Graduate and Professional Education

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Graduate students at USC benefit from federal financial aid programs administered by the Financial Aid Office and from scholarships, fellowships and assistantships administered by the Graduate School and various academic departments. In support of the university’s commitment to diversity. The Office of the Provost provides fellowships to students from groups now underrepresented in doctoral study. Several federal agencies and private foundations offer support for students engaged in research in specific fields of study. In addition, many corporations provide fellowships or tuition reimbursements for their employees. USC also offers an interest-free monthly payment plan and participates in long-term loan programs. Students may apply for one or more kinds of aid, depending on eligibility.

Although international students are not eligible for federal financial aid, they may be eligible for scholarships, fellowships and graduate assistantships offered by their schools or departments. International students should contact their departments directly for information about existing opportunities. International students may also be eligible for some private educational loans.

The Financial Aid Office may change these policies at any time to ensure continued compliance with changes in federal and state regulations governing student financial aid. As a result, students must refer to the current catalogue regulations. Unlike degree requirements, changes in regulations, policies and procedures are immediate and supersede those in any prior catalogue.

Financial Support Through Graduate Fellowships and Assistantships

Prospective and continuing students seeking financial support will find opportunities to fund their graduate study through individual schools and departments and through the Graduate School. In general, fellowships and graduate assistantships are offered only to students pursuing the Ph.D. degree.

Acceptance of Offers of Financial Assistance

USC subscribes to the following resolution of the Council of Graduate Schools in the United States regarding deadlines and acceptance of offers for graduate scholars, fellows, trainees and assistants.

Acceptance of an offer of financial assistance (such as graduate scholarship, fellowship, traineeship or assistantship) for the next academic year by an actual or prospective graduate student completes an agreement that both the student and the university are expected to honor. In those instances in which the student accepts the offer before April 15, and subsequently desires to withdraw, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. An acceptance given or left in force after April 15, however, commits the student to not accept another offer without first obtaining written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made. Similarly, an offer by an institution after April 15 is conditional on presentation by the student of the written release from any previously accepted offer.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships are awarded each year by departments of the university to Ph.D. students on the basis of scholastic accomplishment, academic promise and competence. They fall under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Procedures and practices can be found in The Graduate Assistant Handbook on the Graduate School Website. Only students in good academic standing with GPAs of 3.0, acceptable TOEFL or IELTS scores, and who are regularly enrolled in USC graduate degree programs are eligible for appointment as graduate assistants and may be offered a semester-by-semester appointment up to a maximum of one year at a time. All graduate assistants are under direct and assigned supervision of regular faculty members and report regularly on the conduct and performance of their responsibilities to the supervising faculty. These awards include positions as teaching assistants, research assistants and assistant lecturers. Assistant lecturers may be appointed only with the approval of the vice provost for graduate programs. The Graduate Assistant Handbook can be found at usc.edu/schools/GraduateSchool/current_guidelines_forms.html.

Application Procedures and Eligibility Requirements for Federal Financial Aid

Detailed information, application procedures and deadlines for federal financial aid are available online at usc.edu/financialaid. To be eligible for federal financial aid programs, students must be U.S. citizens, permanent residents or other eligible non-citizens; have a valid Social Security number; meet Selective Service registration requirements; enroll at least half-time; meet Satisfactory Academic Progress requirements; and meet all other eligibility requirements. Students must also complete all application requirements by the relevant deadline. With certain exceptions, as noted below, students must be enrolled in a degree-seeking program or eligible certificate program at USC to be eligible for federal financial aid.

Federal Work-Study

The Federal Work-Study program enables eligible students to earn funds through employment either on campus or with an approved off-campus employer. Only full-time (enrolled in eight or more units) students with high financial need who meet all application deadlines are considered for this program.

Federal Loans

Subsidized* and Unsubsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loans and Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans are available to eligible students. The Health Professions Student Loan, Loans for Disadvantaged Students and Primary Care Loan programs provide loans to students in the health professions. Federal Perkins Loans may be awarded to eligible students who meet all application deadlines. For details about federal loan programs and application requirements, visit usc.edu/financialaid/loans.

*Recent changes in federal law will prohibit graduate and professional students from receiving Subsidized Federal Direct Stafford Loans for enrollment periods beginning on or after July 1, 2012.

Private Financing Programs

Private financing programs are available to help students meet the costs of education by providing long-term financing options. Students should exhaust all federal Title IV assistance available, including the Federal Direct Stafford Loan and the Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan, before considering a private student loan program. The repayment terms of federal programs may be more favorable than the terms of private loan programs. Federal student loans are required by law to provide a range of flexible repayment options, including but not limited to, income-based repayment and income-contingent repayment plans, and loan forgiveness benefits, which other student loans are not required to provide. Federal Direct Loans are available to students regardless of income.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

The TEACH Grant is available for students in the Master of Arts, Teaching (MAT) program. The TEACH Grant is awarded to students who intend to teach in a public or private elementary or secondary school that serves students from low-income families. The TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve requires you to teach full-time for at least four years in a qualified position over an eight-year period after you leave the program. If you fail to do so, your TEACH Grant will be converted to a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan with interest charged from the date of disbursement. For more information, please visit studentaid.ed.gov/types/grants-scholarships/teach.

Financial Aid for Enrollment in a Progressive Degree Program

In most cases, students admitted to a progressive degree program will be classified as undergraduate students for financial aid and registration purposes during the first eight semesters of college enrollment, regardless of whether they enroll in undergraduate or graduate courses. Beginning in the ninth semester, students will be considered graduate students for financial aid and registration purposes and are ineligible for undergraduate financial aid. Students are immediately classified as graduate students and are ineligible for undergraduate financial aid once all undergraduate degree requirements have been completed or the undergraduate degree is posted, even if they have completed fewer than eight semesters. Students who receive a research or teaching assistant award before completing eight semesters are classified as graduate students and are ineligible to receive undergraduate financial aid.

Financial Aid for Enrollment in a Certificate Program

Students enrolled at least half time in a graduate certificate program may be eligible for the Federal Direct Stafford Loan and Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loan if the program has been determined to be eligible for federal financial aid. Contact your academic department or the Financial Aid Office for information about whether your program qualifies for financial aid.

Financial Aid for Limited Status Enrollment

Students not admitted to a degree-seeking program or eligible certificate program at USC who enroll as limited-status students are not eligible for federal financial aid, unless they meet one of the exceptions noted in the Consortium Agreements and Preparatory Course Work section.

Financial Aid Consortium Agreements

Students admitted to degree-seeking or eligible certificate programs at USC who enroll at another eligible institution in courses applicable to their USC degrees or certificates may have those courses considered in USC’s determination of their eligibility for limited federal financial aid. The student’s total USC and/or non-USC enrollment must be at least half-time and a financial Aid Consortium Agreement must be completed. Contact the Financial Aid Office for more information.

Visiting students enrolled at USC as limited-status students may be eligible for limited federal financial aid through a Financial Aid Consortium Agreement if: (1) They are admitted to a degree-seeking or eligible certificate program at their home school; (2) their USC courses apply to their degree or certificate; and (3) the student’s total USC and/or non-USC enrollment is at least half-time. Contact the Financial Aid Office for more information.

Financial Aid for Students Enrolled in Preparatory Course Work

Students enrolled at least half-time in undergraduate courses required for admission to a degree program may be eligible for limited Federal Direct Stafford Loan funds. For more information, contact the Financial Aid Office.

Withdrawal Implications for Recipients of Financial Aid

During the Drop/Add Period

During the university’s published drop/add period, students who drop or reduce their enrollment may be eligible for a 100 percent refund of tuition for classes dropped.

Financial aid recipients must immediately notify the Financial Aid Office in writing when a drop from one or more classes during the drop/add period results in an enrollment status different from that on which their current financial aid eligibility was based. The same applies if one or more classes are canceled.

The Financial Aid Office will review the student’s new enrollment and, if appropriate, revise the student’s eligibility based on the new enrollment status.

If a financial aid recipient drops from all classes or drops to less than half-time status during the drop/add period, all financial aid awards must be returned to their respective programs. If the student was given financial aid funds for other expenses, he or she will be expected to return those funds to the university.

After the Drop/Add Period

Students who are recipients of Title IV federal student aid are also covered by federal policies. Title IV federal student aid is awarded to a student under the assumption that the student will attend for the entire period for which the assistance is provided and thereby “earn” the award. When a student ceases academic attendance prior to the end of that period, the student may no longer be eligible for the full amount of federal funds that the student was originally scheduled to receive.

If a Title IV aid recipient withdraws from all classes on or before the session is 60 percent complete, based on the last date of attendance, federal policy requires that any “unearned” Title IV federal financial aid be returned to the U.S. Treasury, even if the student is not entitled to a refund of tuition.

A student is required to immediately notify the Registrar and the Financial Aid Office when he or she stops attending classes. If the student fails to notify either office, it is possible that the 50 percent point in the term will be used to determine the student’s last date of attendance, in accordance with federal regulations. If a student withdraws from all classes, the Financial Aid Office will determine if that student’s period of attendance resulted in the earning of all federal financial aid awarded for that term. If it is determined that not all the scheduled federal aid has in fact been earned, then the Financial Aid Office will calculate the amount to be returned to the federal financial aid programs. The Financial Aid Office will bill the student via his or her university account for the amount returned. It is the student’s responsibility to contact the Cashier’s Office to settle the bill.

Additional Responsibilities of Students Who Withdraw

Any time a student withdraws from one or more courses, the student should consider the potential effect on his or her Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) status. Please review the SAP section for more information about SAP requirements.

Whenever a student’s enrollment drops to less than half time or the student withdraws completely, or if a student takes a leave of absence, he or she must notify the lender or holder of any loans. Student borrowers of federal or university loans must also satisfy exit loan counseling requirements at studentloans.gov.

It is also the student’s responsibility upon withdrawal from all classes to notify the Student Financial Services Office, the Housing Services Office, the Transportation Services Office and/or the USCard Office, if the student has charges from these offices on his or her student account. Students who have withdrawn from studies may be entitled to a prorated cancellation of charges from these offices.

Leave of Absence

Financial aid recipients considering a leave of absence should be aware of the financial aid implications. Although obtaining an approved leave of absence from their programs does allow students to re-enroll in the university without formal re-admission, it does not allow them to defer their loan repayment. The university reports student enrollment to the National Student Clearinghouse throughout the academic year. Lenders and federal loan service agencies subsequently query this database to determine if a student has maintained continuous half-time or greater enrollment.

Student Loan Repayment

If students are on a leave of absence from the university, their lender or federal loan service agency will move their loan from an “in-school” status to a grace or repayment status as required. While on a leave of absence, students may be able to postpone repayment by obtaining a deferment or forbearance from their loan servicers as a result of unemployment or economic hardship. Students should contact their loan servicers for more information about loan repayment. Students may review their federal loan history and determine their loan service agencies by visiting the National Student Loan Data System website at nslds.ed.gov. Once they re-enroll at a half-time or greater basis, they may be able to request deferment for “in-school” status.

Tuition Refund Insurance Plan

To complement its own refund policy, the university makes available to students Tuition Refund Insurance, an insurance policy designed to protect the investment students and their families make in education. The Financial Aid Office strongly encourages all financial aid recipients to take advantage of this plan. If a student formally withdraws from all classes after the end of the drop/add period and he or she is covered by Tuition Refund Insurance, the student may receive:

  • A credit to his or her student account equal to 100 percent of charges for tuition and mandatory fees, if the withdrawal is the result of documented personal illness or accident; or
  • A credit to his or her student account equal to 60 percent of the charges for tuition and mandatory fees, if the withdrawal is the result of a documented mental/nervous disorder.

The Tuition Refund Insurance credit will be applied first to any outstanding charges on the student’s university account, including any charges resulting from the return of Title IV federal student aid. Recipients of university and/or federal financial aid will then receive a cash refund equal to the amount of cash payments made to the account plus any loan payments still on the account (after all returns of Title IV aid have been made in accordance with federal policies, if applicable). The remainder of the insurance credit will be used to repay university financial aid grant or scholarship programs.

Brochures about Tuition Refund Insurance requirements and claim forms are available in the Cashier’s Office and the Registrar’s Office. All questions about the insurance plan should be directed to these offices.

Notes on Federal Policy

Title IV Federal Student Aid

Students are considered recipients of Title IV federal student aid if they have used funds from one or more of the following programs to meet educational expenses for the semester in question: Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG), Federal TEACH Grants, Federal Perkins Loans, Federal Direct Stafford Loans (Subsidized or Unsubsidized), or Federal Direct Graduate or Parent PLUS Loans.

Period of Enrollment

At USC, the periods of enrollment are generally measured using the session(s) in which the student enrolled on a semester basis, starting on the first day of classes and ending on the final day of examinations for a given term. For purposes of Title IV federal student aid, any scheduled break of five or more days will not be included in the measurement of the enrollment period. For programs offered in modules (sessions that do not span the entire length of the semester), breaks of more than five days between modules will not be included in the measurement of the enrollment period.

Measurement of Earned Title IV Federal Student Aid

When a student withdraws from all classes, the Financial Aid Office will calculate the percentage of earned Title IV federal student aid using the point of withdrawal. The earnings calculation is based on the number of days of enrollment, up to and including the day of withdrawal, divided by the total number of days in the enrollment period. In most cases, when a total withdrawal is determined to occur on or before the 60 percent point in a semester, some federal aid will need to be returned.

Return of Title IV Federal Student Aid

To satisfy federal regulation, returns to Title IV financial aid programs must be made in the following order:

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans
  • Federal Direct Subsidized Stafford Loans
  • Federal Perkins Loans
  • Federal Direct PLUS Loans
  • Federal TEACH Grants
  • Other Title IV Federal Programs

Financial Aid Policy Regarding Falsification of Financial Aid Information

The types of information covered by this policy include all documents and information submitted to apply for and/or receive need-based financial aid, scholarships and private financing funds. These documents and information include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • Student Aid Report (SAR).
  • Supplemental Form for Financial Aid/Enrollment and Housing Form
  • Student and parent federal income tax forms and other income documentation
  • Documentation of U.S. citizenship or eligible non-citizen status
  • Documentation of housing/living arrangements.
  • Academic documents relating to high school diploma or college course work
  • Loan applications, promissory notes and related documentation
  • Specific program applications
  • Federal Work-Study time sheets
  • Any university financial aid forms and related documentation
  • Any written, electronic or verbal statements sent to or made to a university employee regarding the student’s financial aid application or other financially related documents

The integrity of the documents and the honesty of the information presented through them are critical to the financial aid process. Students should be aware that they will be held responsible for the integrity of any financial aid information submitted either by them or on their behalf.

If the university determines that a student or parent has provided falsified information, or has submitted forged documents or signatures, the following steps may be taken without prior notification to the student or parent:

(1) An incident report will be filed with USC’s Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards following procedures outlined in the University Student Conduct Code. (The University Student Conduct Code is published in SCampus, the student guidebook.) Pending resolution of the complaint, the Financial Aid Office may restrict the distribution of any further aid to the accused student.

(2) If the Financial Aid Office or the student conduct review process finds that a violation has occurred, the consequences may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The student will be required to make full restitution of any and all federal, state, private and/or university scholarship, grant, loan or work funds to which he or she was not entitled.
  • Until full restitution is made, all federal, state and university funds will be withheld from the student, including all funds disbursed in past or in current terms.
  • No arrangements will be made with the Cashier’s Office or Collections Office on the student’s behalf to settle their account. The student will be responsible for all charges incurred on the student’s account because of the loss of federal, state or institutional financial aid funds.
  • If the student is determined to be ineligible for financial aid because of a basic eligibility criterion, no further federal, state or university funds will be awarded to the student in any future terms of enrollment at the university.
  • The student may be ineligible for future participation in some or all financial aid programs for a minimum of one year or longer. In some cases, the student will not be eligible to receive funds from that program in any future terms of enrollment at the university.
  • The student will not be awarded funds to replace those lost because a student is considered ineligible due to dishonesty.

(3) In addition to any consequences directly related to the student’s financial aid, the student may be assigned disciplinary sanctions as described in the Student Conduct Code (11.80).

(4) As required by federal and state law, the USC Financial Aid Office will report any infraction to the appropriate office or agency. These include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Department of Education Office of the Inspector General, state agencies or other entities that may take whatever action is required by federal and state law. In this report, the Financial Aid Office will describe in detail the incident, the response from the Financial Aid Office and any additional actions taken by or pending with the university.