Renaissance Scholar Distinction

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.

Eligibility

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

Dates & Deadlines

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.

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.

Award Details

Apply for Certification

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 ahfstaff@usc.edu for additional questions about choosing programs prior to certification.

Renaissance Certification Application

Prize Competition Application

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.

Renaissance Scholars prize application

Examples of Successful Responses

Renaissance Prize Competition: Examples of Successful Responses

These excerpts were selected because they offer critical insight on ways in which their academic disciplines interrelate with one another OR provide compelling examples of how they have applied interdisciplinary learning within various academic, leadership, and/or professional contexts.

All authors have given permission for their materials to be posted here anonymously.  As a reader, we ask you do not circulate these examples as they are the property of the writer and not meant for distribution beyond the Trojan community.

About

About Renaissance Scholars

Our ideal is to help students develop the kind of intellectual flexibility needed for life in the 21st century that the best thinkers of the European Renaissance displayed.

Steven B. Sample

With the words above as a backdrop, President Steven B. Sample launched the USC Renaissance Scholars distinction in the year 2000.

The Renaissance Scholar distinction honors students whose broad interests help them excel academically. Like Leonardo da Vinci, who was equally adept in the arts and the sciences, Renaissance Scholars are students whose majors and minors are from widely separated fields of study.

Undergraduate students at USC have the flexibility to pursue academic study in disparate fields. This curricular freedom allows students to select a major and a minor (or two majors) in widely separated fields of study. USC has a comprehensive array of undergraduate majors and minors that span the arts and humanities, the social and natural sciences, and the professions. In fact, the range of undergraduate minors is the broadest of any university in the country.

To recognize students who excel in two or more unrelated disciplines, the University has established the Steven and Kathryn Sample USC Renaissance Scholars distinction. The honor was endowed in the name of former University President Steven Sample, who founded the distinction in 2000, and his wife Kathryn, upon the President’s retirement in 2010.

Undergraduates can combine a major in history with a minor in business, or a major in engineering with a minor in cinema, or a double major in physics and classics, or majors and minors in scores of other pairs of disparate fields.

The objective is not just to be well rounded but rather to achieve breadth with depth, and the extraordinary release of intellectual energy that often occurs when two widely separate fields of thought are brought together in the same mind. Students educated in this way will be especially well prepared to confront the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. All USC undergraduates are encouraged to pursue this honor.