Is USC a Good School? (An IN-DEPTH Analysis)

California is home to many of the most respected universities in the United States. This state features a plethora of colleges for all types of people. But with so many options at hand, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and unable to make the right choice.

In particular, the University of Southern California has been one of the big names for many years. But is it really that good? Let’s find out:

In short, USC meets the criteria to be considered a good university, as it has a solid reputation in fields like Business Administration and Computer Science. Furthermore, the school registers high student satisfaction levels and has maintained a competitive position in the national rankings.

However, there are many different factors that come into play when choosing a college. In order to determine if USC is a good fit for you, it is important to be well informed and evaluate every important variable.

And that’s what we are about to do in this article. We’ll start off by taking a quick overview of this college. After that, we’ll analyze the key factors that may influence your decision, such as reputation, student satisfaction, class size, student expenses, and even the salaries that graduates are likely to earn.

So if that sounds interesting to you, let’s dive right in!

Overview of USC.

University of Southern California campus

With over 140 years of existence, USC is the oldest private research university in the state of California. It started operating in 1880, long time before Los Angeles became the vibrant city that it is today.

The University of Southern California started out with just 56 students and 10 teachers. However, it eventually grew to become the largest private employer in the L.A. area, generating an economic impact of around $8 billion every year.

Nowadays, USC features 23 schools that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in a broad spectrum of subjects. Popular majors include Business Administration, Communication, and Computer Science programs. In addition, it is well-renowned in the discipline of Film and Television Production.

USC is also a member of the Association of American Universities, an elite organization dedicated to maintaining a strong system of academic research. In fact, technologies like dynamic programming, image compression, antivirus software, and DNA computing were developed at the University of Southern California.

Notable alumni include Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to walk on the moon, and American film-maker George Lucas.

1. Prestige and Rankings.

When it comes to reputation, we can get an idea of how USC has performed by checking out the latest college rankings, which are published on a yearly basis.

Rankings are a useful tool if you want to take a glance at a school’s prestige. And while your choice shouldn’t be based entirely on these numbers, they are still a good starting point in the decision-making process.

In the following table you can see which position USC holds in 2022, according to the most reliable publications:

U.S. News27
Times Higher Education19

However, looking at these simple numbers is not really that helpful. They only show you the school’s performance at this moment, causing you to miss the forest for the trees.

Besides, rankings tend to vary depending on the methodology used by the company, meaning that a school that does well in one ranking may have a very different result in another one.

So in order to address this issue, we’ll take the average of the last years and visualize the historical trend. The main goal is to evaluate the school from a more unbiased point of view.

Below is a graph with the average rank for USC over time:

USC average national rankings
Average rankings calculated with data from US News and Times Higher Education

Now you have a wider view of what’s going on. Every chart tells you a story. And what we can see here is that the University of Southern California has remained relatively stable in the national rankings.

Five years ago, this university was standing at an average position of 20. Now in 2022, its average rank slightly decreased by 3 places. However, this change is so small that we can conclude that USC has remained at an competitive level as time goes by.

By tracking USC’s position in the national rankings we were able to see a more precise image of its performance over the years. In this case, the university hasn’t climbed as we would probably want, but it hasn’t plummeted either. So the message we get from the chart is still satisfactory.

In the next part of the post, we’ll use a similar method to assess how satisfied students are at USC. So keep reading because this will be important.

2. Student Satisfaction.

If you’ve been doing your research for a while, chances are you’ve visited other sites to read reviews from other students. And while internet reviews may be useful at first glance, the truth is that they are often contradictory and you might end up more confused after reading many of them.

Besides, there are several disadvantages to this approach. Just to name a few:

  1. There is no way to verify that online reviews were written by actual students.
  2. Fake reviews are a common practice and they are often hard to detect.
  3. Star ratings can be easily manipulated to artificially improve or damage a school’s reputation.

The above mentioned are just some of the reasons why you should take reviews with a big grain of salt.

But don’t worry. If you’re wondering if there is a more reliable way to gauge student satisfaction, the answer is yes. We achieve that by analyzing retention rates, and that’s what we are going to do in this section!

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let me give you some context on retention rates and their importance.

Retention Rates: What Are They and Why Should You Care?

A retention rate is simply the percentage of first-time students who remained at the same school for their sophomore year. It is one of the most accurate parameters to measure student satisfaction because of the following reasons:

  1. It’s calculated with actual data from real students.
  2. The data is reported to the National Center for Education Statistics and it’s hard to manipulate. Any attempt to falsify this information could have serious consequences for the school.

Even if this is the first time you hear about this concept, there are solid arguments why you should pay close attention to it.

A student will be more encouraged to keep studying at the same university if his freshman experience was positive. Accordingly, the higher the retention rate is, the better expectations you can have for your first college year.

On the other hand, a bad first-year experience will induce more students to drop out or transfer to another college, causing the retention rate to decrease. Therefore, this is something to keep in mind before you make your final decision.

There are, of course, other factors that may lead students to drop out, such as personal problems or lack of money. However, colleges that take good care of their freshmen indeed hold high retention rates throughout the years.

Retention Rate at USC.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the University of Southern California has a retention rate of 91.28%.

The following chart illustrates how the retention rate has varied over the years at this institution. Just take a look at it carefully. What can you notice?

USC retention rate line graph
Retention rates calculated with data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

As you the graph shows, USC kept its retention rate above 95% for a long time, which is really outstanding. However, we can also see that it declined by more than 5 points in the last year.

Back in 2013, the university had a 95.99% retention rate. And over the next years it kept hovering at around 96%. This behavior got abruptly interrupted in 2020, when the school’s retention rate fell to 91.28%. But there is a logical explanation for this.

Unlike other years, 2020 was quite different as the propagation of a new virus forced all nations to implement emergency measures, such as lockdown and social distancing. This uncommon scenario did affect a large number of educational institutions.

Because of this fact, USC’s retention rate saw a sudden decline of 5.13 points in its retention rate. Nonetheless, there are two things to keep in mind:

  • Despite the tough circumstances the world faced in 2020, USC maintained its retention rate above 91%, which is a number that very few schools manage to reach.
  • As we gradually return to normal life, the retention rate of the school could get close to the values it had before COVID.

Overall, the pandemic did impact USC students’ lives, but the odds of dropping out after the first year are still low, and freshmen find an appropriate environment to keep studying at this university.

Graduation Rates: What You Need to Know.

In the previous section, we analyzed how satisfied students are after their freshman year.

But now it’s time to answer an equally important question: how many undergrads actually finish their studies?

We can find the answer to that question by simply looking at the graduation rate of the school, which is the percentage of students who completed their program.

A high graduation rate is a very positive signal, as it reveals that all the time, effort, and resources you spend at this school will be probably worth it.

On the contrary, low graduation rates may suggest that students don’t get academic support along the way or they just feel disappointed over time. So this is also something that you’ll want to take into account.

Graduation Rate at USC.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the University of Southern California registered the following graduation rates:

TimeGraduation rate
6 years91.75%
4 years76.60%
Graduation rates calculated with data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

In the following plot you’ll visualize the 6-year graduation rate over time. In other words, the proportion of students who completed their program within 6 years after enrolling:

USC graduation rate line graph
Graduation rates calculated with data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

As the graph shows, this parameter has consistently been above 90%. And keeping it at that level is extremely hard, but the University of Southern California has done a good job to maintain it.

As of 2013, USC registered a graduation rate of 90.09%. This was followed by a marginal increase over the next years, hitting its peak at 91.84% in 2017.

The last value we know corresponds to 2020, when the graduation rate reached 91.75%. And it will probably stay at a similar level in 2022.

In summary, it’s really hard to find a college that keeps its graduation rate at such a high level for many years. So this is an undeniable indicator that USC provides the right conditions for students to advance and graduate within a reasonable time.

Outcomes 8 Years After Attending.

We can dive a little bit deeper and find out the proportion of students that dropped out or transferred from USC. For this purpose, take a look at the following doughnut chart:

From this chart, you can tell that within 8 years of entry, 93% of the students had already graduated, while 2% transferred to another college. Additionally, we can see that only 5% of the students dropped out, which is a very a small proportion of the entering class.

3. Class Size / Student-to-Faculty-Ratio.

Class size is another factor that could define whether or not this school is a good fit for you. If you prioritize being able to interact with your professors regularly and receiving more personal attention, you’ll want to find a college with a low student-to-faculty ratio.

This parameter tells you how many students there are at a college for every faculty member. Thus, a lower value typically indicates that classes are more reduced and personalized. However, there might be exceptions to this rule.

On the other hand, a higher student-to-faculty ratio isn’t necessarily something negative. It all boils down to the type of experience you are looking for. Some people feel comfortable in larger classes, while some others don’t.

What Is the Student-to-Faculty Ratio at USC?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the University of Southern California has a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1, meaning that there are 9 students for every faculty member.

This number has not changed at all in recent years, as shown in the following table:

CycleStudent-to-faculty Ratio
2020 – 20219:1
2019 – 20209:1
2018 – 20199:1
2017 – 20189:1
Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

It is important to point out that you should not take this parameter literally. In other words, a 9:1 ratio doesn’t mean that every single class at USC will have exactly 9 students.

In fact, the University of Southern California reports an average class size of 26 students. The reason for this difference is that a great part of the faculty members are not teachers. And this is quite common at colleges with high research activity.

Keep in mind that class size is not set in stone, and it does vary across different courses and majors.

4. Estimated Student Expenses.

Paying for college is one of the main concerns that will have an impact on your final choice. So in order to make an informed decision, the first step is to get familiar with the expenses you’ll have to cover.

The following table contains the reported Cost of attendance (COA) for the University of Southern California. The COA is a quick estimation of the amounts you would spend annually without receiving any kind of aid. This includes tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and other expenses:

Tuition and fees$58,195
Room and board$15,912
Books and supplies$1,200
Other expenses$2,152
Total cost of attendance$77,459
Source: College Navigator. National Center for Education Statistics

This cost can be significantly lower if you are awarded financial aid. For that reason, we’ll dedicate this whole section to take an in-depth look into the questions that matter to you.

Is the school getting more expensive? What’s the average amount that students receive in grants or scholarships?

These are some of the key questions that we will respond in the next paragraphs. So stay tuned.

Cost of Attendance and Financial Aid.

In this part of the post, we will see how the amount of aid compares to the cost of attendance. Ideally, if the cost of attendance is going up, we want the amount of aid to be growing at the same or even at a higher rate.

But before we get in more detail, I want to make something clear:

This section is only intended to provide a general picture of how the cost and the amount of aid have performed.

All of the numbers presented here are estimates reported by the school. However, every person has a different background, and in case you are eligible for financial aid, the amount will strongly vary depending on your circumstances.

If you need a more accurate estimation based on your personal case, please refer to USC’s net price calculator.

Having said that, let’s take a look at the chart:

USC cost of attendance and financial aid line graph
Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

As the graph shows, the cost of attendance is going up steadily.

Part of this increase is already expectable, as inflation consistently drives up prices. Nonetheless, there are many factors that define the cost of attendance. Consequently, the change in price from one year to another can easily be above inflation.

During the period we are analyzing, the cost of attendance grew by 19.73%, going from $64,694 to $77,459 in five years.

On the other hand, the average amount of grant aid for freshmen grew at a slower pace. In 2014-2015 it was standing at $33,178, and after five years it went to $37,811, which is an increase of 13.96%.

Even though the amount of aid experienced slower growth, we still need to know more details before we can draw any conclusion. And that’s the topic of our next section.

Percentage of First-Year Students Receiving Grant or Scholarship Aid.

So far, we know how the annual cost and financial aid have varied over the last years at the University of Southern California. But now it’s time to find out if there are enough freshmen receiving this benefit.

In the chart below, you’ll see the percentage of new students that have been awarded aid during the last cycles. What can you notice?

USC percent of first-time students receiving grant or scholarship aid
Percentages calculated with data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)

The graph clearly illustrates that the percentage of students receiving aid is reaching higher values over time.

Back in the 2013-2014 cycle, 59.35% of the entering class at USC received grant or scholarship aid. And after a one year it declined to 55.9%.

However, this variable showed some important changes in the next years, when it rose dramatically and hit new values above 63%.

As of 2019-2020, which is the last cycle reported, 64.6% of new students received grant or scholarship aid. This is an increase of 8.7 points over a 5-year period.

In other words, almost two thirds of first-year students receive grant or scholarship aid. So the odds are now higher than they were five years ago. But remember, if you need an estimation based on your personal circumstances, head over to USC’s net price calculator.

Bottom Line.

To summarize, in this section we analyzed the environment that students face when it comes to paying for college. Our key findings are listed below:

  • The cost of attendance at USC is going up steadily.
  • The average amount of grant or scholarship aid has increased at a slower rate.
  • However, the percentage of students receiving this benefit has shown an important increase.

This probably reveals that the school is achieving a more equal distribution of financial aid.

5. Expected Salaries.

Now we are getting to the final part of our analysis. And we cannot end this post without talking about about salaries. Even though people usually find it hard to bring up this topic, it is something you are probably interested in.

Hence the next question is, how much can you expect to earn after graduation?

The answer to this question is variable, as it depends on the major you selected, as well as the job offers available when you graduate. But the good news is that the U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of the typical salaries that graduates earn in the third year after graduation.

This piece of information is highly valuable for the following reasons:

  • It is calculated using data from actual USC graduates.
  • It corresponds to the early stage of their career. At this point, you probably care more about your starting salary than you do about your late career income.

There are other sites like Payscale or Glassdoor that upload their own estimates. And while that information may be reliable as well, it is not as in-depth as the data that the government provides.

Salary Table.

The table below contains the median annual income for USC alumni 3 years within graduation, according to the U.S. Department of Education:

ProgramMedian earnings
Aerospace Engineering$91,535
Applied and Computational Mathematics$70,259
Biological Sciences$31,918
Biomedical Engineering$84,960
Business Administration$70,865
Chemical Engineering$76,775
Cinematic Arts, Film and Television Production$40,618
Computer Science$109,271
Electrical and Computer Engineering$99,264
Industrial and Systems Engineering$94,145
International Relations$53,157
Mechanical Engineering$78,774
Political Science$48,560
Public Relations/Image Management$54,173
Median salaries three years after graduation. To see the full list visit: College Scorecard. US Department of Education.

As the table shows, Computer Science graduates are the top earners during the first stage of their career, with a median income of $109,271.

Engineers are also among the highest-payed professionals from USC. Their median salaries are $99,264 for Electrical and Computer Engineering; $94,145 for Industrial and Systems Engineering; and $91,535 for Aerospace Engineering.

Other disciplines like Accounting, Business Administration, Economics, as well as Applied and Computational Mathematics, have also seen competitive annual earnings.

If your program doesn’t appear on the list or you’re want to see the median salaries for the graduate level, you can visit USC’s page on College Scorecard to check if the information is available.


So there you have it. Needless to say, this post was meant to be strongly data-driven. Rather than relying on other people’s opinions, we took a logical approach intended to provide a more accurate picture of the school.

After analyzing the most important variables, a story emerged from the data and we managed to evaluate the school’s performance from different angles.

The following are some of our key takeaways:

  • The University of Southern California has maintained a competitive position in the national rankings for many years.
  • By tracking the retention rate, we could tell that first-year students are satisfied with their experience. However, unexpected circumstances (like COVID) might force some of them to interrupt their journey.
  • The university’s graduation rate is standing at a very high level. Meaning that students are finding the right environment to advance and complete their program.
  • Only 5% of the students dropped out.
  • The cost of attendance is increasing faster than the average amount of aid.
  • Nonetheless, the proportion of students reveiving financial aid is getting higher. Almost two thirds of freshmen at USC receive grant or scholarship aid.
  • Overall USC satisfied the criteria to be considered a good university.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What is USC known for?

The University of Southern California is known for its Business Administration, Communication, and Computer Science programs. In addition, it is the largest private employer in the L.A. area and generates an impact of around 8 billion per year.

Is USC a party school?

The University of Southern California used to be among the top 5 party schools in the US back in 2013. However, things have changed ever since, and the university has gradually lost its party school fame. So people interested in a vibrant party scene may be better served at another institution.

What are the most popular majors at USC?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most popular majors by the number of graduates are Business Administration (1,035), Communication (324), Computer Science (293), Human Biology (233), Economics (205), Accounting (175), and Psychology (166).

How many students does USC have?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the University of Southern California has a population of 46,287 students, out of which 19,786 are undergrads, while 26,501 are pursuing graduate studies.

Is USC a D1 school?

The University of Southern California is part of the Pac-12 Conference in the NCAA Division I. The USC Trojans represent the school in a variety of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and others.