With college app szn in full swing for seniors right now, I figured it’d be a good time for me to once again give my advice on how best to tackle them, as someone who’s already been through it all (granted, about three years ago, but let’s ignore that). Below are some tips I’ve drafted up, with some for USC specifically and others more general.


  1. My number one, most important tip by far, is authenticity. Colleges, and especially USC, want to admit unique, interesting people. If you try to upsell the parts of yourself that aren’t especially true because you think colleges “want” that, you’ve already lost. You might think you’re being slick, but it is impressively easy to see through writing that didn’t come from the heart. It’s by far better to write about something simple from the heart, than something you might think is more interesting but not especially true to you.
  2. Start early, and reuse! If I were you, I’d compile a list of all writing pieces you need for each school you’re applying to, and identify commonalities. If you can reuse or slightly tweak pieces of writing for similar prompts, the time you save can be spent making those pieces that much better.
  3. Put yourself out there! You may think that a college wants to see an essay on how a community service project changed your life, but the fact of the matter is they read thousands of those. So if it is not genuinely true to you, choose something else! Write about how much you love your cat, the impact your best friend has had on you, or anything else. It may seem bland to you, but if it’s true it’ll show the reader a lot more about you than another contrived community service essay.
  4. Interview everywhere you can.
  5. For USC: APPLY BY DECEMBER 1!! USC automatically gives merit scholarship consideration to anyone applying by that deadline, so if you don’t apply by then, you are missing out on a potential quarter-million-dollar scholarship with hardly any extra effort put in.


Well anyways, that’s all I have for now. I’m quite removed from the process at this point, so I’m sure there’s some nitty-gritty details I’m forgetting about. But these tips are the ones that still stand out to me years later, so they must at least be somewhat important. Work hard, and good luck!

Derek Jones

Derek Jones

MAJOR: Industrial and Systems Engineering YEAR: Class of 2022 HOMETOWN: Los Gatos, California PRONOUNS: he/him/his INSTA: @dmannjones On campus I have conducted environmental engineering research on water distillation methods, and you can currently find me serving as Vice President of my social fraternity and playing on the club volleyball team.

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