Students with collegiate crest running into pep rally

McCarthy Honors Residential College welcomed their first residents in USC Village. (USC Photo/Michael Owen Baker)


USC’s 2021 entering undergrad class is the most diverse and talented yet

First-generation and students of color set records. The university’s college prep program for neighborhood children and teens leads the way with 57 first-year students. And Southern California public high schools make their strongest showing.

October 01, 2021 Ron Mackovich-Rodriguez

A new bar of achievement and diversity has been reached with the entering Class of 2025:

  • Tremendous commitment to joining the Trojan Family from across the state, nation and world.
  • A record 23% are the first in their families to attend college, up 9 percentage points since 2011.
  • A record 24% of new first-year students are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant, up from 17% in 2019.
  • 1 of every 5 students is Latino — a high mark.
  • The number of Black students increased nearly 50%, from 6% to a record 9%.
  • The 3.83 GPA for the class tied the record high.

“The incoming class represents a historic achievement for USC. Above all, it affirms our dedication to a diverse university where students from all backgrounds are welcomed and supported,” said Kedra Ishop, vice president for enrollment management at USC.

Class of 2025 graphic“These unprecedented gains are part of a long-term effort by the team and the university that is coming to fruition. And it’s great to see the campus abuzz again, knowing this remarkable class is right there in the middle of it all as they begin their college journey.”

A record number of applicants knocked on USC’s door this year, leading to an enrolled class of 3,668 first-year students and 1,353 transfer students.

The percentage of admitted students who decided to enroll also is higher than usual at 41.3%, the second-highest since 2019’s record 41.9%.

Strong representation from Los Angeles public schools in USC fall 2021 enrollment

When it comes to the best-represented high schools, most of the top 30 are public. Almost 200 of USC’s newly enrolled students earned their diplomas from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative, a pre-college enrichment program for South and East Los Angeles students, has set a new record with 57 students choosing USC. Program graduates receive full tuition at USC and a financial aid award that does not include loans.

Foshay Learning Center, a few blocks from USC, was the top feeder high school in the country with a record 40 students.

An ever-evolving admission process

USC admits are traditionally high achievers, but this year’s class is a standout. They are tied with last year’s class for the highest average GPA in USC history with a 3.83.

More than 25% had perfect grades in high school. The majority pursued the most rigorous curriculum available at their high school.

Standardized tests were optional for 2021 applicants, and fewer than half chose to submit those scores. However, the average score among the first-year students who submitted them was in the 97th percentile.

USC had announced its test-optional policy last year, and the university plans to retain that policy for at least the next two admission cycles.

“Our decision to make standardized test scores optional this year and for the immediate future is part of our evolutionary admission approach,” Ishop said. “The philosophy behind the decision is not new. We always consider students’ circumstances and the challenges they’ve faced, and we put that into context when looking at their applications.”

Unprecedented gains across USC fall 2021 enrollment

All 50 states are represented. A full 42% of the newly enrolled class is from California: 164 students are from New York, 152 are from Texas and 128 are from Illinois. International students — including 182 students from China and 71 from India — comprise 13% of the first-year class, up a percentage point compared to last year’s class.

Nearly 1,200 students (32%) are from historically underrepresented ethnic groups. Among them were more than 700 Latinos (19.8%) and more than 300 Black students (8.9%).

And women account for 53% of the first-year class.

The university continues its commitment to financial aid

USC has continued to expand the amount of financial aid available to undergraduates to increase access and affordability. Two-thirds of all undergraduates receive some form of financial aid, and financial aid awarded from all university sources exceeded $415 million in 2020-21.

This fall’s incoming class is the second to benefit from the Affordability Initiative announced in February 2020. Under the initiative, new first-year students from families with incomes less than $80,000 (and typical assets) receive free tuition. Home equity is not considered when calculating a student’s need. Last year, nearly 900 new first-year students benefitted from the initiative, representing an increase in financial aid of more than $7 million.

“It is gratifying to see an increase in economic diversity since the initiative began,” said Thomas McWhorter, USC’s dean of financial aid. “It is clearly making a difference and creating additional opportunities for low- and middle-income students.”