Scholarship and Grant Awards

1. Policy

Issued: 1/30/2015
Last Revised: 11/4/2020
Last Reviewed: 1/3/2023

2. Policy Purpose

This policy governs the administration of scholarships and grants at the University of Southern California (USC). USC provides scholarships and grants to students consistent with donor specifications on the basis of financial need, merit, or both. All funds provided by private and corporate donors, alumni, and university general funds held by USC and its academic units are deemed institutional aid. To be eligible for institutional aid, students must meet enrollment, academic, or other criteria as specified in the scholarship or grant requirements. The total amount of institutional aid to any USC student may not exceed the student’s cost of attendance as determined by the Financial Aid Office.

For undergraduate scholarships, the Enrollment Services Division and collaborating academic units review scholarship strategies and set enrollment planning targets on an annual basis. Institutional scholarship targets are approved by the Admission Office in consultation with the Financial Aid Office. Centralized coordination of scholarships is conducted through the Financial Aid and Admission Offices and applied directly to student accounts. This policy is intended to maximize the use of all university resources for scholarship and grants, and avoid over-award situations resulting in post-notification adjustments.

For graduate scholarships, this policy provides a minimum standard that each awarding unit must meet. Academic and administrative units may supplement the policy as needed to achieve departmental or university goals, provided such goals do not violate any other laws or University policies. The Financial Aid Office will coordinate scholarships to ensure they do not exceed the student’s cost of attendance.

3. Scope and Application

This policy applies to institutional aid. However, certain types of institutional aid are treated differently because they are subject to additional requirements, laws, and regulations that are not controlled by USC. For example:

Athletics grants-in-aid are awarded at the discretion of USC Athletics. Student eligibility for these awards and additional institutional and external awards must be applied consistent with National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations, as well as legal requirements.

Tuition assistance for USC employees and dependents is also considered outside the scope of this policy, insofar as it is an institutionally-provided and defined benefit for USC faculty and staff. Tuition assistance is applied in coordination with other forms of institutional aid and in relationship to employment status, which may require more nuanced treatment.

4. Definitions

Cost of AttendanceThe cost of attendance includes estimated tuition, fees, room/housing and board/meal plan, transportation, books and personal expenses. These costs are set by the Financial Aid Office and based on average or actual student expenditures. See “Limits and Eligibility for Institutional Awards” below.
Conflict of InterestThe term Conflict of Interest encompasses both Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment. A Conflict of Interest arises when:

– Professional, financial, or personal activities or relationships compromise, or have the appearance of compromising, a USC Employee’s professional loyalty and responsibility to USC, and ability to perform USC duties and responsibilities in a full and complete manner.

– A USC Employee’s professional, financial, or personal activities compete, or have the appearance of competing, with the university.

See sections Prohibited Conflicts of Interest and Outside Activities and Conflict of Commitment.
Institutional aidFunds awarded at the discretion of USC decision-makers from resources held by USC and its academic or administrative units. Institutional aid encompasses both donor-provided and general funds. Examples include, but are not limited to: university grants, trustee scholarships, department awards, and stipends. (Awards and eligibility decisions made by sources external to USC, including federal Pell Grant, Cal Grant, National Merit Scholarship, etc. are not considered institutional aid.) Institutional aid includes athletics grants-in-aid and tuition assistance for USC employees and dependents.
ScholarshipA scholarship is financial support based on academic achievement or other specified meritorious criteria and may be awarded on a one-time or renewable basis. The donor (or designator of institutional funds) may express criteria or preferences for recipient selection (e.g., field of study). Where applicable, students must meet the criteria for scholarship renewal (e.g., GPA requirements, service expectations). Scholarships may also specify limits as to maximum number of terms or credit hours to be covered.
GrantA grant is financial support based on defined criteria that usually includes financial need. A grant recipient is selected based on federal, state, or institutional eligibility requirements. Grants are usually awarded for a specified academic term and may be re-awarded if the student continues to meet eligibility requirements. The Financial Aid Office is the university authority for determining financial need.
PrizeRecognition based on a competition or other selection criteria. While prizes are generally awarded as culminating events, they act as scholarships for policy purposes.
FellowshipA fellowship is financial support awarded to graduate students on a competitive basis. Awards consist of tuition credit and/or stipends.
StipendA sum paid directly to the student on an established schedule (e.g., internships, research, etc.). Stipends may be granted on a competitive basis.

5. Policy Details

Limits and Eligibility for Institutional Aid

Student eligibility – To be eligible for institutional aid, students must meet enrollment, academic, or other criteria as specified in the scholarship or grant requirements.

Tuition and fee awards – Tuition and fee awards may not exceed the amount billed (and not otherwise remitted in the form of reciprocity or tuition benefits) to the student as instructional fees or mandatory fees. Funds limited to individual billed components must specify to which component they apply (e.g., room/housing, board/meal plan, books/supplies).

Book awards – Book awards may not exceed the book allowance established by the Financial Aid Office.

Housing awards – Housing awards may not exceed the highest cost USC Housing option and may not be greater than the total amount billed to the student account (whichever is less).

Food/meal plan awards – Food/meal plan awards may not exceed the highest cost USC Housing meal plan option and may not be greater than the total amount billed to the student account (whichever is less).

Conflict of Interest

All USC employees must avoid both actual conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest with the university. Please refer to the USC Conflict of Interest Policy.

Individuals involved in the selection or awarding of institutional aid (e.g., employees, volunteers, donors, scholarship or grant committee members) must disclose any actual or potential conflicts that they may have in connection with the review, evaluation, award, and/or distribution of scholarships, grants, or other institutional aid.

No immediate or extended family members, dependents, or other relatives of anyone serving on a scholarship, grant or other institutional aid selection committee or involved in the selection process for any institutional aid are eligible to receive a scholarship, grant or other institutional aid award from that same committee.


With very limited exceptions, scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial assistance may not be distributed based on protected-class status, such as gender, race, or ethnicity. Please see the Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Policy for information about protected classes. Before accepting a donation with such restrictions, or if you are seeking to provide financial assistance based on such factors, please contact University Advancement or the Financial Aid Office for consultation and review. University Advancement and the Financial Aid Office will, in turn, consult with the Office of General Counsel and the Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX before authorizing the implementation of such restrictions.

Reporting and Record Keeping

University Advancement maintains the central records of all donor funds solicited, received and administered by academic and administrative units. All academic and administrative units must report all gifts to University Advancement and forward the governing donor agreement. University Advancement will maintain copies of all donor agreements.

Determination of Student Financial Need

The Financial Aid Office is the university authority for determining financial need. As such, the Financial Aid Office will coordinate, determine eligibility and make the selection of recipients for all centrally awarded need-based scholarships and grants and merit scholarships that have a need-based component. The Financial Aid Office will serve as a resource to other awarding units of need-based funds to assure compliance with regulatory and donor-established obligations.

Award Management

Each awarding unit is responsible for tracking available awards and communicating eligibility and renewal criteria to students. The awarding unit should be able to justify in reasonable detail that eligibility requirements were met and the reasons for selecting one student over another for an award. The awarding unit should retain documentation of the application, review, and selection process in accordance with USC’s Record Management policy. Post-award tracking and monitoring should be performed at the account and student level to ensure accuracy. The Financial Aid Office provides access to a centralized scholarship management database that awarding units can use to meet these requirements.

Coordination with Financial Aid

In compliance with federal student aid regulations, all institutional aid to USC students is managed through the Financial Aid Office. When institutional aid is coordinated with non-institutional aid, the student’s total financial aid package cannot exceed the student’s financial need, as determined by the Financial Aid Office and as allowed by federal and state regulations.

Exceptions to this policy may be made only with the approval of the Dean of Financial Aid.

Interpretation of Endowment Agreements and Donor Language

University Advancement and the Dean of Financial Aid are the coordinating officers for questions regarding the interpretation of scholarship language in existing donor agreements with respect to scholarship, grant and other institutional aid awarding requirements. When the donor (or funding source) is silent on programmatic, financial need and merit requirements, the application of scholarship funds will be consistent with university and academic unit goals. As referred to above, university staff should be sensitive to any discriminatory outcome that may result from an endowment agreement or other donor specified criteria.

6. Procedures


7. Forms


8. Responsibilities

Academic and other awarding unitsOutside of centrally managed scholarship programs, the awarding unit is responsible for selecting students consistent with the terms of any donor agreements; entering the student award in the Department Award module in the Student Information System; notifying students in writing as to their award status, next steps, and renewal criteria; retaining records regarding the selection of scholarship recipients; and reconciling distributed scholarship amounts to financial and student records. The awarding unit should maintain proper segregation of duties to ensure that no single individual has complete authority over reviewing applications, determining awardees, and authorizing and reconciling disbursements.
Development officersDevelopment officers are responsible for communicating scholarship needs to donors, and reporting to donors regarding the successful selection of students and the achievement of enrollment objectives (using information provided by academic departments and the Financial Aid Office).
Financial Aid OfficeThe Financial Aid Office is responsible for compliance with federal, state and university policies when awarding grants, scholarships and prizes; determining student financial need (whether by federal methodology, USC institutional methodology, or both); maintaining associated systems and procedures required to facilitate the same; providing access to relevant and necessary information to assist in the collaborative awarding of scholarships; and providing information required to develop reports to donors to the appropriate development officers.
Enrollment Services DivisionThe Enrollment Services Division is responsible for communicating university enrollment strategies and goals to those individuals who are part of the awarding process.

9. Related Information

Conflict of Interest policy

Record Management policy

Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Policy

10. Contacts

Please direct any questions regarding this policy to:

Financial Aid

11. Policy URL

The policy will be listed at This link may be shared in community messages and on the We are SC website.