How stingy is USC with financial aid?

I was just accepted into USC with the ability to interview for the Presidential Scholarship. Even with the scholarship, USC is still around $42,000. My EFC is around $20,000, but I get the impression that USC (or any school, for that matter) does not give a lot of money to those who are solidly middle-upper middle class, but cannot afford $60k a year to pay for school. Current students/parents/graduates who have dealt with financial aid at USC or any other private college: how does this process go about?

In 2014 we were in the $150,000 income range. My son received the usual federal loans, work-study and a grant of around $22,000. HOWEVER, I also have two in college which makes a big difference in the financial aid calculations. This year my income will be much lower (still good but around $100,000) but my daughter is graduating from college. So I expect my sons grant to drop to around $15,000 (hopefully) plus he may still get the loans and work-study. He does not have a merit scholarship.

The issue you will run into is that your merit scholarship won’t necessarily stack with a need-based grant. Others on this forum can provide more insight on this issue than I can.

You are right, middle class and up = pay for college. You will hear a sweet story now and then about a grant, but 99 out of a 100 times that is not offered to a student. You can fill out the forms and see what they offer, but don’t count on anything. The “meets 100% of financial need” means that the student and the parents can take out big loans to pay the school. Loans are considered financial aid to colleges and particularly USC.

I just advise, being aware, that financial aid, like merit aid, is grossly over stated and over marketed to get you emotionally invested in the school. Then mom and dad start taking the loans to do whatever they can for their kids. Thus the loan crisis and student debt. Just keep a cool head as you go through the process. Also beware of continuing student scholarships stories “you can get other scholarships as a sophomore” - there may be some students can apply to (a process), but most of those are for a couple thousand here or there. Even if you hear about one for 10k, know there aren’t many (if any that year) and they are just as competitive (if not more so) than recent merit awards, plus that still doesn’t make a big ding on a school that costs 70K a year. The fact you started this thread shows you are aware and responsible - good for you!

If you are upper middle class and get the Presidential scholarship, I really don’t imagine you receiving any additional grant aid unless there are multiple kids in your family in college (and even then,probably not). Merit aid will not offset your EFC (as determined by USC- not FAFSA). If you are upper middle class, colleges expect your family to have saved money for college and to liquidate assets or borrow against those assets. So they don’t simply expect your family to pay out of current earnings. They look at all assets and expect those to be tapped.

I agree with all the above very knowledgable posters. Assuming your EFC projections are correct, any merit $$ you would receive would replace the FA grant (free) money you might get. The Presidential would, in your case, replace your FA grants. It’s hard out there for middle income families. It’s brutal, in fact. But should a family have very low income, USC’s FA comes through with grant aid. I have not seen USC FA consider parent loans to be part of their FA packages (although parents may indeed need to borrow to pay for the portion that USC says they are responsible for). But the FA package is made up of Fed student loans, work study, grant aid, plus the EFC. For very low income, this means the family just pays for EFC which could be zero. In those cases, the student received grants above the tuition cost to include cost of attendance as well. So the answer to is USC FA stingy depends on where one sits, financially. There are institutions out there that are much more helpful to middle and upper middle class families.

Do you generally refer to people who give you free stuff as “stingy”?

@GMTplus7 I am not trying to badmouth USC, it just concerns me that so many private schools are becoming virtually unattainable for those who aren’t wealthy but also aren’t poor.

You will find there is a contemptuous attitude toward anyone that has worked hard and is able to pay for any part of college on this forum, even if it means they can no longer make their house payment or will be unable to retire with anything. There seems to only be a desire to advise those that need their entire college paid for by the school or government regardless of the reason they are in those circumstances. Your concern is a valid one nolagirl. I would apply for what you can, but not count on additional funds and have a plan B. Maybe a surprise will come your way.

As screwed up as the pricing system is now, there’s no way it’s going to change in the time frame for you to make an enrollment commitment decision in a few months time. So if your family cannot comfortably afford USC, then pick another school.

I agree with GMTplus7 - I’m a student here on financial aid, and I can’t imagine why if a university doesn’t simply “give” you enough money to attend, they’re “stingy”. I’m not exactly paying $0 to attend, so obviously, I can hope for the university to give me more money like everyone else, but that’s just how it is. Private universities like USC are not-for-profit, but neither do they have an obligation to make finances a complete non-issue for everyone. Public universities are subsidized somewhat by the government, but even they have to charge tuition, and are motivated to accept a disproportionate number of out of state students to lighten the burden. Yet, when they increase tuition by $500 a quarter, everyone jumps up and calls the UCs greedy. So yeah, they froze tuition and now UCLA is operating at a loss of $1 billion a year, according to their 2014 income statement, which they will have to make up for with even larger class sizes, worse facilities in the short term, and eventually higher tuition in the long term anyway to pay back the $7 billion debt they’re loading on.

Universities need revenue streams to continue to operate and pay high salaries for good faculty to do research, and many lecturers to teach smaller classes. If you look at USC’s financial report (and that of comparative private universities) it’s not like they accumulate billions in tuition at the end of the year and stash it all away in the bank. 99% of it goes back into growth and operating expenses, save for a few million in retained earnings.

USC is perceived as “wealthy” in terms of endowment and donations, but the fact of the matter is, no donors contribute money to the school to subsidize tuition. Donations all come with various stipulations on their use - endowing certain departments, creating scholarships, developing buildings… A $10 million donation at most could pay for 50 students to attend for 4 years for free. That’s why that kind of money goes towards merit scholarships, not financial aid.

Schools like Stanford and Harvard are almost 10x wealthier than USC, with way fewer students to have to subsidize - they could allow everyone to attend their school for absolutely free and sustain that for 20-30 years before emptying out the bank, but you don’t see them leading the way in a free tuition campaign (except for Harvard, which just made it free for low income kids to attend… who would have attended for free on financial aid anyway. Nice marketing campaign). That’s just not how things work.

It’s not like USC is the only good school you would have been admitted to. If USC truly stingy with financial aid, then you or any other admittee is likely to go and contribute their talents, achievements, future donations, and yield numbers to that of another university. That’s USC’s loss, so they will do their best to mitigate that. Unfortunately, they can’t make it perfect for everyone. That’s how all private universities operate, and if anything, I found USC’s offer to more generous than packages I received from certain other schools.

Financial aid is an impossible thing to perfect - at what point does a student truly “need” money to attend school? Their parents making 50k? 100k? 500k? What if parents making 50k have built up an enormous college fund for their kid to attend school, while the 500k family is barely keeping up with their mortgage and car payments? What if their parents make millions and won’t assist their child in paying for school? This is why middle class families lose out the most. All of these scenarios are impossible to equalize. Whatever lack of justice you perceive to exist in your situation, unfortunately the university cannot even comprehend that when they’re just given a bunch of income and tax figures to work with

Have you tried the NPC yet??

@Lilliana330 I’m not familiar; what is it?

Net Price Calculator

Each university has its own philosophy and priorities. I’m a lower income student. My sister was accepted to USC, NYU, Barnard, Smith and Pomona. USC and NYU really piled on the lows, whereas Barnard, Smith and Pomona gave her mostly (or all) grants. It also doesn’t necessarily have to do with endowment. Barnard’s endowment is very small and yet they were incredibly generous. I also get the sense that USC and NYU “decide” who should get more grant aid, whereas the other colleges are more generous across the board.

USC’s Net Price Calculator: