Friday, June 14College Admissions News

Which Is Right For You?


If you have your sights set on Los Angeles for college, the University of Southern California and the University of California Los Angeles are two great options to choose from. But when it comes to USC vs UCLA…what are the differences and which is better?

We’re going to break down both of these schools and what they have to offer, including campus sizes, the majors they offer, and how much tuition costs. Information is power, and once you have all the fact, you can make the best decision for you.  

Ready? Let’s get started. 


Royse Hall, University of California, Los Angeles
(Satyricony/Wikimedia Commons)


What Is UCLA?

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is a public university part of the University of California system, founded in 1919. It’s a large university with over 47,000 total students—32,119 undergraduates and 15,397 graduates. 

UCLA offers students the opportunity to study in many different fields, which are divided between 13 schools and colleges:

  • School of Arts & Architecture
  • School of Dentistry
  • School of Education & Information Sciences
  • School of Law
  • School of Nursing
  • School of Theater, Film and Television
  • The UCLA College (houses Humanities, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, and Undergraduate Education)
  • Anderson School of Management
  • David Geffen School of Medicine
  • Fielding School of Public Health
  • Herb Alpert School of Music
  • Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • Samueli School of Engineering

These schools and colleges give students over 250 academic programs to choose from, including Marine Biology, American Indian Studies, International Development Studies, and many more. 

Additionally, UCLA has a reputation for being one of the top universities in the United States. It’s ranked as the #1 top public university in the U.S and is #20 on the list of best national universities, overall.



Bovard Auditorium, University of Southern California
(EEJCC/Wikimedia Commons)


What Is USC?

The University of Southern California (USC) is the oldest private university in the state, founded in 1880. The school has a total enrollment of 49,318 students, 20,790 of which are undergraduates.

Like UCLA, USC offers tons of programs for undergraduates. These programs are divided up between USC’s 23 schools and divisions:

  • School of Architecture
  • School of Cinematic Arts
  • School of Dramatic Arts
  • Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
  • Bovard College (houses Professional Studies)
  • Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
  • Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Theory
  • Glorya Kaufman School of Dance
  • Gould School of Law
  • Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry
  • Keck School of Medicine
  • Leonard Davis School of Gerontology
  • Leventhal School of Accounting
  • Lovine and Young Academy (houses Art, Technology, and Business)
  • Marshall School of Business
  • Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
  • Roski School of Art and Design
  • Rossier School of Education
  • Sol Price School of Public Policy
  • Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
  • Thornton School of Music
  • Viterbi School of Engineering

USC has over 200 programs you can earn a four-year degree in, like Game Art, Urban Planning, and Quantitative Biology. 

USC also gets national recognition for the quality of its programs and education. In fact, USC is ranked #25 on the list of best national universities. 

Bovard Auditorium, University of Southern California
(EEJCC/Wikimedia Commons)


UCLA vs USC: Full Comparison

So UCLA and USC have a lot in common! They’re both located in Los Angeles, they offer tons of majors and programs for students, and they’re nationally ranked as some of the best universities in the U.S. But they’re not exactly the same. Take a look at the table below for a side-by-side comparison of UCLA vs USC to see how the schools differ:



University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

University of Southern California (USC)


Los Angeles, California

One Campus

Los Angeles, California

Two Campuses

Public or Private?



Total Enrollment



Undergraduate Enrollment



#1 in Top Public Schools

#20 in National Universities

#25 in National Universities

#62 in Best Value Schools



Number of Majors



Student/Faculty Ratio



Acceptance Rate





Gender Ratio

Female: 60%

Male: 40%

Female: 52%

Male: 48%

Ethnicity Breakdown

Asian: 29%

White: 26%

Hispanic: 22%

International: 10%

Two or more races: 7%

Black: 3%

Unknown: 3%

White: 32%

Asian: 24%

Hispanic: 17%

International: 12%

Black: 6%

Two or more races: 6%

Unknown: 2%

Average Tuition and Fees

Out-of-State: $47,052

In-State: $14,478


Average Room & Board



Average Debt at Graduation



Overall Reputation

One of the top public universities in the nation (
US News ranks it as #1
); well known for its prestigious School of Theater, Film, and Television, as well as its School of Dentistry

One of the top universities in the nation (
US News ranks it as
#25); well known for its highly esteemed School of Cinematic Arts, as well as its School of Communication and Journalism

Data from US News, Niche, and UCLA’s and USC’s 2021-2022 Common Data Sets



UCLA and USC are both in Los Angeles, California—the second largest city in the country with a population of almost 4 million people. 

UCLA has one main campus spanning 419 acres near the beach in west Los Angeles. USC has two campuses: the University Park campus (227 acres) and the Health Sciences campus (79 acres). Both of USC’s campuses are in the middle of Los Angeles, close to downtown. 

Check out the map below that shows UCLA to the west, USC’s main campus in the center, and USC’s Health Sciences campus to the east. 

The communities closest to UCLA include Westwood, Brentwood, Bel Air, and Holmby Hills. The nearest neighborhoods to the USC University Park campus are University Park, Adams-Normandie, Historic South Central, and Vermont Square, and those closest to the USC Health Sciences campus are Lincoln Heights, Ramona Gardens, Chinatown, and Wellington Heights. 

body-UCLA-USC-map-ow(Google Maps)


University Type

In general, four-year universities in the United States fall into two categories: public and private. Public schools are funded–at least in part–by the government. Private schools aren’t. They get their money through a mix of donations and tuition.  

So, is USC a private school? Is UCLA public or private? What’s the difference?

First off, USC is a private university, and UCLA is a public university.  

Private universities like USC are created and controlled by people outside of the government, so they rely on student tuition and alumni contributors to fund their programs. Public colleges like UCLA, on the other hand, are created and funded by state governments. 

There are pros and cons to each university type. You can learn more about what makes public and private universities different here.



Considering total student enrollment, USC and UCLA are quite similar in size, with USC’s student body at 49,318 and UCLA’s at 47,516 in 2021. 

When it comes to how many undergraduates vs graduates are on campus, though, there’s more of a difference. Undergraduates at UCLA make up around 68% of the student body, while undergraduates at USC make up around 42%.

In other words, UCLA has more undergraduate students by proportion than USC!


Rankings and Grades

USC vs UCLA: which ranks higher? The answer to that question depends on the list you look at. Because USC is private and UCLA is public, they’re often ranked on separate lists. 

In many cases, though, UCLA has USC beat when they’re ranked together. Take a look at a few rankings from these leading education websites:


US News



Times Higher Education

#25 in National Universities

#24 in Private Universities

#21 in America’s Top Colleges

#63 in World Universities

#20 in National Universities

#1 in Public Universities

#6 in America’s Top Colleges

#20 in World Universities

From US News, Niche (1, 2), Forbes, and Times Higher Education 

Both schools have an A+ in Niche’s ranking system
, which means real students rank them exceptionally high in most categories. 

UCLA scored an A+ in most of its categories, including academics, professors, and dorms. Scoring just a bit lower was value—given an A—and safety, which scored the lowest with a B.

USC scored just a bit lower overall, but still got an A+ in things like academics, diversity, and student life. Dorms, location, and campus food got an A-, value got an A, and safety scored the lowest with a B-.



USC vs UCLA: which has better academic programs? That depends on your interests. 

USC has over 200 majors and 250 minors to choose from, and UCLA has 125 majors and 90 minors to choose from. So, while USC definitely has UCLA beat on the number of options, what you want to study is more important than those numbers.

Based on US News’ world rankings, USC is a great choice for Game/Simulation development (ranked #1), Real Estate (#7), Business (#8), Accounting (#9), International Business (#10), Marketing (#11), and Engineering (#30). It’s also very well known for its highly esteemed School of Cinematic Arts and its School of Communication and Journalism.

UCLA holds top rankings in Biocomputing/Bioinformatics/Biotechnology (#9), Engineering (#11), Electrical/Electronic/Communications (#12), and Data Analytics/Science (#12). And if you’re going to school for Theater, Film, Television, or Dentistry, UCLA’s prestigious programs are some of the best in the nation. 

Be sure to check USC’s and UCLA’s academic programs, majors, and minors for more info and to to make sure they offer what you’d like to study.




Standardized Test Scores

UCLA vs USC: which school has tougher admissions? Both schools are quite competitive, with UCLA’s acceptance rate at 11% and USC’s at 13% in 2021. To figure out your admissions chances, consider what each school looks for when reviewing student applications.

Usually ACT/SAT scores are a major factor in college admission decisions, but both schools have unique testing policies that affect this. 

USC changed to a test-optional policy for the 2022-23 admissions cycle, though they haven’t yet confirmed whether this policy will stay in place for the 2023-24 cycle and beyond. 

Test-optional means just that: students have the option to submit their test scores if they want, but they aren’t required. Students also aren’t penalized if they choose to skip sending test scores. Instead, USC uses a “holistic” application review process, which means they consider every aspect of your application, not just scores and grades. 

But the truth is that many students still choose to submit their ACT/SAT scores. Based on those students, admitted freshmen had an average ACT range of 32-35, an average SAT range of 1410-1540, and an average High School GPA of 3.8.

UCLA switched to a test-blind policy in 2022, which means that ACT/SAT scores aren’t viewed or considered for admissions decisions or scholarships. This differs from test-optional because even if scores are submitted, they aren’t used by the admission committee to evaluate applications at all

Still, admitted students in 2021 had an average SAT range of 1290-1520 and an average High School GPA of 3.9. ACT ranges weren’t reported.


Other Admissions Policies

If you can’t bet on ACT/SAT scores impacting your admissions chances, what can you expect them to look for? 

If you take a look at schools’ missions and values statements, you’ll learn the exact things they are looking for and considering when viewing student applications. 

UCLA values and looks for students “who demonstrate intellectual curiosity, leadership, initiative, and tenacity,” because “they are the students who would contribute the most to the UCLA learning community.” If UCLA is your pick, you want to make sure your application highlights all of those qualities!

USC values “wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of the self, and respect and appreciation for others.” They do consider standardized test scores, writing skills, and performance in school, but they also look at personal qualities “revealed in community involvement, leadership and achievements.” Of course, your application for USC would need to show your strengths in these areas!

Because both schools are so competitive, you need to spend plenty of time learning about your chosen school, their values, and what they look for in applicants before you apply.


Student Demographics

Both UCLA and USC are committed to diversity, and their dedication is clear from their large minority enrollment numbers. 

UCLA has 61% minority enrollment with the 3 largest ethnic/racial groups on campus being Asian (29%), White (26%), and Hispanic (22%). 

USC has 53% minority enrollment, and the 3 largest ethnic/racial groups on campus are White (32%), Asian (24%), and Hispanic (17%). 

Both schools have more female-identifying students than they do male-identifying students, but USC is a little more balanced with 52% female and 48% male enrollment—compared to UCLA’s 60% female and 40% male enrollment. 


Costs and Financial Aid

The average cost for room and board at USC and UCLA is similar—around $18,000—but that’s where cost similarities end with these two schools. 

Since it’s a public school, the cost of tuition and fees at UCLA depends on whether students are California residents or not. If they are, in-state tuition is the most affordable option at $14,478 a year. The price for non-California residents spikes significantly to $47,052. Still, that’s almost $20,000 less than a year of tuition at USC.

What’s more, many students at UCLA receive financial aid and don’t have to pay the full cost of tuition and fees. For 2019-2020, 51% of all undergraduates received some form of financial aid.

USC is a private college, remember? Without government subsidies, students have to pay more for their educational expenses, and at USC that’s $66,640 a year. Like UCLA, though, many students receive financial aid. In 2022, more than two-thirds of USC undergraduates received aid





Is USC or UCLA Better for You? 4 Tips To Help You Decide

Choosing which school is best for you is tough, especially when they both have unique strengths and weaknesses. To help you out, here are four you can use to decide whether UCLA or USC is a better fit for you.


#1: Decide What You Want To Study and Imagine Your Ideal Class Setting

If you already know what you want to study in college, then one of the most important factors to consider is whether UCLA or USC offers relevant programs of study. (If you’re not sure what you want to major in just yet, don’t worry! That’s a decision you can make further into your college career.)

If you have an idea of what interests you, browsing through USC’s and UCLA’S available programs, majors, and minors can help you decide which is a better fit for you. USC has more to choose from, offering over 200 academic majors and 250 minors—but UCLA may still be a better fit if one of their 125 majors and 90 minors is better suited to your interests.

And, even if you’re interested in a major both schools offer, one may be higher ranked than the other. For example, both UCLA and USC have Engineering programs, but US News ranks UCLA’s program at #11 in the nation and USC’s at #30. Figuring out where your chosen programs stack up can help you decide which to apply to. 

Both schools have highly-ranked and well-known programs, but if that isn’t enough to help you decide, consider class sizes. USC has a smaller student-faculty ratio with nine students to every instructor—that’s half of UCLA’s 18:1 ratio. So if you value smaller class sizes with more access to your professors, USC may be a better fit for you.


#2: Consider Costs and Financial Aid

If cost is an important factor in your college decision, your choice between USC or UCLA may be a simple one. USC’s tuition and fees are higher than UCLA’s, especially if you’re a California resident. 

Both schools boast about undergraduate financial aid, though, so exploring UCLA’s and USC financial aid policies and opportunities can help you figure the exact price you’d pay to attend one or the other. 


#3: Consider Campus and Undergraduate Class Size

Enrollment size can also help you make your decision. If you thrive in larger communities and classes, you want to choose a school that provides that kind of environment so you can shine. But if you’re more comfortable with smaller class sizes and communities, choosing a school with those qualities is the right move.

Both schools have just under 50,000 students, but UCLA has a larger percentage of undergraduates on campus than USC. 

If you prefer a smaller number of undergraduates on campus with you, then USC’s enrollment of 20,790 undergraduates would be a great fit. If you’re thinking the more the merrier, then UCLA’s enrollment of 32,119 undergraduates is the way to go.


#4: Compare Your Qualifications to Those of Admitted Students

Last but not least, you need to consider how your application will stack up against other students before choosing USC or UCLA.

To begin, check out admitted students’ High School GPAs and ACT/SAT scores. Test optional policies give you the option to submit test scores. If you’re a great test taker and have high standardized test scores, sending them to a test-optional school might help your overall application. But since neither school requires test scores, you won’t be at a disadvantage if your scores aren’t amazing since you don’t have to submit them. 

Next, do a little research on each school’s missions and values statements to help you figure out if you’re a good match for them and vice versa. If your application shows that you and the school value the same things, you’ll be a better candidate than others who don’t. 

Lastly, look up what each school’s admissions committees look for on student applications. This isn’t a guessing game! Both UCLA and USC break down exactly what they consider when judging applications, so to give yourself the best chance of admission, make sure your application addresses every qualification they look for.


Recap: USC vs UCLA: Which Is Better?

USC and UCLA are both great schools located in Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the US. USC is well known for its highly esteemed School of Cinematic Arts and its School of Communication and Journalism, and UCLA is well known for its prestigious School of Theater, Film, and Television and its School of Dentistry.

If you’re still wondering whether USC or UCLA is better, just remember: it depends! We can’t definitively say one is better than the other, because they both have unique strengths and weaknesses. Whereas USC would be a better fit for one person, UCLA would be a much better choice for another. 

To decide which is better for you when it comes to USC vs UCLA, you need to consider many factors, like available academic programs, costs and financial aid, undergraduate student body size, and how your application and achievements compare to other admitted students. 

Whether you choose to apply to UCLA, USC, or both, now you know exactly what to expect as you embark on your Los Angeles college journey. 




What’s Next? 

If you’ve read through this and decided that USC is your dream school, that’s great! Now it’s time to get your application together. Here are our expert tips that’ll give you an edge with the admissions committee.

If you’re hoping to go to UCLA instead, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Check out these four tips that’ll help your application stand out. 

Both USC and UCLA can be expensive. Learn about how you can secure financial aid to help pay for college here.


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