5.5 percent of applicants selected as scholarship finalists

The first swarm of newly admitted students will soon descend upon campus, hoping to make just as strong of an impression as the school hopes to have on them.

Later this month, the applicants selected as finalists for Trustee and Presidential scholarships will visit USC to interview for the awards. About 20,000 students applied for Trustee and Presidential scholarships this year and, of those, about 5.5 percent of the pool — 1,100 people — were selected as finalists, according to Tim Brunold, associate dean and director of undergraduate admission,

“The hardest part of the process is being named a finalist,” Brunold said. “Once that’s happened, they can relax and be themselves.”

The Trustee scholarship pays a student’s full tuition, and the Presidential scholarship pays half. The required interviews for both are conducted at Explore USC sessions held in late February and early March.

Scholarship applicants who make the cut are selected as finalists for either the Trustee or the Presidential scholarship. The awards are not guaranteed, however, and much hinges on the interview. Trustee finalists could instead be given the Presidential scholarship and Presidential finalists could earn the Trustee.

The percentage of scholarship interviewees who don’t receive a scholarship varies from year to year, Brunold said, but the number is typically low.

Brunold said the interviews are critical in distinguishing among equally qualified applications.

“Based on average test scores or GPA or class rank, you would see very little difference on paper,” Brunold said. “It’s about the things that aren’t easily tallied or counted up. We look at the entire person.”

The admissions office selects candidates for scholarship consideration from the pool of scholarship applicants, Brunold said, and then the individual schools pick the scholarship finalists who are brought to campus for interviews.

A panel consisting of one staff member, one faculty member and one student from the applicant’s prospective school typically conducts the interview. Karen Rowan-Badger, assistant dean of USC College admissions, said the interviews generally last around 20 minutes.

The number of accepted students varies among the different schools and is based on the school’s size and enrollment. The Roski School of Fine Arts, for example, only gives out about 10 or 12 Trustee and Presidential scholarships each year because the school is so small relative to USC’s other schools, Roski Dean Ruth Weisberg said.

To be selected as a Trustee scholar at Roski, Weisberg said, students need a great academic record and an outstanding portfolio. But, she noted, there are more to the scholarships than pure academics.

“The panel looks to see how passionate [students] are about their chosen path,” Weisberg said. “We look for maturity and poise. On top of talent and academic qualifications, the interview adds another ingredient.”

Rowan-Badger added that the interview process was a big part in giving the school an idea about students that applications can’t.

“[We’re looking] just for students to be themselves,” Rowan-Badger said. “We’ve met them ‘on paper’ through the application, but it’s a time for the student to really shine.”

Ultimately, USC hopes to enroll about 140 Trustee scholars and somewhere between 300 and 350 Presidential scholars in the incoming freshman class. One hundred and fifty Presidential scholarships will be given out through the interview process and the rest would be awarded to National Merit finalists who have picked USC as their first choice school.

Many other applicants will be selected for other scholarships, including the Dean’s scholarship, a quarter-tuition award, and the Associates scholarship.

These numbers are slightly higher than last year’s, Brunold noted, but not significantly.

“We’re currently not cutting into scholarships, and that’s important to us,” Brunold said. “We’re always trying to award more.”

The funding for these scholarships, he said, comes from the university’s financial aid budget.

Though the number of scholarships has remained relatively stable, Brunold said the process of choosing the individuals who receive scholarships has become more and more difficult, as the number of applicants has increased.

Students who apply for a Presidential or Trustee scholarship but are not selected as finalists are placed back in the applicant pool for regular admission.

Brunold said the matriculation rate is likely to be similar to previous years — about 45 percent of Trustee candidates and about 28 percent of Presidential candidates ended up attending USC.

Brunold said requiring the scholarship finalists to visit the school helps secure their attendance.

“The Explore programs are well-attended,” Brunold said. “We know that when we can get them to campus and show them the great things we have to offer, it makes the decision process a lot easier.”