The USC Financial Aid Office, which is preparing to send incoming freshmen their financial aid awards this week, is hoping that improvements to its process will help eliminate the confusion and concern that was prevalent last year.
According to Noemi Garcia Tagorda, senior assistant dean of financial aid, the Financial Aid Office reviewed approximately 322,000 documents this year for approximately 22,000 financial aid applications. The office allocates a budget of more than $180 million dollars to more than 20,000 new and continuing students who require financial assistance.
Under the direction of Katharine Harrington, dean of admission and financial aid, the Financial Aid Office has made several changes this year to speed up the process and help boost efficiency.
At the beginning of this year, a number of students ran into problems with financial aid. Some students were notified that their documents had never been received, even though they had been sent. Other students had questions about their aid packages and had difficulty finding answers.
To eliminate problems and confusion, Harrington initiated a dramatic redesign of the financial aid workflow.
“In the past, it was mostly paper that was mailed in or faxed,” Garcia Tagorda said. “But we have this new feature called document upload. It gets information to where it needs to be so much more quickly than before.”
The Financial Aid Office also redistributed staff to help process data more efficiently, even enlisting the aid of the admissions processing staff.
“Things that used to take a couple of days or more are now only taking a day or two,” Garcia Tagorda said.
The office also hired four new people in charge of analyzing each family’s need and two new staff members to help assemble the aid packages.
“Because we have new staff, we’re really moving through it,” Garcia Tagorda said.
She added that the Financial Aid Office works overtime during these weeks to ensure awards are prepared in a timely manner. USC students are hopeful that the process will indeed be more efficient this year.
Monica Yap, a freshman majoring in business administration, recalled a particular incident last year that made her wonder if forms sometimes slip through the cracks.
“I remember last year, for USC, we had to fax something, and it was about to be due in a couple days. And I remember USC sent this e-mail: ‘We’re sorry, there was a really high volume of faxes, and we just wanted to confirm that we got yours.’ And I thought, I guess that could definitely happen, where they just don’t get it, because so many people are turning theirs in,” she said.
According to Garcia Tagorda, financial aid requires three core documents to determine awards for the majority of applications: the prior year’s tax forms, the College Scholarship Service Profile and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
“Once we’re sure we have those three core documents, we use the documents to determine a family’s expected contribution,” she said.
She did note that additional documentation might be required.
“Sometimes everything we need is in [the core] documents, sometimes we need a little more,” she said.
Some students said the number of documents needed for financial aid can create a lot of work.
“It’s just a pain applying for USC financial aid,” said Chris Rayon, a freshman majoring in philosophy. “They tell you they need the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, but after you send that in they ask for W2s and all sorts of other stuff after the deadline they give you.”
With USC’s annual cost of nearly $54,000, financial aid awards are critical to many.
Garcia Tagorda said the university does its best to assist students.
“We want to help families out; we want to help your situation as necessary,” she said. “In the end here, this is a partnership between parents, students and the university. I hope students know that every single person [in the Financial Aid Office] really cares that a student is dealt with in a fair, equitable and timely manner.”