UCLA vs. USC: Which School is Best for You

Discover the rich history and intense competition between two of California's most prestigious universities, UCLA and USC.

Posted October 30, 2023

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When it comes to the college experience, few rivalries have captured the attention of the nation like UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) vs. (University of Southern California). In this comprehensive comparison, we will break down the main differences between these two institutions, including their academic programs, campus life, cost of attendance, application requirements, and much more.

Application Overview

2023-2024 Key Dates


  • Application Deadline: November 30, 2023
  • Application Decision: Late March, 2024

*UCLA does not offer early application rounds


  • Early Action Deadline: November 1, 2023
  • Regular Deadline: December 1, 2023
  • Early Action Application Decision: mid-to-late January, 2024
  • Regular Application Decision: By April 1, 2024

Class Profiles

UCLA (Class of 2026)

  • Class Size: 6,462
  • Acceptance Rate: 9%
  • Average GPA (Unweighted): 4.00
  • Average GPA (Weighted): 4.58
  • First Gen: 27%
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 69%
  • Unrepresented Background Freshman: 31%

USC (Class of 2026)

  • Class Size: 3,420
  • Acceptance Rate: 12%
  • Financial Aid Recipients: 66%
  • Merit Scholarship Recipients: 22%
  • Minority Admits: ~75%

Application Requirements

When considering the application process for UCLA and USC, there are notable differences between the two institutions. As a public university, UCLA follows the admissions guidelines set by the University of California system:

*Note that UCLA no longer accepts SAT or ACT scores as part of the application process

On the other hand, USC, being a private university, has its own unique application process and requirements:

Academic Overview

Private vs. Public: What It Means for You

Private universities and public universities differ significantly in their funding sources, governance, and overall mission. When comparing USC and UCLA, there are some notable distinctions. USC is a private university, while UCLA is a public university. As a result, USC relies heavily on tuition fees, donations, and endowments to sustain its operations, affording it greater flexibility in decision-making and curriculum design. In contrast, UCLA is funded primarily by the state government, making it more accessible to California residents due to lower tuition costs (note that out of state students will have to pay a significantly higher cost). Here is a comparison of the 2023-2024 tuition estimates for both universities:

  • UCLA
    • In State Tuition: $13,614
    • Out of State Tuition: $28,713
    • Estimated Total Cost for California Residents: $38,517
    • Estimated Total Cost for Non California Residents: $71,091
  • USC
    • Tuition: $66,640
    • Estimated Total Cost: $90,921

A Comparison of the Top Majors

When it comes to academics, both UCLA and USC offer a wide array of majors, from the sciences to the humanities. However, there are some significant differences between the two universities in terms of the programs they offer. UCLA is recognized for its strong liberal arts program, with standout majors including English, History, and Sociology. Meanwhile, USC has traditionally boasted a strong business program, with its Marshall School of Business being ranked among the top in the nation. Both schools also offer exceptional programs in engineering, medicine, and the sciences.

What is Each School Known for?

As a public research university, UCLA is widely recognized for its academic excellence and emphasis on research and innovation. It provides a broad spectrum of undergraduate and graduate programs, spanning arts and humanities, social sciences, engineering, life sciences, physical sciences, and more. With a renowned faculty comprising distinguished scholars and researchers, UCLA fosters groundbreaking discoveries and advancements through its research institutes and centers. The university is committed to delivering a comprehensive education, encouraging students to explore diverse disciplines and develop critical thinking skills, while its vibrant campus life offers a wide array of extracurricular activities and organizations.

While also offering a range of undergraduate and graduate options, USC places a particular emphasis on fields like business, film, engineering, and arts-related disciplines. The university's faculty consists of leading experts with strong connections to industries, providing valuable practical insights to students. USC's strong alumni network further enhances opportunities for internships and career placements. With a smaller student body, USC offers a more personalized and close-knit academic environment, nurturing hands-on learning and professional development to prepare students for successful careers in their chosen fields.

Campus Life

Campus life is an essential aspect of any college experience, and both UCLA and USC offer plenty of opportunities for students to get involved outside the classroom. UCLA offers over 1,000 student organizations, including sororities and fraternities, cultural clubs, and academic organizations. The school is also known for its active student government, which offers leadership training and opportunities for students to make a meaningful impact on campus. USC, meanwhile, boasts a vibrant Greek life scene, with over 60 fraternities and sororities on campus. The university offers a wide variety of student organizations, including cultural clubs, music groups, and community service organizations.

Athletics: UCLA vs. USC in Football, Basketball, and Other Sports

Arguably the most significant aspect of the UCLA vs. USC rivalry is the competition between the two universities on the athletic field. In terms of football, USC holds the upper hand with eleven national championships to UCLA’s one, although the Bruins have been closing the gap in recent years. Basketball is a different story, with UCLA leading the all-time series against USC. Both schools also have strong programs in other sports, such as baseball, soccer, and volleyball.

Campus Location and Surrounding Area: Comparing Westwood and University Park

The location of a university can play a crucial role in the overall college experience. UCLA is located in the upscale neighborhood of Westwood, which is known for its high-end shopping and dining options. The surrounding area offers plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. USC, on the other hand, is situated in University Park, a historically diverse neighborhood located near downtown Los Angeles. Its proximity to the city provides students with ample opportunities for internships and networking.

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Future Outlook: Where Will These Two Universities Be in the Future?

The future of these two universities is bright, with both UCLA and USC committed to delivering a high-quality education and outstanding student experiences. As the world continues to change and evolve, these institutions will undoubtedly continue to adapt and innovate, ensuring that they remain among the top academic institutions in the world.

Whether you choose to attend UCLA or USC, you can be confident that you will be receiving a world-class education and joining a vibrant, diverse community of students and alumni. Each university has its strengths and unique culture, so it's essential to consider which one will best fit your goals and interests. Whatever you decide, the rivalry between these two institutions will undoubtedly continue to captivate and inspire students for years to come.

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