In the beginning, testimonials of good moral character were the key to admission at USC. A letter from a high school principal or a one-on-one interview with a faculty member would suffice. Of course, having a high school diploma didn’t hurt, and if there was any question that someone had not adequately prepared for college, an entrance examination could make the final determination.
“When we were at USC, they let almost everyone in,” says Peg Trivett, who graduated in 1938. “You just had to be able to pay the tuition.”
For many years, college was typically a birthright reserved for the rich, the elite and for men. USC was ahead of the curve, opening its doors to all who were qualified, establishing a policy that declared “no student would be denied admission because of race, color, religion or sex.”
USC has welcomed men and women from all backgrounds since it was founded in 1880, creating one of the most diverse student populations in the world. As USC continues to evolve into one of the top universities in the nation, it’s important to note that it could not be the institution it is today if it were not for the university it was yesterday.
The first students at USC experienced an entirely different university. Only three courses of study were available and if students could prove they were qualified to continue their education, a high school diploma was not necessary for admission.
Back then, USC was a small university in a big city, but it was forever changed at the end of World War II. Before, enrollment to the university had been based on selection by faculty. GIs returning home from the war, however, were admitted almost without question. Enrollment more than doubled as USC, and the country shared in a rebirth.
A bright future lay ahead in the postwar era. Dads went to work, and moms stayed home. Opportunity knocked. Vast improvements were made to almost everything, including admission standards at USC. The SAT helped to standardize the admission process in the late 1950s and a high school diploma became a formal prerequisite to get into the university.
“I was working full time, raising a family and attending USC at night,” says William Curran, who studied business from 1957 to 1966 while his wife, Mary, joined the USC Dames – a social and fundraising group for wives. “It was very convenient for me and my family.”
A changing world set the stage for a new USC in the 1960s. Students could study more fields than ever. The SAT and high school academic records were weighed equally for admittance. The university envisioned excellence, so it positioned itself to become a major research institution that could meet the demands of the future.
“USC was a very appealing place to be,” says Hank Dolim, who went on to be an Air Force pilot in Vietnam after getting a degree in engineering in 1965. “The school had a good reputation and a strong sense of community.”
BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME
New buildings and residence halls went up in the 1970s as USC expanded. Since then, USC has made its mark in higher education by attracting nationally known faculty and top-notch students. Together they provide the creative energy that will drive USC into the future.
“USC could be what you made of it,” says Dolim’s son, Tony, a 1993 business school graduate who was inspired to attend USC after taking a walking tour of the campus with his father. “There were kids who got into USC because they could afford it, and there were students who were there because they were high achievers. It was an environment where you could take what you wanted.”
Over the years, many great hopes of the university have been realized. USC has reached new levels of prominence. Generations of professionals, public officials and business leaders have graduated from USC, fueling the determination to make the university a world-class institution.
“USC has become like a club that a lot of people want to join,” says Jon Burdick, director of research for enrollment services and a 1985 alumnus. “The alumni are responsible for that because their success sells the university to the next generation.”