USC Application Surge Lowers Acceptance To 13 Percent - Higher Education
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USC Application Surge Lowers Acceptance To 13 Percent

by Sammy G. Allen

An unprecedented surge in applications has made 2018 a historic year for University of Southern California admissions. So far, a record 64,000 students have applied for the upcoming fall, a 14-percent increase from the year before and the biggest jump in two decades.

“We’ve never had a harder time selecting which applicants to put in the classroom,” said Timothy Brunold, USC’s dean of admission. “We could hardly believe the numbers, and now we’re feeling the pain of having to turn away so many candidates we admire. At the same time, it’s a breakthrough year for USC.”

Timothy Brunold, USC Dean of Admissions

Academic achievement has increased as the average GPA and standardized test scores continue to climb. The record number of applicants forced the USC Office of Admission to accept just 13 percent – the lowest ever for USC. The admission rate dropped a full 3 percentage points.

Of those admitted, 26 percent are from underrepresented minority groups while 69 percent are students of color.

The increase in the number of high school students seeking admission to USC was the biggest since 1999 with the exception of 2012, when the introduction of the Common Application caused a spike in applications. Common Application allows student to apply for admission at multiple universities with just one application.

Brunold, who is in his eighth year as dean of admissions at the private university, said the increase in applications is the result of a decade of expanded recruitment efforts.

“We have a lot of resources and probably the largest admissions office in the country. There are 45 admissions officers,” he said, explaining that admissions staff members visit about 2,200 high schools every year. “We do have an aggressive recruitment outreach process. We send our recruiters all over the world looking for students.

“We know the high school counselors, and they know us. As some of their best and well-known students head to USC, there’s increased awareness and excitement about us in those communities.”

More than a third of the admitted class are straight-A students, and 60 percent have standardized test scores in the 99th percentile.

“Grades and numbers are a starting point,” Brunold said. “We want a diverse class, and we think about which students our faculty want to teach, which students want to solve intractable problems. It’s a search-and-selection process that lines up with the university’s strategic plan, and the mature young people we admit bring something to the student body.”

Brunold noted high interest in new degree programs at several schools, as well as the draw of student life enhancements such as the massive USC Village, a living and learning environment for 2,500 students, and the neighborhood around the University Park Campus.

The newest majors are design, which is a part of the art and design curriculum, and estate development. “This deals with big development projects such as you would find in a new part of a city. In the past, it was a part of our Public Policy School,” said Brunold.

The pool of students admitted for the fall 2018 semester are diverse and high-achieving, Brunold said. They come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa. Of the admitted students:

· 85 percent have standardized test scores at or above the 95th percentile, and their average unweighted high school GPA is 3.86 on a 4-point scale.

· 60 percent of the admitted freshmen enrolled in seven or more Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate courses in high school.

· Nearly 800 non-native English speakers were offered admission.

· 25 percent are Asian.

· 16 percent are Latino.

· 6 percent are African-American.

· 26 percent are from underrepresented minority populations (black, Latino, Native American and some who report multiple ethnicities).

· 14 percent — one in seven — would be part of the first generation in their families to attend college.

· 3,287 high schools are represented.

· California is the most represented state, at 39 percent. Outside California, the leading U.S. states for students are, in order: Texas, New York, Illinois, Washington and Florida.

· International students from 87 countries make up 17 percent of those admitted. Outside the U.S., the most-represented countries are China, India, South Korea, Canada and Brazil.

The deadline for enrollment commitments is May 1. Depending upon students’ final college decisions, the existing makeup of the incoming freshman class may differ from the current picture.

Currently, USC has an enrollment of about 19,000 undergraduate students and 25,000 graduate students. In addition to the main University Park campus, there is the nearby Health Sciences campus for the medical and pharmacy school and other health-related majors.

USC’s large campus and small student-to-faculty ratio are advantages, said Brunold, a USC graduate who interned in the admissions office in the late 1980s.

Along with the university’s website and social media, “going physically in front of folks and telling the USC story” is necessary for “being able to help people understand the value of being in Los Angeles, going to a diversified institution that offers a disciplined education with double majors and minors and a campus that has diversity in student life, athletics and social activities,” Brunold said. “Put all that together with a network of 350,000 alumni worldwide and it’s not uncommon and it’s not unique, but very distinctive.”

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