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
Visiting schools really is one of the best ways to decide if you can see the school becoming your home! When I visited campus, seeing dorms, talking to students, meeting professors and seeing classrooms really gave me a feel for the university and I could see myself being there for the next four (or more) years.
Anya, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering
At the end of the day, you have to realize that at a top tier engineering school you will be getting the same education no matter where you go. The thing that really separated USC from all the other schools was the people I saw on campus, the weather and the location. When you visit each of these schools, ask yourself ” could I see myself here?” That will really help you decide if that is the right school for you.
Frankie, B.S. Chemical Engineering


  • Don’t think you have to have an expansive engineering background if your school or community didn’t offer it.  Do what your passionate about and don’t feel like you’ll be at a disadvantage if you don’t have any engineering experience. The most ‘engineering’ thing I did in high school was AP Physics. – Betty, B.S. Aerospace Engineering
  • Don’t make your entire life about your grades and test scores. While grades are important and all, you won’t succeed if all you do is get good grades! Make time for things that you are passionate about, and your college application will be so much better! –Clare, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering
  • It’s completely normal and okay to not know exactly what you want to do for your major and future career!  It can be stressful thinking about the future, but there are so many people, such as professors, family members, and mentors who can help you explore possible options! – Anya, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering
  • You don’t have to have it all figured out as you’re applying! Deciding to be an engineer is a big step, you don’t need to decide exactly what type yet. –Shayna, B.S. Electrical Engineering
  • If you aren’t sure what exactly you want to major in, don’t worry! You are always able to switch majors once you are in college, so just apply to the program which you are most interested in or even apply as undeclared! –Daisy, B.S. Environmental Engineering

Activities and Interests

An app is an excuse to brag, talk about that incredible startup you founded with your friends, or that band you jam with, or that sports team you led to championships!! Rhea, B.S. Biomedical Engineering
Don’t feel pressured to list every last extracurricular activity you’ve ever remotely been involved in. It’s totally cool just to talk about the few things you’re most interested in.Ellen, B.S. Computer Science and Physics
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!

Although you may think one of your extracurriculars might sound more impressive than the other, choose to talk about the one you enjoyed the most and why you enjoyed that particular activity

Showing Passion

is more important than showing you did something solely for an application.

-Alex, B.S. Biomedical Engineering

Be Genuine!

I didn't do anything super engineering related in high school, in fact my extracurriculars were cross country and yearbook. Don't fake your accomplishments to what you think an engineering school wants.

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!

-Ally, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering

Be Prepared!

If you are interested in doing research while in college start looking at those opportunities online before applying to college!

Some colleges

have special programs for undergraduate student research!

- Daisy, B.S. Environmental 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



  • Make sure to take a few days to think about what you want to write your college essays about. Really give yourself time to think about the best approach! This will make it easier to write the essay when you finally sit down to do it! – Daisy, B.S. Environmental Engineering
  • Get genuinely excited about USC! I love USC and if you do research and find things that you think you would love at USC and get that message across, it shows that you didn’t just copy and paste your essay and changed the school name. – Ally, B.S. Industrial & Systems Engineering


  • Do your research on USC and have some examples of things you want to do/opportunities you think you want to get involved in and take advantage of. Show that you will be an engaged student. – Alex, B.S. Biomedical 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

  • Don’t try and write your essays the way you think your application reviewer “wants” you to write them. Be honest and genuine in your answers; it will really show that you want to be at USC.
    Alex, B.S. Biomedical Engineering 

  • Be honest, especially in the USC short answer! I remember I said my favorite movie was Zoolander and my favorite food was ice cream.
    Ally, B.S. Industrial & Systems Engineering 

  • Everybody has something about them that’s totally different, and that’s a great place to start for essay topics.  It doesn’t have to be the most profound or dramatic thing either – sometimes the simplest quirks are the most interesting to read about!
    Ellen, B.S. Computer Science, Physics

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about what makes you happy even if it might be a little “nerdy” or “weird.” In my experiences, “weird” leads to new ideas and innovations. Be proud of your differences. Don’t try to hide them; showcase them.
    Nathan, B.S. Biomedical Engineering 

  • Be yourself and don’t overthink your answers. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself. Have fun and put your all into it!
    Frankie, B.S. Chemical 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

If you have a good sense of humor, use it. If not, be careful!

Shana, B.S. Mechanical Engineering


  • Regardless of where a college might stand on your list, take your time with every application. You never know how things will end up in the end, and putting your best foot forward makes hitting the submit button much less stressful. –Clare, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering
  • Space out your applications. You don’t want to speed through them. If you know you have to invest a little more time on one application rather than another, dedicate a little more time to that one by starting early. – Nayely, B.S. Civil Engineering
  • Try your hardest to visit all your schools before you decide! Being on campus and having “that feeling” was crucial for me in making my decision! – Nayely, B.S. Civil Engineering
  • If you can, visit the campus when school is in session.To really get a feel for the place you may be spending the next four years of your life, you have to see it in action.When visiting a school, check out the other people in your tour group or info session. These could be your future classmates, and seeing who else is applying to the school can be helpful in deciding where you want to end up. – Shayna, B.S. Electrical Engineering
  • When picking teachers to write your letters of rec, consider which teachers know you the best! It might not be the teacher of a class you got an A in, but it will definitely help colleges get to know you! – Michelle, B.S. Electrical Engineering
  • Have fun and know that things will work out. You will get out of college what you put into it, and even if you don’t attend your absolute dream school, college will still be a blast with all sorts of opportunities you never would have given. –Sophie, B.S. Chemical Engineering
  • Don’t be humble in your application. This is your time to shine, and you’ve got to be your own biggest fan. The college application process is really all about showcasing your best self, so it’s not the time to pretend you aren’t as awesome as you really are. – Clare, B.S. Industrial and Systems Engineering