Applying to USC Film School

Over the past few months I have received many questions about the application process for USC. When I applied, I was so nervous and stressed that I spent over a month working on the application. So I applaud those who have contacted me - this means you are giving yourself enough time to make the application perfect!

Here are some questions:

Do I need experience to apply?

Not necessarily! I came into the program with 4 years of experience working in the industry but many of my classmates had never even picked up a camera. It is very important to simply show your desire to tell a story - show your desire to be a part of this industry.

I wrote about my experience in my internships as well as personal endeavors that involved my camera - such as recording myself screaming on the Great Wall of China! Others wrote about how they incorporated movies into their specific jobs. A good friend of mine spent the last few years in the Army in Iraq and hosted a screening in Saddam Hussein's personal theater. An amazing story!

What should we say in our personal statement?

Pour your heart out on that piece of paper. Let your personality shine through. When we all got here, we realized NONE of us was exactly like the other. We all have amazing stories of how we got where we are today. Be humble. Tell them why you want to join an industry that is cut-throat and demanding all while in a failing economy. Tell the truth -- this is your dream we are talking about.

What are the class sizes like? Do you get individual attention?

In our first year, we have both lecture classes and regular classes. You are with everyone in your semester during that time. The lecture classes have about 50 people -- again' everyone that got accepted with you. The other classes have no more than 17 people each. These are the writing and production classes. The professors work with you as a class and then break you up into smaller groups and work with you that way. Always ask questions - that's the best way to get individual attention.

What if I do have experience?

The first year is a leveling ground. Everyone learns the same thing and then branches off to focus on directing, producing, sound, etc. So if you come into the program with some knowledge, you may feel like the course is slow moving. But soon the curriculum will catch up to you and you will be challenged.

Is it worth going to film school? Especially the expensive USC?

This is a toughie, because it is completely up to you. I personally was very hesitant to apply; but now that I'm here, I could not imagine doing anything else. I just had my 1 year anniversary of receiving my acceptance letter. I celebrated by attending a filming on the CBS Lot and partying at a Gary Sinise Lot party. Yes - a good night - I will blog about that soon!

You go to USC for the alumni, the name, and your peers. They call us the USC Mafia - and it's true - we protect each other. These people are my family and we help each other out.

In a matter of 7 months, I have built my reel exponentially. I have 4 solid films under my belt that I would have never created had I stayed in North Carolina. I am shooting the 5th one this weekend. I also am getting a clearer understanding of what I want to do in the industry. USC helps you narrow that down. Their courses are taught as if you are in the actual industry - demanding deadlines, permits, release forms, budgets, crew, union rules - and more!

Go to film school if you are not entirely sure what it is you love about this little thing called moving pictures. Go to USC if you are willing to be in a ton of debt yet have the best film school attached to your name.

Okay I got in -- Now what?

Film school is what you put into it. By no means are you set once you get into school. Stay focused. Keep working - even harder now. USC gives you the tools - it is your job to use them right.

There you have it! Do you have any more questions? Post them below and I will respond in a blog post.

Thank you for your questions!

12 Responses

  1. hi ashley!

    This is a bit random, but if is alright with you, i was wondering what kind of undergrad GPA/GRE scores you and your classmates had applying to USC? I have a 3.0 double majoring in a BS (finance) and a BA in (communication). havent taken my GRE yet. am i unlikely to get accepted from the profile of the students you’ve met?

  2. ucsd alum

  3. I know the average GRE score is between 1120 – 1220 (correct me if I’m wrong!). Also, the recommended GPA would be 3.0 or higher.

    Keep in mind, scores just show that you can do the work and can apply yourself. Spend your time studying for the GRE, take it twice, and no more!

    Spend most of your time on the creative part of the application. They want to see that you can tell a story.

    Good luck!

  4. joseph

    Is it really essential to do the GRE exam?

  5. USC requires you to take the GRE and get the average score of 1120 – 1220. Not all film schools require this though!

  6. Anonymous

    How long is the program?

  7. Abi

    Hi Ashley Maria!
    Any cautionary tales or recommendations for the writing and visual sample portions of the application?

    Any tips would be appreciated!!


  8. To answer a few questions:

    The graduate program is 3 years and possibly more if you decide to do a thesis project.

    As for the application, just be yourself. Have your true personality come through on the page and in the pictures. I talked about going on an eventful tour of China and eating their food. The food freaked me out so much that I refused to eat it. I was starving. Luckily I had a Snickers bar in my bag, and I ate that while waiting for the car ride home. True story…the shrimp had eyes…and they were looking at me…

    Good luck!!


  9. Hi,

    I’m applying for USC’s screenwriting program next year and wanted to get a few tips. I’ve taken some play and screenwriting classes and plan to have a reading of one of my plays in the next few months. Any other advice to show I’ve got relevant experience for the program? Thanks!

  10. Hi Ashley
    Im going to apply to USC but I have a question and that is in order to get in as a transfer student how many units do you have to have and is the film program gonna get you anywhere in life

  11. Hi Ashley,

    You mention that you worked in the industry and THEN decided to go to film school. There is a lot of propaganda on the internet that says that film school is unnecessary, and that a person should forgo school and just jump into the industry for the best opportunities/education. Why did you choose to go the route that you did? And are you finding your education at USC beneficial for a strong future in Hollywood, keeping in mind that you have a worked in the industry before? Thanks!

  12. P.Jenkins — I’m not very familiar with the application process for the writing program but it sounds like you are off to a good start! It’s all about showing you can tell a story, so make sure you stay open minded to the possibilities! Especially with actors…they can show you something in your story that you never knew you had!

    Anthony — Not sure about transfer credits and the film program will get you everywhere!

    mb4him — I know for a fact that I have changed exponentially as a filmmaker since attending film school. I have discovered other parts of the industry that I never thought I would like. Plus, you learn every aspect of filmmaking which makes you better in all arenas. Want to be a director? Well, you better know how to edit and vice versa. This will build your story telling skills to a level beyond anyone who went straight to work and never had the opportunity to experiment in a safe environment.

    Also, film school allows you to fail. If you mess up in a job, that may follow you for the rest of your career. If you mess up in film school, then you write it off and move on to the next one.

    Hope this helps!