The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying to College
USC Admission staffers share tips to help your college application stands out—for the right reasons.
MAKE SURE YOUR college application shows you at your best with these tips from real-life recruiters:
Be authentic and show your personality.
“I want to hear your voice,” says Joe Beltran ’07, MEd ’13, associate director at the USC Admission Center. “It’s really important to bring that across in your short answers and essays.” Your essay doesn’t have to be about a dramatic tragedy or life-changing triumph to impress reviewers. Pick a subject that is personally important and meaningful to you.
Know your USC program.
Admissions officers would rather see thoughtful statements than generic answers that could be copied and pasted on any college application. “Take a step back. Why do you want to go here? Why are you selecting this major? Be specific,” advises admissions counselor John Marfield MEd ’06, senior assistant director in undergraduate admissions.
Make your essays easy to read.
Avoid writing in one single-block paragraph whenever possible. Readers’ eyes get tired, so consider writing answers in a way that’s easy on the eyes. Remember also to spell out acronyms and abbreviations for school clubs and programs so there’s no confusion as to what you’ve done in high school.
Highlight different aspects of your personality and interests.
With a combination of essay and short-answer questions, the application gives you plenty of opportunity to write about yourself in different contexts. Let reviewers get a fuller picture of you and your passions by trying to pick different topics, activities and interests for your answers.
Be skeptical of claims from friends and social media about the application process.
If you have a question about your application, go straight to the source. While well-meaning friends and family may think they have the right information, times change and everyone’s situation is different. Lean on friends and family for support and encouragement, but rely on university representatives for accurate and up-to-date information about the admissions process.
Don’t misspell words or use sloppy grammar.
An application with an easily fixable mistake (or even worse, multiple ones) shows reviewers that you didn’t put in the time required. Proofread every part of your application and consider getting another set of eyes to double-check it before you submit.
Don’t pick a major because it will be “easy” to get into.
When students see that their dream program has more specific requirements than others, some figure they’ll just apply to any USC program and then transfer to their dream major later. Here’s the problem: You still might not get into that program when you’re at the university. Portfolio and audition submissions are still required, and you risk having to stick to a major that you’re not as passionate about for four years.
Don’t bother scrubbing your Instagram or Facebook trail.
Although students should always be thoughtful about how they represent themselves online, don’t waste time cleaning up your online posts. Public information could be considered in the admissions process, but most staffers are far too busy to look at your pictures and posts on social media.
Don’t add in extra essays.
The Common Application has an “additional information” section for students to mention items that haven’t been included elsewhere in the application but are still relevant. Explain why you transferred high schools or had a temporary drop in grades, but this is not the place to put in another personal essay.
Don’t rush your application.
Give it the time and care it deserves. Instead of tackling 20 applications, advises Beltran, “put your energy into five preferred schools.”