Parents’ Guide to Financial Aid
Our Commitment to Families
You may know that USC comprises one of the most diverse and high-achieving undergraduate populations in the United States. Our students are leaders and innovators, scholars and athletes, artists and entrepreneurs, representing all 50 states and more than 130 countries around the world. What you may not know is that the majority of these students—approximately two-thirds—receive some form of financial aid.
Undergraduate financial aid can come from a variety of federal, state, university, and private sources. It may include gift aid such as grants and scholarships or loans that need to be repaid after graduation.
Learn more about types of aid.
USC maintains a strong investment in financial aid for undergraduate students. We have increased our financial aid funding each year so that each student’s demonstrated need is met. You might be surprised to learn who qualifies for and receives financial aid at USC.
Your Role in the Process
Financing a USC education represents a partnership between the university and students and their families. While we expect families to play a leading role in paying for college, we can help you determine what might work best for your situation.
Here’s how parents can facilitate the process and ensure that students receive the full funding they qualify for.
What Role Do Parents Play in the Financial Aid Process?
We encourage you to review financial aid materials with your student(s) and discuss which options might work best for your family’s circumstances. You can also help your student understand their responsibilities and the implications of each payment option.
In addition, be sure to:
- Be aware of the application deadlines and submit any requested information as soon as possible. Both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile will ask you to provide details about your family’s finances so that we can determine how much federal and university aid your student may be eligible for. Please visit the Dates and Deadlines page for details.
- Provide tax return information or other documentation within 10 days of USC’s request. Most information can now be submitted online.
- If you are applying for a Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan, check your email for updates from studentaid.gov. If you are approved for a PLUS loan, you will be notified by email when your Master Promissory Note is ready to be signed online.
Keep in mind that while parents are important partners in the financial aid process, all notifications and requests for information will be emailed directly to the student.
Managing the Family Contribution
Students and families can choose from a range of options to cover any remaining balance on the tuition and fee bill.
- Pay the USC Cashier’s Office directly from savings or current income.
- Sign up for the USC Payment Plan, which allows students to establish an interest-free line of credit for tuition, fees, university housing and other student expenses. The plan is billed in five monthly installments per semester. The application fee is $50. Visit the Student Financial Services website to learn more.
- Use the USC Prepayment Plan, which allows participants to prepay up to five years of full-time tuition and mandatory fees for their admitted student(s). More information can be found on the Student Financial Services website.
- Borrow loans for all or part of this amount. Be sure to borrow enough to cover the entire academic year. Occasionally, we use the parent email address listed on the FAFSA or CSS Profile to communicate directly with parents.
- If you choose to take out loans, start with the Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan, which features a fixed interest rate and does not require collateral or impose an early repayment penalty.
- If (and only if) your application for a Federal Direct Parent PLUS Loan is denied, your student may borrow an additional Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan to cover part of the family contribution.
In most cases, students who use private financing will need to apply with a credit-worthy co-borrower. This can substantially reduce interest and fees. Visit our Private Financing section for more information.
If your family experiences any unforeseen changes to your income or expenses, you can request a re-evaluation of your student’s financial aid summary. Visit Special Circumstances and Appeals for details.
Estimate Your Cost
We understand that cost is a key consideration when deciding where your student will attend college. The following estimates will help you plan for your student’s education. Some expenses may be paid out of pocket, while others will need to be financed through other means.
Paying for an education represents a partnership between the university and students and their families. While we expect each student’s family to play a leading role in financing a college education, we have a long tradition of helping bridge the gap between the cost of attendance and what families can afford to pay out of pocket.
Please note: To receive the full amount of aid your student may qualify for, they must meet the eligibility requirements and submit their aid application(s) by the appropriate deadlines.
Investing In Education
A college degree represents a significant investment, not just in a student’s education but in their future. But with the costs of higher education rising, and the length of time required to complete a degree increasing, college may seem out of reach or impractical for many. The reality is that a college education may be more affordable than you imagined, even if your student chooses to attend a private university.
If you would like to learn more about financial aid and the financial aid process at USC, we encourage you to download our Investing In Your Future: Financial Aid and USC booklet.
Saving for College
While college costs have risen each year, a number of resources can help families plan well in advance and save money over the long term. Many of these plans are tax free and/or do not charge extra fees.
You are not limited to just one financing option. Many families choose to combine two or more of the following programs to maximize the benefits of each.
Regardless of their eligibility for financial aid, most families will still need funds to pay for any expenses that financial aid does not cover and/or for their student’s other personal expenses. Savings plans are a good way to plan for and cover these expenses, especially as savings and investments held in parents’ names have a smaller impact than student assets on calculations of the family’s expected contribution.
- 529 Plans
- Private College 529 Plan
- State Pre-Paid Tuition Plans and State College Savings Plans
- U.S. Treasury Securities
Administered by state and private agencies, 529 plans are interest-bearing accounts designed to allow parents to set aside money for their children’s future college expenses. Withdrawals for qualified college expenses are free from federal income tax and may be tax-deferred in some states. Please visit collegesavings.org for more information.
Most 529 savings plans are sponsored by individual states and are not guaranteed to keep pace with tuition increases. The Private College 529 Plan is NOT sponsored by a state. Owned and operated by 285 private colleges and universities across the country, the Private College 529 Plan allows families to pre-purchase college tuition at today’s prices. The plan protects families from tuition increases (roughly 3-5 percent a year), guaranteed and tax free.
How Does It Work?
- The account owner names the beneficiary when the account is opened.
- Account owners do not have to select a school until the beneficiary is accepted and enrolls. During the investment period, however, account owners may select up to five “sample schools” to find out how much the plan would be worth at each one.
- When the beneficiary enrolls at a participating college, the 529 certificate is redeemed and the school receives the market value of the investment.
- The value of the prepaid tuition is guaranteed by participating schools, regardless of what happens in the financial markets. What you pay today will be honored tomorrow.
- If the student attends a school outside the Private College 529 Plan network, the account owner can name another beneficiary, roll the assets into another 529 plan or request a refund.
- Private College 529 assets may be used to pay only for undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees.
Administered by various states, prepaid tuition plans allow parents to pre-purchase college tuition based on today’s rates. Funds are paid out at the future cost when the student enrolls in college.
Unlike the Private College 529 Plan, account earnings for these plans are based on the market performance of the investment. These plans are currently available in 13 states. To learn more, please visit savingforcollege.com/article/prepaid-tuition-plans
Offered by the federal government, U.S. Treasury securities comprise a variety of notes and bonds that allow you to invest and save your money over a fixed amount of time, with minimal risk. Visit savingsbonds.gov for more information.
Applying for Financial Aid
Need help applying for financial aid? This section clarifies and explains the application process for students and their parents applying for the 2024-2025 academic year.
Special circumstances refer to any changes in your family’s finances, enrollment plans, or living situation that may affect the cost of attendance or their Student Aid Index. Students may submit information about these circumstances and/or submit an appeal to have their financial aid eligibility adjusted.