Student Pop. 35,000
Stanford. Duke. Northwestern. These are just some of the schools that counselors report USC will soon surpass as one of most sought-after campuses in the country. Rachel Petrella, a counselor at California’s La Jolla Country Day School, said she once saw 40 percent of her private-school students put USC on their list—as a backup. Now, she says, it's a first-choice school for most of them. “USC has undergone an extraordinary makeover in the past decade,” Petrella says. “It’s matriculating a completely different caliber of student than it once was.” Counselors like Petrella report USC does a terrific job showcasing its academic assets, particularly the honors science college and the access to its high-tech research facilities. At the same time, its financial aid is among the most generous nationwide—a $2.4 billion endowment (though down $1.2 billion since 2008) allows more than 60 percent of students to receive some type of aid. Add in a winning athletics program—Trojan football has consistently ranked in the top 5 nationwide in recent years—and its proximity to Hollywood, and applications to the school have risen about 35 percent since 2000.