Black and first-generation students represented in Class of 2025 in historic numbers

Despite the progress, Dean of Admission Timothy Brunold said there’s still ‘lots of work’ to be done.

First-generation and Black students are represented in historic margins in the Class of 2025, according to statistics released by the university Friday.

Of the 3,668 first-year students on campus, the report said 32% are from what USC calls historically underrepresented ethnic groups. The university, however, did not specify exactly which communities make up these groups.

Black student enrollment nearly doubled to a record high of 9%, up from 6% last year.

Approximately one in four students in the class are the first in their families to attend college, a 9 percentage point increase over the past 10 years.

Additionally, one in five first-year students identify as Latinx.

“We always talk in admissions about, if you want to see results in the class, you have to see results in the applicant pool,” USC’s Dean of Admission Timothy Brunold told Annenberg Media. “So this isn’t just ‘Hey, this was the outcome.’ It was really the result of our applicant pool becoming more diverse.”

Not only did the diversity of the freshman class improve, but so did general interest in the university. Over 70,000 students applied to USC — a 19% increase in applications from the previous admissions cycle — yielding a 12% acceptance rate.

Brunold said he did not anticipate such large application numbers, especially because the COVID-19 pandemic impacted traditional admissions outreach such as campus tours and high school visits by USC’s admission officers.

“This past year’s student outreach and recruitment went better than any of us would have hoped,” Brunold said. “I don’t think anyone would say they would rather do a college recruiting process all virtually, but it allowed us to reach more students than in a pre-pandemic year.”

According to Brunold, admission officers typically host events in about 20 countries. This year, they reached over 60.

Brunold speculates the spike in applications was a result of USC’s temporary test-optional policy, which was implemented after COVID canceled in-person testing opportunities.

“It was not something that we were too concerned about, only because we know that our decisions are the result of many factors, not simply the test scores,” Brunold said.

The average score among those who did submit their SAT or ACT scores was in the 97th percentile. Admits also tied with last year’s class for the highest average GPA in USC history at 3.83.

The university will continue its test-optional policy for the next two admission cycles, but Brunold said the office has yet to make a long-term decision and will make the call based on research.

Brunold also predicts USC’s Affordability Initiative, which was launched last February and guarantees free tuition to all students with a family income of less than $80,000, helped increase interest in the school.

Roughly two thirds of USC’s undergraduate students receive financial aid, which exceeded $415 million in the 2020-21 school year. A record 24% of the Class of 2025 is eligible for the Federal Pell Grant, which offers up to $6,495 to students who have a family income of less than $50,000.

Looking ahead, Brunold says the admission team will continue to focus on getting students in the applicant pool who may otherwise “self-select” out of the process, such as rural students or those who have only attended public schools.

“We’re going to continue to go after those students, recruit those students, and tell those students the USC story,”  he said.

When reflecting upon the diversity of the Class of 2025, the dean is content but knows the work is far from over.

“We’re making great strides,” Brunold said. “I think this year is a great example of what’s possible. But again, there’s still lots of work to be done.”