Expect stiff competition if you’re applying to the University of Southern California. Founded in 1880, USC is a prestigious, private research institution that attracts diverse, gifted students from around the world. The 2014 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings listed USC at No. 23 among leading national universities. Although USC doesn’t specify a minimum GPA or test scores, you must demonstrate that you’re an exceptionally bright, hard-working leader.

Excel Academically

Only 20 percent of high school students seeking admission to USC in 2013 were accepted, demonstrating the caliber of your competitors. Doing well in rigorous classes and maintaining a high GPA through all four years of high school can improve your class ranking and the odds of being admitted to USC. Most matriculants ranked in the top 10 percent of their graduating class and maintained an unweighted GPA of 3.73. National Merit Scholars made up 8 percent of incoming freshmen. In addition to strong academic performance, USC seeks creative, open-minded students who think globally and value diversity of ideas, opinions and cultures.

Ace College Entrance Exams

Along with your completed application form, you must submit test scores for either the SAT or the ACT -- including the writing test. The 2013 incoming freshman class had ACT composite scores of 29 to 33 and SAT scores between 1960 and 2190. If you take a test more than once, USC will look at your highest scores. For the SAT, this means your highest scores in each section, even if earned on different test days. According to "Crash Course for the SAT," if an applicant's standardized test scores are below average for a school, admissions officers tend to scrutinize the rest of the student's application more closely.

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Highlight Special Accomplishments

The USC admissions process includes submission of a personal essay and short responses to discussion topics. Let your personality, character, values and insight shine through your writing. Describe hardships you’ve overcome. Elaborate on your leadership roles, community service projects and extracurricular involvement. In the activities list of your application, emphasize your commitment to social justice, study abroad adventures, philanthropic activities, publications, artistic performances, languages spoken and research projects, for example. USC seeks applicants who will join student organizations, advocate for change and contribute to the arts, so also mention how you hope to contribute to the vitality of the USC campus community.

Follow College Preparatory Curriculum

USC expects that you complete 16 or more college preparatory courses before graduating from high school, including four years of English composition and literature, two years of a foreign language, three years of math, two years of natural science, two years of social science and three years of electives in areas such as computer science, art or music. Your course selections should attest to your willingness and ability to tackle tough subjects that the average student would generally avoid, such as Advanced Placement courses.

About the Author

Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students who holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Minnesota State University. Dr. Dowd has also led many administrative offices such as affirmative action, women’s center and student conduct. She enjoys teaching, writing and advising students on how to succeed in college. Dr. Dowd's literary accomplishments include published research, training materials and hundreds of practical online articles. Her writing reflects years of professional and personal life experience. As a parent of two adult children with master's degrees, Dr. Dowd authentically understands the many challenges, milestones and decisions that parents and their college age students face from admission to graduation.