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A complete outline of the USC AYA summer program

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

All photos by Metzli Esparza

Note: certain images are formatted into a slideshow. To view these images, enlarge them and an arrow will appear to the right of the enlarged image, allowing you to see each one.

This summer I spent my days at the 4 week USC Annenberg Youth Academy School for Media and Civic Engagement. The USC AYA For Media and Civic Engagement is a selective and rigorous program that accepts 26 Los Angeles school district high school students. I was made aware of this program back when I was a freshman in high school, during the quarantine and Zoom era, and ended up never applying until my Junior year at Eagle Rock. One recurring issue throughout my decision to apply and the application process was not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. For this reason, I thought it would be beneficial for future applicants to have a review of the program and information on how to apply, what applying looks like, and what they can expect from the program as a whole.

Quick Tip:

This program begins around the third week of June and will end in the second week of July with a four-day 4th of July weekend. Before applying, be sure you would be available to attend every session because attendance is absolutely essential.

Application process:

If you want to know where you can apply as well as additional information about the program, click the link here: USC Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement. For more information on what applying looks like, keep on reading!

The program opens up for applicants in January and your application must be submitted by early March. Keep in mind to be eligible for the program you must be an incoming Freshman to an incoming Senior; the program is not open to high school graduates.

When applying you should expect questions about your experience in journalism and media, contact information, and general information about yourself, name, grade level, etc. Another thing required is submitting a headshot of yourself in the application, which could be a selfie, as well as two short essays. Each essay should be around 300-400 words. One essay asks about why you think you would be a good fit for the program and how you think it could benefit you as not only a student but a person. The second essay you need to submit is about how you believe civic engagement and media affect our society and individuals' participation in societal or worldly issues. When writing each essay be sure to avoid information dumping a bunch of facts or just creating a brag sheet; instead, attempt to be genuine and insightful with your opinions and ideas.

Once your application is submitted you should expect your decision letter via email around late April to early May. If accepted, you will receive further instructions on how to proceed from the coordinators of the program.

Classes & Schedule:

Classes begin at 9:30 every morning unless instructed otherwise. In the mornings small snacks and drinks will be provided as well as free lunch every day during the 45-minute lunch break. On most days, unless instructed otherwise, class ends at around 3:30 in the afternoon. The program also offers TAP cards if necessary for transportation from your home to USC. The only exception to the usual schedule is every Friday. On the first three Fridays of the program you will be taken on incredibly fun and educational field trips to different museums and cultural communities, and lunch and transportation will be provided. On the final Friday of the program, students will be allowed 3 guests and get to host an exhibition to showcase all their hard work as well as graduate on stage at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism auditorium.

The AYA program has three periods per day. Your first class will be a communications course where you study civic engagement, different aspects of a variety of cultures, what helps shape a person’s identity, and how media has grown and adapted over the years. Before every class, except for the first day, you are expected to read an article and be prepared for a discussion that will begin the following class. Along with taking notes, learning about different editing software, and learning different techniques to improve your photography skills, this class will also assign you with three fun and small projects over the course of the program. The first project is a short podcast about a topic discussed in class; this assignment was especially helpful in learning how to edit audio and sound effects. The next project is a short video with pictures you will take at a museum you visit. You are expected to edit the video and provide a voice-over that tells a story or something you learned through your visit. The final project of the year for Communications 101 is a collaborative media project where you get to work with the friends you’ve made throughout the program (the groups will most likely be assigned but as long as you didn’t make any enemies, it should be fun!) on designing a zine, creating a podcast, photo essay, and much more. Not only is this final project fun but it also allows you to utilize all the skills you have learned, work with your new friends one last time, and further explore your creativity.

Your second period of the day will be with a special guest speaker. There is someone new every day so be sure to ask your guest speaker everything you want to know while you have the chance. Your speakers will range from USC admissions counselors, USC professors, popular online influences like Kelly U, and even the incredibly inspiring Lora King. My favorite part of the day was always listening to the guest speakers and soaking up all the information they offered. Not only will you learn more about the college application process but you will also expand your knowledge in what communication and journalism really is and the different careers these fields offer.

Journalism is the last class of the day and for the majority of this course, you will be working on creating an in-depth and well-researched article as your final project for the exhibition. In this class, you will learn more about photojournalism, how to reach out to people professionally, how to write an article, and how to conduct a good interview. All these different aspects of the course come together to help you improve the story you’re writing. In the first week of this class, your focus will be finding a topic and creating an outline of the things you want to discuss. This task is very important in helping you learn how to construct and plan your ideas as a writer. During week two, you will begin reaching out to as many people as possible through email to get all the information and perspectives necessary to write your article. In week three expect to have finished the majority of your interviews and research and really begin drafting your piece. As for the fourth and final week of the program, you will mostly be polishing up your article and finalizing your work. This course is extremely helpful in learning how a newsroom operates, the different elements of an article, and gives you a good idea about how fast the pitch-to-product timeline is.

Quick Tip:

Though you may not realize it at the time, the program flies by very quickly so try to stay in touch with as many of your peers as possible, and don’t be afraid to make friends. Also, take advantage of the amazing opportunities you are given, and don’t be scared to ask for any contact information from professors and guest speakers.

Main Takeaways:

The USC Annenberg Youth Academy Summer program can be extremely beneficial in helping you advance your skills in writing, editing, and photography. Though an extensive background in journalism and other forms of media isn’t exactly necessary to qualify for the program, it can definitely be helpful when it comes to your Journalism course. The program also offers the chance to explore and consider a college major or future career in journalism and communications or, just as importantly, help you realize that journalism and communication might not be for you. One piece of advice I gained from the program is that discovering what you don’t want to do is just as important as discovering what you do want to do.

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