With its sunny California locale and strong trojan spirit, it’s no wonder USC is a coveted destination for grad school applicants. But just how selective is the admissions process across USC’s varied graduate programs? Understanding acceptance rates can help applicants gauge their chances.

If you’re short on time, here’s the key takeaway: Acceptance rates vary widely between USC graduate programs, ranging from under 10% in top departments like electrical engineering to over 50% in others like social work.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll break down the grad school acceptance rates at USC by department. You’ll learn which programs are the most competitive, find strategies to boost your odds, and get an inside look at how USC evaluates applicants.

Acceptance Rates by Graduate Program

When it comes to applying for graduate school, one of the most important factors to consider is the acceptance rate of the program you are interested in. The acceptance rate provides an indication of how competitive the program is and can help you gauge your chances of being admitted.

In this article, we will decode the acceptance rates for various graduate programs at USC.


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Most Selective STEM Programs

STEM programs, which include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, are often known for their competitive nature. At USC, some of the most selective STEM programs have relatively low acceptance rates.

These programs attract top-notch applicants from around the world, making the competition fierce. If you are interested in pursuing a STEM degree at USC, be prepared to showcase your academic excellence and research potential.

According to the latest statistics, the acceptance rate for the Computer Science program is around 30%. This program consistently ranks among the top in the country, attracting highly qualified applicants from all corners of the globe.

The Electrical Engineering program has an acceptance rate of about 36%. These numbers highlight the intense competition within these fields and the high standards set by USC for admission.

Competitive Social Sciences and Humanities

While STEM programs tend to be the most competitive, USC’s social sciences and humanities programs also have their fair share of competition. These programs attract a diverse range of applicants with strong academic backgrounds and a passion for their respective fields.

For instance, the acceptance rate for the Psychology program stands at approximately 5-12%. This program is highly regarded for its research opportunities and distinguished faculty. Similarly, the English program has an acceptance rate of around 15%, making it a competitive choice for aspiring writers and scholars.

It is important to note that these acceptance rates can vary from year to year, depending on the number and quality of applications received. Therefore, it is crucial to thoroughly research and prepare your application to increase your chances of acceptance.

Higher Acceptance in Certain Masters

While some USC graduate programs have highly competitive acceptance rates, there are certain master’s programs that have a higher acceptance rate compared to others. These programs often cater to a specific industry or career path, attracting a larger pool of applicants.

One such program is the Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), which has an acceptance rate of around 30%. This program is designed for professionals who want to enhance their business acumen and leadership skills.

The higher acceptance rate reflects the demand for business education and the diverse backgrounds of applicants.

Another program with a relatively higher acceptance rate is the Master’s in Public Administration (MPA), which offers training for individuals interested in public service. The MPA program has an acceptance rate of about 64%, making it a popular choice for those passionate about making a difference in the public sector.

These higher acceptance rates in certain master’s programs provide opportunities for individuals from different backgrounds to pursue their desired career paths. Whether you are interested in business, public administration, or any other field, USC offers a wide range of graduate programs to suit your needs.


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Factors Influencing Admissions Decisions

When it comes to gaining admission into the USC Graduate School, there are several factors that influence the admissions decisions. These factors help the admissions committee determine whether an applicant is a good fit for the program and has the potential to succeed academically and professionally.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key factors that play a role in the admissions process.

Grades and Test Scores

One of the most important factors considered by the admissions committee is the applicant’s academic performance, as reflected in their grades and test scores. USC Graduate School looks for candidates who have demonstrated a strong academic record, both in terms of GPA and standardized test scores.

While there are no specific cutoffs, a higher GPA and test scores can certainly enhance an applicant’s chances of acceptance.

It is worth noting that while grades and test scores are important, they are not the sole determining factor for admission. USC Graduate School also considers other aspects of an applicant’s profile to get a holistic view of their capabilities and potential.

Relevant Experience

In addition to academic performance, relevant experience is another crucial factor that the admissions committee takes into consideration. USC Graduate School seeks candidates who have demonstrated a strong commitment and aptitude in their desired field of study.

This can be demonstrated through internships, research projects, work experience, or any other relevant activities that showcase a candidate’s passion and dedication.

Having relevant experience not only shows the admissions committee that an applicant has a genuine interest in the field, but it also provides valuable practical knowledge and skills that can contribute to the student’s success in the graduate program.

Therefore, it is important for applicants to highlight their relevant experience in their application materials.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation play a significant role in the admissions process at USC Graduate School. These letters provide valuable insights into an applicant’s character, abilities, and potential for success in the program.

Admissions committee members carefully review these letters to gain a better understanding of an applicant’s interpersonal skills, work ethic, and potential for leadership.

It is important for applicants to choose recommenders who can speak to their abilities and potential in a meaningful way. Ideally, recommenders should be individuals who have worked closely with the applicant and can provide specific examples of their strengths and accomplishments.

A strong letter of recommendation can greatly enhance an applicant’s chances of acceptance into the USC Graduate School.

Application Strategies to Improve Your Chances

When applying to USC Graduate School, there are several application strategies that can help improve your chances of acceptance. From crafting a strong personal statement to optimizing other elements of your application, these strategies can make a significant difference in the outcome of your application.


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Crafting a Strong Personal Statement

One of the most important aspects of your application is your personal statement. This is your opportunity to showcase your unique qualities, experiences, and goals to the admissions committee. It is essential to spend time crafting a strong personal statement that effectively communicates your passion for your field of study and why you are a great fit for USC.

Be sure to highlight any relevant experiences, research projects, or achievements that demonstrate your commitment and potential.

Additionally, it can be helpful to mention any connections you have with USC, such as specific faculty members or research opportunities. By demonstrating your knowledge of the program and showing a genuine interest in contributing to the USC community, you can make a strong impression on the admissions committee.

Contacting Faculty

Another effective strategy to improve your chances of acceptance is to reach out to faculty members in your desired program. By contacting them, you can express your interest in their research and inquire about potential opportunities to work with them.

This not only demonstrates your enthusiasm and initiative but also allows you to establish a connection with faculty members who may later advocate for your admission.

When reaching out to faculty, be sure to do your research and tailor your message to each individual. Mention specific projects or papers they have worked on that align with your interests and explain why you are interested in collaborating with them.

Keep in mind that faculty members are often busy, so be respectful of their time and avoid sending generic emails.

Optimizing Other Elements

In addition to your personal statement and faculty contact, there are other elements of your application that you can optimize to improve your chances of acceptance. This includes your letters of recommendation, resume or CV, and any additional materials required by your desired program.

When selecting individuals to write your letters of recommendation, choose individuals who can speak to your abilities, achievements, and potential. It is also important to provide them with any relevant information or materials that will help them write a strong letter on your behalf.

Furthermore, take the time to carefully review and polish your resume or CV. Ensure that it accurately reflects your academic and professional accomplishments and effectively highlights your skills and qualifications.

Pay attention to formatting, grammar, and overall presentation to create a polished and professional document.

Lastly, be sure to submit any additional materials required by your desired program, such as writing samples or portfolios. These materials offer you the opportunity to showcase your skills and provide further evidence of your suitability for the program.

By following these application strategies and putting in the effort to present yourself in the best possible light, you can improve your chances of acceptance to USC Graduate School.

Comparing Acceptance Rates to Peer Schools


When it comes to prestigious universities in Southern California, two schools often come to mind: the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Both schools are renowned for their academic excellence and competitive admission processes.

However, there are notable differences in their acceptance rates.

In recent years, USC has seen a significant increase in its popularity, resulting in a decrease in its acceptance rate. As of the most recent data available, USC’s acceptance rate stands at around 12.5-13%. On the other hand, UCLA‘s acceptance rate is slightly lower, at approximately 10.5-12%.

While the difference may seem small, it can make a significant impact on the number of students admitted each year.

It’s important to note that both USC and UCLA receive a large number of applications from highly qualified candidates. Therefore, being admitted to either institution is an impressive achievement.

Stanford and the Ivy League

When comparing USC’s acceptance rate to other prestigious institutions such as Stanford and the Ivy League schools, the disparity becomes more apparent. Stanford University, renowned for its innovation and academic rigor, has an acceptance rate of around 3-4.3%.

The Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, have similarly low acceptance rates ranging from 4% to 6%.

This stark contrast in acceptance rates reflects the intense competition and high standards set by these institutions. It’s worth noting that while USC offers a world-class education, being admitted to Stanford or an Ivy League school carries significant prestige and recognition.

Other Top National Universities

Outside of the Southern California region and the Ivy League, USC is often compared to other top national universities. Schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and University of Chicago are highly regarded for their academic programs and research contributions.

While USC’s acceptance rate may be higher than these institutions, it is important to consider the specific strengths and areas of focus that each university offers. USC is known for its programs in business, film, and engineering, while MIT and Caltech are renowned for their cutting-edge research in STEM fields.

Ultimately, the decision of which university to attend should be based on a combination of factors, including individual goals, academic interests, and personal fit. It’s essential to thoroughly research each institution and consider the unique opportunities and resources they provide.

Interpreting Acceptance Rates in Context

When considering graduate school admissions, it is important to look beyond the raw acceptance rates and understand the context in which these rates exist. Acceptance rates can vary significantly depending on a variety of factors, and it is crucial to interpret them in relation to other relevant statistics and trends.

Enrollment Rates vs Acceptance

One key distinction to make when analyzing acceptance rates is the difference between acceptance rates and enrollment rates. Acceptance rates represent the percentage of applicants who are offered admission to a particular graduate program, while enrollment rates indicate the percentage of accepted students who actually choose to enroll.

It is not uncommon for acceptance rates to be higher than enrollment rates, as some students may receive multiple offers and choose to attend a different institution. Therefore, it is important to consider enrollment rates alongside acceptance rates to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the competitiveness of a graduate program.

Grad School vs Undergraduate Admissions

It is also important to note that graduate school admissions processes can differ significantly from undergraduate admissions processes. Undergraduate admissions often focus heavily on standardized test scores and GPA, while graduate admissions tend to place more emphasis on research experience, letters of recommendation, and personal statements.

Therefore, comparing acceptance rates between undergraduate and graduate programs may not provide an accurate representation of the level of competitiveness. It is crucial to consider the unique factors and criteria involved in graduate school admissions when interpreting acceptance rates.


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Trends Over Time

Examining acceptance rates over a period of time can provide valuable insights into the changing landscape of graduate school admissions. It is worth investigating whether acceptance rates have been increasing or decreasing over the years, as this can indicate shifts in the number of applicants, changes in program popularity, or adjustments in admission criteria.

Additionally, looking at acceptance rates in comparison to national averages or other benchmark data can provide a broader context for understanding a program’s competitiveness. This information can often be found on university websites or reputable education publications.

When evaluating acceptance rates, it is important to remember that they are just one piece of the puzzle. It is vital to consider other factors such as enrollment rates, the specific criteria for admission, and any relevant trends over time.

By taking a holistic approach to interpreting acceptance rates, prospective graduate students can make more informed decisions about their educational journeys.


While a sub-10% acceptance rate may seem daunting, applicants shouldn’t be deterred from aiming for top USC graduate programs. Focusing on presenting your experience persuasively, targeting recommendations, and communicating fit can optimize your chances, even when admissions stats are competitive.

Remember that acceptance rates reflect institutional priorities, not applicant worthiness. By grounding yourself, crafting an insightful application and embracing the process, you can help shape your own graduate school destiny.

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