This week’s installment in my series of articles about leading American universities focuses on the University of Southern California (a.k.a. USC or Southern Cal), located in my hometown of Los Angeles.
Although I did not attend USC as a student myself, I have a bit of an insider’s perspective on this great institution. I know firsthand just how dynamic and impressive USC is and how valuable a credential from there can be, including for international students.
I taught international law courses as an adjunct professor at USC’s law school for 10 years and guest lectured on international business and intellectual property topics at the business school. Dr. McWaine and many of our close friends graduated from USC’s medical school, and I have been an avid fan of USC varsity football since I was a teenager.
But don’t just take my word for it.
USC is ranked in the Top 25 universities in the United States by those who assemble such lists. It is ranked in the Top 50 universities worldwide. In 2009 it topped Newsweek’s list of “The Decade’s Hottest Schools.” Both Time and The Princeton Review have named USC “College of the Year” for its “extensive community engagement programs and increased global presence.”
Founded in 1880, USC is the oldest research institution in California. There are currently 17,500 undergraduate students and 20,500 graduate students in the University’s college, graduate school, and 17 professional schools. Despite the large population, the University maintains a very low average 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
USC is a private institution, and tuition rates are what you would expect for a school of its size and reputation. More than 60% of incoming freshmen, however, receive financial assistance based on need, with a significant number receiving full scholarships.
In its early years the University developed a global outlook and has focused aggressively on attracting, supporting, and maintaining a vibrant international community within its halls. In 1924 Southern Cal established the first school of international relations in the United States. In 1930, the University had more than 700 international students on campus.
Today the University enrolls more international students than any other American tertiary school and offers extensive opportunities for study abroad and international internships. This year there are more than 8,600 international students from about 120 countries enrolled at USC. In 2011, Open Doors (an annual report compiled by the Institute of International Education) named USC the leader in international enrollment for the 10th year in a row.
The University has more than 3,250 full-time faculty members along with another 1,490 part-time faculty drawn from specialized and professional fields. If you were to inventory current faculty awards, you would find multiple Nobel Prizes, MacArthur Fellowships (i.e., ”genius grants”), Oscars, numerous national medals, and more than 200 memberships in major scholarly Academies.
As with any school of this size, it’s difficult to parse for discussion particular fields of study. There are simply too many excellent opportunities available at USC, with many dozens of undergraduate concentrations and more than 400 graduate and professional programs. I will, though, mention a few faculties that have developed especially strong international reputations.
U.S. News & World Report ranks several of USC’s programs — including the Marshall School of Business, Gould School of Law, Sol Price School of Public Policy, Leventhal School of Accounting, Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Viterbi School of Engineering, Rossier School of Education, and the School of Social Work – in the top 20 in their fields in the United States.
The Thornton School of Music is world renowned, and its ensembles regularly tour overseas (including multiple appearances here in New Zealand last month). Rolling Stone magazine named Thornton as one of the top 5 music schools in the United States.
Established in 1884, Thornton has a wide range of departments and specialized degrees, from early music to medieval to traditional classical forms (including opera and orchestral) to contemporary and popular. It’s one of only two schools in America to offer degrees in music industry studies and in film scoring.
USC has long been a pioneer in film studies. It established a school of cinematic arts in 1929, launching the country’s first (and still largest) filmmaking program just as the industry was shifting from silent films to talkies. In the most U.S. News & World Report rankings, USC tied with NYU as the top film program in the United States and, I would argue, the world.
The school offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a wide variety of disciplines including directing, production, screenwriting, animation, digital arts, interactive media, producing, and critical studies. It contains the Robert Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts, the first fully digital film training facility.
Esteemed USC film alumni include George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Sam Peckinpah, John Singleton, and Judd Apatow, among many others. I was awed to discover that the School’s founding faculty was composed of D.W. Griffith, Ernst Lubitsch, Irving Thalberg, Darryl Zanuck, Douglas Fairbanks, and William C. DeMille. That’s quite a pedigree.
Also worth special note is USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Established in 1971, the School contains a variety of innovative undergraduate and graduate programs at the “crossroads of media, entertainment, technology, and globalization.”
Whether your primary interest is in journalism, digital media, online communities, public diplomacy, public relations, global communication, strategic communication, or communication management, Annenberg has a full curriculum (and a degree) for you.
I am particularly fascinated with USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. Launched initially in partnership with the U.S. Army, the Institute brings together faculty and researchers from a variety of disciplines (including computer science, psychology, medicine, entertainment, and interactive media) to create increasingly sophisticated virtual humans, develop and refine simulation environments, and study human reaction to virtual reality. The research being conducted in artificial intelligence is at the sharpest point of cutting edge.
And while I’m talking about things digital and simulated, it’s worth noting that The Princeton Review has ranked USC’s Video Game Design curriculum number 1 among the 150 such programs in North America.
As I have said before, prospective students should always consider the nature of the alumni network into which they will someday graduate. With respect to USC, there are currently more than 200,000 living Trojan alumni, with more than 100 active alumni groups on all six inhabited continents.
You will find prominent and powerful USC alumni in all walks of life, including the likes of iconic astronaut Neil Armstrong, football star Troy Polamalu, current president of Egypt Mohammed Morsi, architects Frank Gehry and Pierre Koenig, fashion designer Salvatore Ferragamo, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, business magnate Barron Hilton, Macy Gray, John Wayne, Tom Selleck, Will Ferrell, Cybill Shepherd, rapper Young MC, and numerous other sports and entertainment stars.
USC’s curricular strengths are extensive and impressive. Among the University’s greatest extracurricular strengths are its athletics and sports programs. Southern Cal boasts 94 NCAA team championships (3rd in the nation) and 361 NCAA individual championships (2nd in the nation).
Although its athletes and teams excel across dozens of men’s and women’s sports, USC is perhaps best known for its varsity football squad, a perennial powerhouse not only in the Pac 12 Conference but nationally as well. (In fact, earlier today the annual AP pre-season poll ranked USC as the number 1 team in the country.) Southern Cal plays its games in the historic Coliseum, home of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics, just a couple minutes’ walk from campus.
Trojan athletes excel not only at the American collegiate level but also on the wider world stage. Competitors from USC won 12 gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics. If USC were an independent country, it would have placed 6th in the gold medal count, ahead of Germany and France and just one gold short of South Korea. USC Olympians took home from London a total of 25 medals.
Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games, USC athletes have won 135 gold medals, 87 silver, and 65 bronze. In terms of gold, that puts USC in 12th place, only two golds behind Australia and just ahead of Japan.
The University’s motto is Palmam qui meruit ferat, a Latin phrase meaning “let whoever earns the palm bear it,” widely known two centuries ago as the personal motto of British naval hero Horatio Nelson. USC selected the phrase as its motto to encapsulate the University’s core values of triumph, self-reliance, and staunchness.
Many of USC’s most beloved traditions spring from those values as exemplified in the University’s sports history. Owen Bird, a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times in 1912, was so impressed by the fighting spirit of the school’s athletes that he likened them to the fierce ancient warriors of Troy. USC students and athletes have been known as Trojans ever since, and the University itself is often referred to simply as Troy.
At the center of campus stands the Trojan Shrine, a life-size bronze statue of a Trojan warrior affectionately nicknamed Tommy Trojan. The statue is a popular meeting spot for students and the focal point for many campus events.
The official mascot of the University is a snow white horse named Traveler, currently an Andalusian. Like an ancient general and his steed launching battle, Traveler and a rider dressed as a traditional Trojan warrior lead the football team into the Coliseum for home games and post-season bowl appearances, to the thundering roar of the crowd.
Fight On, the official fight song of the USC Trojans, is the lyrical equivalent of palmam qui meruit ferat. Composed in 1922 by Milo Sweet, a USC dental student, the rousing song has become widely popular beyond the University. (I am told that it was sung to pump up soldiers’ morale and fighting spirit immediately before amphibious landings in the Pacific during WWII.)
Whether singing, dancing, or shouting, Trojans are famous for their passionate embrace of their sports teams. Games offer not only extraordinary displays of athletic prowess on the field, track, or court, but also great people-watching and social theater on the sidelines, with revelers decked out in USC’s official colors, Cardinal and Gold.
As sports powerhouses often do, USC has several friendly but intense rivalries with other schools. None, however, is more vigorous than the cross-town feud with the Bruins of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Trojans battle the Bruins in every sport, and even a disappointing season is redeemed by trouncing UCLA (or, from the Bruins’ perspective, USC).
The rivalries pose a clear and present danger to Tommy Trojan. In the run-up to big games, opponents launch raids on campus to splatter the Trojan Shrine in paint the color of the opposing school’s colors. To minimize the insult, USC officials now completely encase Tommy in plastic and duct tape for the week leading up to big football games.
In addition, a student organization named the Trojan Knights stands 24/7 vigil at the Shrine throughout the week of the big event. The Knights are joined on the last night (aptly named “Save Tommy Night”) by large numbers of other students to defend Tommy from attack, as well as to party, whip up spirit, and have a good time.
The Trojan Knights are just one of more than 1,000 student organizations and clubs on campus, covering every conceivable interest and activity. There are a daily student newspaper (which copped the first media interview of Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency), a 24-hour student-run television station, vibrant Greek life (approximately 1/5 of the student body belongs to a fraternity or sorority), and even — I joke not — a quidditch team, the Liondragons.
USC has an outstanding history of community service and social work, and many of the student organizations are devoted to service activities. For example, each year Troy Camp, founded by one of the fraternity houses in 1948, takes dozens of elementary students from inner-city schools to summer camp for a week of outdoor education.
A particularly notable service effort is the Joint Education Project, which encourages more than 2,000 USC students to enroll in classes that combine academic coursework with real-life experience volunteering in schools, health-care centers, and other community-based facilities in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. Many of the students continue to volunteer after the associated coursework ends.
The varsity football team aside, perhaps no USC student activity is as widely known and acclaimed as the USC Marching Band, better known as the Spirit of Troy. Since its founding in 1918, the band has performed to in-person and televised audiences that number in the billions … including at the Academy Awards, at the Summer Olympics, in Rose Bowl Parades, on American Idol, and for Pope John Paul II.
Among the Band’s numerous accomplishments, one particular event stands out. In 1979, British rock powerhouse Fleetwood Mac invited the Spirit of Troy to record Tusk, title song for the group’s eponymous album. Tusk went double platinum, making the Spirit of Troy the only university marching band on Earth to produce a platinum-selling song.
I’ll note just one more of my favorite USC traditions, ”Primal Scream.” Every night during final examinations period, the Marching Band performs outside the Leavey Library at 10:00 p.m. For 20 minutes, students put down their books and join the Band in loud mayhem – singing, dancing, shouting, jumping, banging, and/or splashing in the reflecting pool. On the last night of examinations each semester, it seems as though the entire University population jumps into the pool to celebrate the close of the term.
One of USC’s great natural advantages is that it sits at the heart of Southern California, a very special part of God’s creation bursting with energy, entrepreneurism, creativity, mind-boggling diversity, extraordinary professional and recreational opportunities, and stunning natural beauty. It’s a place to breathe deeply, experiment, explore, invent (or reinvent) yourself, step into the future, and live large.
In terms of scale, the City of Los Angeles is 498 square miles (1,290 sq.km) in size and contains approximately 4.5 million people. The metro area contains a total of more than 23 million people but does not feel crowded because of the substantial amount of territory that it covers.
There is an extensive public transit system of buses, trains, and an expanding subway network. During my final few years of practicing law in L.A., I regularly and easily commuted by metro from my home in Hollywood to my office in the CBD.
With an annual economy exceeding US$ 850 billion, this megacity is a powerhouse that ranks as the third largest metropolitan economy in the world, behind only Greater Tokyo and New York City. If it were to secede from the United States, the L.A. metro area would be the 12th largest national economy on Earth, ahead of countries such as the Netherlands and Indonesia and roughly the size of Australia.
Much of the Southern California economy is technology-based, with large biotech, renewable energy, green tech, environmental, software, hardware, telecom, internet, aerospace, satellite, space exploration, CGI, entertainment, and related industries.
At the core of this very 21st Century economy is a large, intense concentration of world-class research centers and universities including USC, CalTech, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, among others.
The educational, professional, and employment options produced by such a dynamic scientific research community are extensive and quite extraordinary. If you are at all interested in science-related careers, it would be worth your time to browse the websites hyperlinked in the paragraph above.
To me, though, the great beauty and power of Los Angeles is not its economic but its human capital. The city is home to people from more than 150 countries speaking 226 different languages.
Census statistics indicate that only about 42% of the population speaks English as a first language. A comparable number of residents speak Spanish as their first language, and there are large numbers of native Korean, Tagalog, Armenian, Chinese, and Persian speakers.
Ethnically, the metro area is about 40% Hispanic, 39% non-Hispanic Caucasian, 11% Asian, 8% African American, and 2% Pacific Islander and Native American. More than 31% of the current population of Los Angeles was born outside the United States. Another 21% of the current population – including me – was born in a State other than California.
Los Angeles is the largest Korean city outside of Korea and the largest Thai city outside of Thailand. The metro area has the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. Such deep, broad diversity infuses all aspects of life in Los Angeles, producing a fascinating cultural and political incubator as well as an exhilarating array of dining and entertainment options.
Simply put, one has to work hard to be bored in L.A. The city is an entertainment dream, which one would expect of a place where one in every six residents works in a creative industry.
To sharpen the point a bit, USC’s Stevens Institute for Innovation asserts, “There are more artists, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers, and musicians living and working in L.A. than in any other city at any time in the history of civilization.”
I believe it. There are more than 1,000 musical, theater, dance, and other performance troupes in town, as well as 54 annual film festivals.
From my prior writings you know that I am particularly partial to cinema. I can easily walk from my house to just over 200 movie screens, including the posh ArcLight and the historic Grauman’s, El Capitain, Egyptian, and Cinerama Dome. I haven’t found an accurate tally of the hundreds of other movie screens in the metro area.
If you are an outdoors type, Southern California is a very diverse, convenient paradise. Everything positive that you hear about the weather is absolutely true. Full stop.
Plus, you can get from USC to the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica in less than half an hour. The iconic surfing and beach life of Malibu, Zuma, Huntington, Orange County, and Ventura County are only slightly farther away. The wild off-shore islands are easily accessible by ferry or sailboat.
It takes less than two hours to drive to the desert resorts of Palm Springs, into the exotic terrain of the high desert, up to snow-capped mountains and ski resorts, to San Diego’s museums and zoos, or across the Mexican border.
The city itself has large open spaces, hiking trails through the Hollywood Hills and up the coast, nature preserves, long bike paths along the beach and the Los Angeles River, golf courses, a great zoo, an outdoor train museum, and one of the largest urban parks in North America, Griffith Park (with 4,500 acres).
For more information about cultural and recreational activities in my hometown, as well as advice about planning a visit, see the Discover Los Angeles website. For my own personal take on regional highlights, see my two previous posts about Los Angeles.
For more information about the University of Southern California and how to apply, check out the USC’s main website or its graduate programs page. Students interested in cinema and visual arts should be sure to browse the website of the School of Cinematic Arts. And, as always, please feel free to contact the Embassy’s Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, at DumasAG@state.gov.
Stay tuned. The next installment in my university series will run two weeks from now, highlighting USC’s Pacific Conference cousin, the University of Washington. If you would like me to focus on a particular institution or academic program after that, just let me know.