A large number of applicants to USC apply before the Merit deadline of December 1st (I think I read it was over 20,000 last year--Georgia Girl may have the exact number), so lots of students are thinking about how they might fare in the competition for these extremely generous awards. After watching these boards for many years, I thought I'd offer some observations, a bit of logical speculation, and a few kind words of warning. My motto is: be realistic while you dream big.
First, the difficult truth is that the same form of hyper-selectivity is at work at USC's top scholarships as in admissions to the most selective programs/universities in the world. The same pool of extraordinary HS students that are vying to get into Harvard and Stanford and Princeton, et al, also often apply to USC hoping to get a full-tuition merit scholarship. Some may think it's a smart safety plan (and yet each year, we find many ivy-type-stat students who, while admitted to USC, do not get an invitation to interview for scholarship and they are just stumped at how this can possibly be?). The reason is--among the top institutions and top merit scholarship competitions at the few very strong universities that offer them, the choices of excellent candidates are many and the spots are few. So each year, some may get into Yale or MIT or wherever and yet do not get a scholarship invitation at USC. Or vice versa. Some get offended by this, but it is what it is. Very competitive.
So, what IS my shot?
About 800 (rough estimate) are invited to interview out of a pool of over 20,000. Make that roughly 4% of the early applicants, who--by the very fact they bothered to apply before the scholarship deadline--would seem a very highly qualified group. 4% means just 4 out of 100 high stat-type applicants. Each year, about 300 are invited to interview for the Trustee, Stamps & Mork. That's about 1.5% of these early applicants will be asked to interview for the top scholarships, while another 500 or so will be invited for the Presidential. Of those who come to campus for the interview (not all do!--some may have received good news from SCEA schools like Stanford or ED at another school and they are consequently out of the pool), about 200 are actually awarded the Trustee, Mork or Stamps. That's about 1% or less of the original group of applicants before Dec 1. Of those, we see about 140 or so who end up matriculating to USC. Again, these are rough numbers to give an idea of how selective the process is.
To see what sort of applicants USC has honored in the past, check out the threads alamemom posted that show the admissions results for the past two years. The announcements/invitations to interview for these top merit scholarships go out around the end of January--to early February, so just look over the students who got their admissions packets during those dates to see the stats (self-reported, of course, so keep in mind this is not precise info).
You'll notice that there are a range of SAT scores/gpas that have been invited, and yet, we can tell you truthfully that there are students with similar (and higher) stats who do not get an invitation. So what sense can you make from that? Well, like admissions themselves, the selection of candidates for the top scholarships is a holistic process. Only the decision-makers and their criteria may be a little different since the invite list of finalists is made by major/School--not general admissions.
The Role of Major and School Applied To:
Each School at USC (and major within the school) seems to be allotted a certain number of Trustee/Presidential/Dean's Scholarships to award. How does an applicant become a contender? Each major/School will value certain special qualities over others. While the entire student's file is considered, and while objective criteria (gpa/scores) need to be excellent, the invitees will all offer something specific to each USC major. Since USC is basically using these awards to recruit extraordinary talent, accomplishments, leaders, self-starters, and seriously motivated high achievers, they have a history of admitting high-performance students and look for the X factor. Viterbi (engineering) may have dozens of 4.0 gpa/top AP scoring wonderfully accomplished students and all will be admitted, but they have a limited number of invitations for full or half-tuition scholarships to grant. They may reward the student who has successfully launched a very creative app (CS), done extraordinary work outside of HS in their field (research w/professor), etc. Marshall School of Business will look for a different sort of leader--perhaps someone who has used social media to raise money for a cause, and we'd expect the talent-based majors to be most interested in students who have special achievements in their fields. No matter the major/School applied to--even undeclared--they will reward those who have gone beyond HS achievements. They are looking for innovators, thought leaders, contributors to society and those who have shown sustained, significant and successful dedication to their passions. This is not rocket science. They anticipate that such students will continue these roles at the university and they will add greatly to the community once at USC, and they do.
But so do many many other USC students, all of whom are leaders and/or go-getters and great students, too. Like all things--there is just a little luck in this selection process as in any. So... do you feel lucky? (parents may get this reference to Clint Eastwood!!)
This is sort of the tip of the iceberg of info. If you have specific questions, please ask away.