As a high school senior, I explored a variety of schools to figure out what I was looking for in my college experience. With my passion for math and science in mind, and hoping to leave the east coast chill behind for California, one of my first college tours was Caltech. This was a turning point in my college search—it alerted me to the fact that I could never—EVER—attend a purely technical school. As I got closer and closer to college, I became more immersed in creative arts like theatre and dance at my school, and English and Mathematics were my favorite subjects. While choosing the 9 schools my high school allowed me to apply to (plus UC’s as one), I had a creative and interdisciplinary focus.
At the end of many applications, I was left deciding between Columbia, Northwestern, and USC—three schools with the appeal of creative, city locations, and top engineering curriculums. I was very stressed deciding, especially between USC and Columbia. After touring the three campuses, however, the anxious jitters in my stomach subsided and I knew that without a doubt USC was the right place for me. As a high schooler I thought the advice about “just knowing” a place felt like home while touring sounded, well, frankly… like CRAP. But, when I toured Columbia, I could feel a clear difference. The campus was colder—not temperature-wise, but in terms of personality. High schoolers didn’t ask questions on the tour, and the tour guides didn’t have the same excitement about their college experience that I saw at USC. I wanted to be back in LA where campus had already felt like home.
Aside from the environment of friendly, social, and academically-excited peers, USC offered me a few other concrete reasons to make my decision. (1) With an obviously strong engineering program, USC also offered a uniquely interdisciplinary and flexible program I did not see at other schools. I was afraid to choose a public school that would confine me to one unchanging major since I was not 100% decided on my engineering career path. In addition, USC had more flexibility to minor as well as many students in engineering with creative minors than other schools. I found the Thematic Option program very appealing and unique, and thought it demonstrated attention towards grounding students with philosophy and ethics, even in engineering. (2) USC was a campus of HUGE opportunity in my mind. While I would be just another student at a school like Columbia, I could join a community of merit scholars and benefit from financial assistance at USC. Being granted scholarships, a research fellowship, and entrance to the W.V.T. Rusch engineering honors program made me feel motivated and that I had the potential to achieve more at USC than at any other school.
Looking back on my (almost) four years, my “why USC” has held strong and even has applied more than I thought possible. Looking back to my reason (1), I ended up being very unsure of my major and took two years to explore different majors. After a year of Mechanical Engineering and many major changes (don’t ask me how many…), I switched to Electrical Engineering as a junior. USC’s flexibility allowed me to take many computer programming classes in my first few years of college, which helped me figure out my passion and secure an internship (and full time job) with Facebook. Without this environment, I may not have been able to find or switch to a major and full-time career that I’m passionate about.
In addition, USC’s interdisciplinary structure led me to one of my favorite experiences throughout college—Thematic Option. Here, I found a community of close peers and professional mentors with TO professors. I have gained a well-rounded engineering education and have become very passionate about engineering ethics and philosophy surrounding technology. USC’s interdisciplinary community of Thematic Option scholars has inspired me to seek a degree in the Philosophy of Science in the next five years, and I would not have found this long-term career path at a different school.
Looking to reason (2), academic honors, scholarships, and fellowships have only continued to increase since my enrollment at USC. Along with the benefits and free lunches of the engineering honors and research fellows communities, I have gained two additional merit scholarships from Viterbi that I barely even applied to! Additionally, USC’s strong support system for highly motivated students through the Academic Honors and Fellowships office (AHF) has helped me become aware of post-graduate opportunities and fellowships.
Of course, I can’t talk about my “why USC’s” now without mentioning the wonderful friendships and connections I have made along the way. Viterbi engineers are thoughtful, social, and creative more than any other engineers that I have interacted with. I have built friendships I will keep throughout adulthood, and my peers inspire me to be a better version of myself with their values and creativity I initially saw in USC.