Become a Renaissance Scholar

The Renaissance Scholar distinction is intended to recognize and celebrate USC undergraduates who have excelled academically while pursuing at least two widely separate fields of study. Learn more about the history of the Renaissance Scholar distinction here.

Step 1: Determine Eligibility
Step 2: Apply for Certification
Step 3: Apply for Prize Competition


In order to receive the Renaissance Scholar distinction, applicants must:

  • declare a major and a minor (or two majors) in two widely disparate fields (graduate degree programs, including Progressive Degrees, are not eligible); eligibility of program combinations is determined through the certification process
  • meet all university requirements for degree(s)
  • graduate with a 3.5 overall GPA (with University Honors)
  • graduate with a 3.5 GPA in each of major(s) and minor(s) for at least one certified combination of programs (lower division coursework is included in calculation)
  • complete degree(s) within five years at USC

Renaissance Major GPA Calculation

GPA calculation factors in upper and lower division courses, which is different from “Upper Division Course Work Applied to Your Major” GPA section on a STARS report. Once certified, STARS will include a section indicating current Renaissance major GPA. The existing STARS section tracking minor requirements will accurately reflect the Renaissance minor GPA.

Eligible Academic Program Combinations

To be considered as “widely disparate,” programs should not overlap in disciplines, topics, themes, applications or methods. Review the Apply for Certification section for more details on how eligible program combinations are determined.

Apply for Certification

In order to confirm that your programs of study are considered widely disparate, you must apply for certification. Before being certified, applicants must:

  • Officially declare all academic programs
  • Verify completed 64 units

Process for Certification

  • Multiple program combinations can be evaluated for certification if more than two programs are declared. Only one approved combination is needed for certification.
  • Approved combination(s) will be noted on STARS report with GPA tracking information.
  • If a student changes their major or minor, they must apply for Re-Certification using the same form.
  • Certification decisions are made within approximately six weeks after application is submitted. Applicants may be contacted for additional information. Please note: applications from students graduating within the current academic year will be given priority review.
  • Graduating seniors must apply by the December deadline of their final academic year in order to graduate with the distinction. May and August graduates apply in their final spring semester. December graduates apply after graduation.

Once certified, you will automatically be recognized as a Renaissance Scholar upon graduation, as long as you complete the intended programs of study and meet all minimum GPA requirements. Recipients of the Renaissance Scholar Distinction will have the honor denoted on their final transcript and receive a medallion for Commencement.

What are considered “widely disparate” programs of study?

Academic programs at USC fall under five broad categories of discipline: 1) Arts, 2) Humanities, 3) Natural Sciences, 4) Social Sciences, and 5) Quantitative/Technical Sciences.

Click here to view list of all major and minor programs

To be considered as “widely disparate,” programs should not overlap in disciplines, topics, themes, applications or methods.  In general, programs from different discipline categories are likely to receive certification, and programs from the same category are not likely to receive certification. For example:

  • Art History (Humanities) and Biological Sciences (Natural Science) is a certifiable combination.
  • Communication and Political Science (both Social Sciences) is not a certifiable combination.

There are exceptions to this premise. Programs from two different categories may have the same underlying discipline and pedagogical approach, and therefore would not be certifiable. Additionally, some academic programs are inherently interdisciplinary and fall under multiple categories, so they can be more difficult to certify with other programs.

Ultimately, certification is based on each student’s individual course plan, particularly for programs that offer different concentrations. Students must demonstrate the disparate nature of their studies through the specific courses they have taken. For example:

  • A student majoring in Business Administration and Public Policy would receive certification if they take upper-division Business courses with a quantitative/technical focus (e.g. Accounting, Finance and Business Economics), which is different than the social science focus of Public Policy.
  • Conversely, if the same student chooses a social science focus for their Business courses (e.g. Entrepreneurship, Management and Organization), then they would not receive certification with a Public Policy major.

Please note that program curriculum may change every year, which could affect the certification eligibility for various major and minor combinations. Contact Academic Honors and Fellowships at for additional questions about choosing programs prior to certification.

Deadlines and Application

Deadline for Graduating Seniors: Thursday, December 31, 2020 at 11:59 PM (PST)

Seniors with expected graduate dates in December 2020, May 2021, or August 2021 must apply for certification by December 31, 2020 in order to be reviewed for the distinction eligibility.


Please note: The certification application will be closed after December 31, 2020 and reopen after May 2021. Graduating seniors who have been certified will have access to their application to submit materials for the Prize Competition.

Prize Competition Application

Certified Renaissance Scholars are invited to apply for the Prize Competition round, which is an opportunity to earn $10,000 towards graduate studies. The Prize Competition is optional and supplementary; it does not affect your eligibility to earn the Scholar Distinction noted on your final transcript.

The Prize Competition is intended for graduating seniors only and requires submission of:

  1. 3.50 cumulative GPA and 3.50 GPA in each program at time of application
  2. Personal Statement: 3-5 pages, double-spaced. Address the following questions:
    • Explain your decision to pursue your divergent fields of study. What are the main theories, principles, approaches and/or insights of your academic disciplines? In what ways do your fields of study interrelate with and/or differ from one another?
    • Provide 2 – 3 specific examples of how you have applied the breadth and depth of your studies in academic, leadership, and/or professional contexts (e.g. class assignments, research, extracurricular involvements, internships). These examples should also demonstrate your personal and intellectual growth as an interdisciplinary thinker.
    • Discuss how these fields have shaped your long-term goals for graduate study, research, and/or employment. Explain how your programs of study will uniquely prepare you to address the broader challenges and/or opportunities within your future profession(s).
  3. Two Faculty Letters of Recommendation: One from each academic department of the certified Renaissance Scholar program combination. If certified for multiple programs, a third recommender may be included.
    • Indicate name and email of each recommender in the online application. An auto-email will be sent to prompt them to submit a letter on behalf of the candidate prior to the deadline.
    • It is helpful for referees to address a student’s overall achievement and performance in class; the scope and quality of a student’s contribution to a course; value and implications of a student’s work in the broader context of the field of study; and how that work intersects with a student’s second academic program.
  4. Résumé (one page) that highlights and summarizes academic and non-academic achievements.

A university-wide panel reviews approximately 80 applications from which they select ten winners.

Click here to access the Renaissance Scholars application


Prize Competition Deadline for Certified Seniors: Monday, February 1, 2021 at 11:59 PM (PST).

View Excerpts of Past Essay Examples – Digital version

After submitting an application, students should closely review emails from Academic Honors and Fellowships for notifications regarding status of distinction, follow-up for prize nominations, and instructions for receiving a medallion at the beginning of May.

Prize winners must demonstrate evidence of enrollment in a graduate program (within or outside the U.S.); or submit a proposal for a creative project that advances their career. Prize funding must be utilized within 5 years of graduating from USC. More information in the FAQ page.

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