Road Trip: "Aha! Moments" at the University of Southern California

As a UCLA graduate I somewhat grudgingly share USC’s remarkable attributes.  The most significant “aha” is their commitment to teach adaptability and provide a breadth of perspective because “the jobs of tomorrow do not exist today”. They do this through interdisciplinary curriculums, research opportunities, and global opportunities for undergraduate students and excellent rankings [US News: #23, including Business #10, Engineering #27, and Most Innovative School #13. In other relevant rankings both Film and Communications / Journalism Schools are #1 and/or consistently in the top 10].

Most schools I visit talk about their interdisciplinary curriculum, research, and global opportunities…but at USC it appears to be more than talk:

  • 80% of Viterbi Engineering students have one or more internships. The first assignment of their (required) Engineering Academy class is to write a resume. Viterbi has its own career center.
  • The Marshall School of Business has multiple programs that send freshmen overseas for 8-10 days to talk with business or government leaders. Learning About International Commerce (LInC) and the Experiential Learning Program (ExCEL) are available to all freshmen with business and government focuses respectively, and the Global Leadership Program (GLP) is by invitation only with a business focus.  The list of programs goes on. If international business is your niche, look at the World Bachelor in Business (WBB) partnership where students spend a year each in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Milan and receive degrees from three universities.  It’s small and it’s competitive…but it’s pretty darn cool!
  • USC recognizes scholars through: “Discovery Scholars” who conduct significant original research; Renaissance Scholars who graduate with a major / minor or two majors that span disparate fields; Global Scholars who have spent at least 10 weeks abroad as an undergrad.
  • Actual experiences of my tour guides bear out USC’s promises.  Kathryn, a sophomore in business, went to Shanghai for ten days as a freshman and followed that summer with an internship at a high tech company there.  Calvin, an engineering junior, changed his major from ME at time of application, to EE at time of orientation, to Astronautical Engineering during 1st semester, then briefly back to EE, and settled on CS ­­­– all within the first year. When not switching majors, he formed a start-up career fair with 20 LA start-ups coming on campus to hire and he organized a campus-wide hackathon.  It is remarkable to me how USC’ Viterbi engineering students could change majors, have non-engineering minors, be involved in D1 athletics or other time consuming extracurriculars…a flexibility unusual for engineering schools.

Another USC “aha” is the atmosphere of engagement – academically taking classes in your major the first semester on campus and doing research as a freshmen; outside of the classroom there are over eight hundred clubs and irresistible school spirit.  With 18,500 undergraduates and over 40,000 total students the campus still manages to provide a cohesive sense of community with access to professors.

The music, theatre and film cluster of buildings and gardens makes a statement of its importance on campus.  The most popular class is a four-hour evening class of a director’s lecture, film viewing, and discussion with one of the film’s actors. Athletics is another area of excellence.  USC’s football prowess is well known; less known is that, if USC were a country, it would rank 12th in the world for Olympic gold medals won and 16th in the world for Olympic medals overall.  They take their athletics seriously. 

Safety is taken seriously, well beyond the blue light system found on most campuses today and for those who remember the Watt’s riots of the 1960’s that’s good news. The surrounding neighborhood is sketchy, yet I felt no sense of insecurity on campus.  There is a common sense mentality regarding safety among students. There are visible pairs of police and security officers on each intersection for a five-block radius of campus.  Uber service is free after 7pm for a ten-block radius. And a texting service highlights area disturbances in the surrounding neighborhoods. 

Los Angeles…many know it and dread the traffic…but the relatively new EXPO metro line stops at the edge of campus and takes students to nearby downtown LA, Hollywood, and by summer to Santa Monica.

Consider University of Southern California if you are involved in a variety of things, have broad interests, enjoy school spirit, are academically rigorous (if you took IB English and loved it the Thematic Option is for you). An appreciation for the arts and/or love of athletics is icing on the cake.  

Application notes – There is no ED or EA. Applications are due January 15th, but get them in by December 1st to be considered for scholarships and as required by several schools (Marshall School of Business, Iovine & Young Academy, and the talent-based arts schools).