creativity, but rather let your passion flow! It’s evident when your writing is genuine; don’t assume what the university wants to hear – the reality is that your voice is most important of all. – Daniel, B.S. Biomedical Engineering 
  • Trying to make your application stand out from the crowd can be kind of intimidating, but I promise even if you don’t think you’re the quirkiest person in the world, there are things that make you different and unique. Just try to reflect on what really makes you YOU and highlight that!
    Siena, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

Okay, so what do I write about?

Ask yourself when answering a question or responding to an essay: is this really me? Take a step back, seriously, and look at what you’re writing. Is this what you’d say to any other friend who knows you well? If your answer is yes, you’re definitely on the right track! Naish, B.S. Aerospace Engineering
I thought of my college essay as a sort of personal narrative. Try it out, and maybe you’ll realize that writing the essay becomes enjoyable rather than a chore! Also, don’t overthink the short answer section. They’re not trick questions!

Michelle, B.S. Electrical Engineering

You don’t have to relate everything you do to academics. They’re important, but you also have other passions. Don’t be afraid to talk about your failures or difficulties, as long as you focus on how you learned from those experiences and how they shaped you into a better person.

Jose, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering

Mix in a joke in your application! Keeping it light-hearted can be a good indication of your character and might just set you apart from other applicants.

Tim, B.S. Chemical Engineering


  • Start really early! Each time you go back to your essays and revise them they’ll get better, so its really important to have the time to write multiple drafts. –Siena, B.S. Mechanical Engineering
  • Space out your applications – I promise they’re manageable as long as you don’t have to do them all at once. Also, make sure to start early on the applications you want to invest a little more time in. – Vanessa, B.S. Chemical Engineering