College Spotlight: The University of Southern California

The California dairy industry says that happy cows come from California. It’s also safe to say that happy college students come from USC. On my recent campus visit on a warm, sunny day, students swarmed the outdoor tables, couches and comfy chairs at USC Village, a new residential, eating, and shopping area next to campus that includes a Trader Joe’s and a Target. I ate with Rosie, a sophomore Jazz Vocal major from Anchorage, Alaska, at Greenleaf, one of the many small restaurants in the village, and enjoyed a very California-y salad at a shaded outdoor table overlooking the busy walkway to campus.  Rosie also considered many East Coast liberal arts colleges and music conservatories but ultimately choose USC for the location. She hasn’t regretted her choice socially or academically.

Students at USC, which is in the heart of Los Angeles, have easy access to city activities and the beach. For example, Rosie’s weekend plans included going indoor trampolining to celebrate a friend’s birthday, seeing another friend play saxophone at a large music festival, doing some studying, and maybe heading to the beach on the train, an easy trip that takes about 30 minutes. She does not have a car on campus but says she doesn’t really need it. Many students use Uber or Lyft.

While Greek life is popular among the 20,000 undergrads at USC, it’s not necessary to have a great social experience. Rosie is not involved with Greek life and says that her academic program in music provided her the smaller group atmosphere she needed for a strong sense of community. But she says that students in the larger academic programs, such as business, may not get that same sense of community and therefore Greek life often fills that need.

The campus vibe is “mixed but tends more liberal – about 70/30,” Rosie said. For example, when Ben Shapiro came to campus to speak recently, “there were a lot of protesters. But then there were also protestors protesting the protesters,” she said.

The buildings at USC are huge and beautiful. It almost feels like you’re on a Hollywood set, and several movies have actually filmed there, including Legally Blonde, The Princess Diaries 2, and The Social Network. Students interested in film, music, and theater rave about professors with the experience and contacts to help them begin careers in the industry right in LA. Rosie has a music professor who sings with Larry Goldings, a Grammy-nominated pianist, keyboardist, composer, and songwriter, and Rosie was recently invited to go to their album cover photo shoot in Malibu. She expects that being exposed to industry professionals will give her a leg up for her own music career. Performing regularly on campus has helped her hone her craft and Rosie says that collaboration within the music department on performances is another advantage of USC.

USC’s campus is big but walkable. Many students have bikes or skateboards, but neither is necessary. Rosie lost the key to her bike lock at the beginning of the semester but hasn’t yet had the motivation to find a way to unlock it. And why would she need to when she lives steps from Trader Joe’s and Target?