As the last of the merit scholarship applications roll in today, Trojan hopefuls will find the competition tougher than ever. The number of scholarship applicants will almost undoubtedly increase but the number of scholarships offered is down from past years.
“Every year more and more students apply for our scholarships deadline,” said Tim Brunold, the director of undergraduate admission. “[But] this last year was we reduced the number of scholarships slightly.”
The merit money comes from the financial aid budget, which is made up of funds from student tuition. The budget is split among need-based scholarships, athletics and specialized talent scholarships, and academic scholarships.
Recently, the funds have been redistributed. Administrators said that with more students needing financial aid, less money should go to merit scholarships.
“They want to be sure that there is need-based financial aid for continuing students,” said Gene Bickers, the vice provost of undergraduate programs. “In terms of making sure that the need-based pool is there and that we are not going to have anyone that needs to leave the university because of unforeseen financial circumstances — that is the first and most important priority.”
Despite the slight shift, Brunold said he does not expect the number of scholarships to continue to decline.
“Next year will look very much like it did this last year,” he said. “Generally we have found that the balance works well.”
Generally, Brunold said, about 20 to 22 percent of the incoming class receives some sort of merit scholarship.
Though the merit scholarships take money from the financial aid budget, Brunold said administrators feel the investment is worth it.
“The merit scholarships program is helping us meet our enrollment goal,” Brunold said. “It makes us feel like it is a great program that is well worth continuing.”
Some students agreed that offering merit scholarships helped bring students to USC.
“It is necessary to give out merit scholarships,” said Tisa Thomas, a sophomore majoring in health promotion and disease prevention studies, who receives a Presidential scholarship. “You have students who will look at USC more seriously.”
Most students — scholarship recipients or not — said they think the merit scholarships are good for the school.
“Having the merit scholarship program sends a message that USC does value intelligent students and that is the kind of student body we have here,” said Blanca Maldonado, a senior majoring in business administration.
Other students said the scholarship program is good because it brings high-caliber students to USC.
“If they are really that bright I think it is worth it,” said Will Cooper, a senior majoring in business administration. “I like to think the next Albert Einsteins are at USC.”
Some, however, said they worry there are other qualified students who are not given the opportunity to receive merit scholarships.
“The merit scholarships are good but they should offer some scholarships to more of the international students,” said Sameer Sabberwal, a first-year master’s student studying electrical engineering. “It will heighten the number of international students who want to study here.”
Some students said the scholarships should be offered to a wider variety of students — currently, merit scholarships are only available to incoming freshmen.
“They should open it up every year for students to try to get a merit scholarship,” said Vikram Paranjpe, a freshman majoring in health and humanity who receives the National Merit Finalist Presidential scholarship.
Nonetheless, most people feel that overall the merit scholarship program has been successful in drawing top students to the university.
“They attract students who would have gone to better schools,” Paranjpe said. “But because they got a scholarship, they are more likely to come here.”