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USC Annenberg Youth Academy (AYA) - Should You Participate?

If you are in high school keen on skills like critical thinking, writing, media literacy, and public speaking, then pre-college programs like the Annenberg Youth Academy (AYA) should be on your radar.

In this blog, we’ll cover what you can hope to learn at AYA, important program information, as well as our review of the program.

What is the Annenberg Youth Academy?

The Annenberg Youth Academy (AYA) for Media and Civic Engagement is a four-week summer intensive for high schoolers in Los Angeles County run by the University of South Carolina’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Through first-year college-level equivalent courses, it aims to teach the role played by journalism and media communications in molding civic-minded thought leaders and innovators. It also introduces you to USC Annenberg’s undergraduate offerings and potential media and journalism careers.

The Annenberg Institute itself is committed to empowering the next generation, dedicated to advancing issues of race, gender, and ethnicity within media, communication, and journalism. Through this course, you will receive an immersive experience that enhances your skills in writing, critical thought, public speech, and multimedia production.

Is USC’s AYA prestigious?

With only 26 students selected per batch of the AYA, it’s a pretty selective program, even if it’s only open to LA county students. The exposure to first-year college-level education, the opportunities to meet leading scholars, and the transformative experiences it offers, all of these contribute to its prestige. Additionally, the fully funded nature of the program and its strong focus on teaching practical skills make it very competitive to get into.

Who is eligible to apply?

To be eligible to apply for the AYA, you must:

  1. Be a high school student studying in grades 10-12.

  2. A resident of and attending high school in Los Angeles County.

  3. Able to commute to the USC Annenberg campus for the full duration of the four-week program.

How does the application process work?

The application process for 2024 will open in January, and the important thing to note is that there are no registration or tuition fees at all!

An AYA application requires the following:

  • Your high school transcripts, both official and unofficial.

  • Two essays of 300-500 words each.

  • One letter of recommendation.

  • Your resume.

  • The filled out application form.

How is the AYA structured?

The program is typically spaced between the 2nd week of June and the 2nd week of July.

AYA is designed to provide a comprehensive learning experience:

  • You’ll be attending at least three hours of lectures on an average day.

  • There are three educational field trips spaced throughout the program, to ensure that you get exposure to how real media houses work.

  • The USC Annenberg Admissions Team will also host college advisory and college essay preparation workshops.

  • You’ll also be engaging with the staff, faculty, and other undergraduate students at Annenberg.

You can expect to be practicing communication with your professors, learning how to conduct interviews, understanding the usage and roles of technology in media, and debating ethical journalism with your peers.

Considering Pros and Cons


  1. You will develop key skills: Journalism and communication involve a lot of critical thinking, strong presentation skills, and the ability to think on your feet. These skills are not exclusive to these fields, and will serve you well regardless of where you choose to pursue your future.

  2. You will get assistance for college prep: Since you’ll get to work directly with the USC Annenberg Admissions Team, you’ll get top-notch insights on how the college admissions process works straight from the people that run it. The learnings you obtain here will help you no matter where you end up applying.

  3. You won’t have to pay any fee: One of the best aspects of the AYA is that it’s fully funded and you won’t have to pay a dime if you get through! This makes it one of the most accessible courses in LA for journalism and media, and an excellent option for learning communication skills overall.

  4. You will build a strong network: The experiential nature of the program and small batch size ensure that you’ll get to interact and build connections with industry leaders, your professors, and of course your fellow peers. Anchors and journalists from leading media houses are invited for guest lectures, meaning this networking can be extremely valuable!


  1. You need to be committed: Not strictly a con, but you need to give it the full four weeks of attending classes, going on field trips, and putting in the work. If you have other plans for the summer, best put them on hold.

  2. You may not be eligible to apply: Unfortunately, AYA is only available to students in Los Angeles County. Even if you’re located elsewhere in the country, it’s simply not an option for you. If you are interested in journalism and communication, we’ve shortlisted a bunch of other programs/internships for you to consider as well!

  3. Admission is highly competitive: With only 26 spots, it can be extremely difficult to get through. We suggest having an alternative option as well, in case AYA doesn’t work out.

Should You Participate?

The Annenberg Youth Academy is a powerful experiential program that will teach you some important life skills while also providing you fantastic exposure in the world of journalism and mass communication. The only barriers to entry are its restriction to LA area students, and the small batch size. If you're seeking a challenge and an opportunity to grow, AYA might just be the perfect fit for you.

One more option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on various topics in fields like media studies and journalism, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: USC logo


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