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Getting into USC this fall just got easier amid coronavirus uncertainty

Tommy Trojan stands guard over a quiet USC campus
Tommy Trojan stands guard over a quiet USC campus near downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday as classes are being held online because of the coronavirus outbreak.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Getting into USC this fall got easier amid widespread uncertainty over how the coronavirus outbreak will affect the college plans of students and their families.

USC announced Friday that it increased its acceptance rate to 16% for fall 2020, offering admission to 9,535 freshmen this year — about 2,000 more than last year. That’s the university’s highest admission rate in three years — up from 11.4% last year — and the largest number of students to receive the thick, red welcome folder in at least a decade.

But competition is still fierce. Accepted applicants had an average unweighted grade-point average of 3.88, with 38% of them achieving perfect grades. Their average SAT and ACT scores were in the 97th percentile. And, during high school, they took an average of seven to eight Advanced Placement courses, which follow a rigorous college-level curriculum.

USC campus
Fares Maimani, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, works on his laptop at USC, where classes are being held online.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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Among admitted students, 30% were Asian American, 26% were white, 15% were Latino and 6% were black. About 17% would be the first in their families to attend college.

The University of California, whose nine undergraduate campuses began sending out acceptances in the last week, typically releases its admissions data in the summer for the upcoming fall term.

Many campuses are offering admission to more students this year to hedge against widespread uncertainty over how the coronavirus outbreak will affect their college decisions. Even Harvard bumped up its admission rate, to 4.92% for fall 2020, compared with 4.5% last year — the first increase in six years, according to the Harvard Crimson student newspaper.

A recent survey of more than 25,000 students and parents by Niche, an educational research group, found that 35% of high school seniors planned to attend a college closer to home than previously intended and 86% were more worried about their family’s ability to pay college costs.

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It’s unclear how such concerns will play out and whether they will disproportionately affect institutions such as USC that are pricier and more reliant on nonresident students. About 60% of USC’s admitted students are from other states and countries, and the 2019-20 cost of attendance, including tuition, room and board, was $77,459.

However, USC President Carol Folt recently announced a “high-octane” drive to boost financial aid, including free tuition for families earning $80,000 or less annually, beginning with first-year students this fall.

In the meantime, students are sharing their excitement and joy over winning admission with social media posts tagged #IGotIntoUSC and embellished with cardinal and gold hearts and the university’s “Fight On” salute. They posted photos and videos of themselves opening their notifications, which USC sent out Thursday.

Hannah Selken posted a childhood picture of herself with a USC football. “i’ve been a trojan since day one,” she wrote on Twitter.

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Madeline Abiera widened her eyes, dropped her jaw and shrieked with joy — as did her family — when she read the good news.

And Folt posted what she called her “first video selfie” welcoming the class of 2024.

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“I know that for so many of you, things are just upside down,” she said. “I hope that yesterday you felt like you got some really great news. I cannot wait to greet you at convocation, when you say for the very first time, ‘Fight On.’”


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