University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Ambassador Blog | Melissa

Melissa

Financing USC: What You Need to Know

, by Melissa

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As we’ve gotten closer to the application deadline, one of the questions I’ve gotten the most concerns paying for USC and whether the “financial burden” is worth it. Thus, I wanted to take the time to give you guys some insight as to what my thought process looked like when I was applying, and why I feel like coming to USC was the best decision I’ve ever made.

First of all, I want to validate your concerns and let you know that it is completely normal to be intimidated by the cost of tuition at our program. It is more expensive than most programs, and it may feel like a lot to take on. However, I think it’s important that you know what your financing options are before you make a decision. I will admit that to me, it was a bit of a no-brainer. Despite the fact that I was intimidated by the cost of the program, that intimidation was offset by my excitement to be a part of USC Chan. Our program is known to be a leader in the field of occupational therapy, and I truly wanted to be a part of that. In addition, my fears were further ameliorated when I attended an information session and learned more about the aid USC offers, as well as the Federal Loan Forgiveness Program (which I will talk more about below). I was happy to know that I had options, and that made my decision far less daunting, which is why I want to share that information with all of you!

Jessica, a previous Student Ambassador, wrote a “Financing USC” blog series which consists of a couple of blog posts outlining how you can pay for the program. They include information on federal loans available to graduate students and the Loan Forgiveness Program, division scholarships and research assistantships, and student worker positions! When you first apply to USC, you have the option to fill out a division scholarship sheet that is attached to our financial aid brochure (link), which I highly recommend that you do. In addition, you can apply to the Research Assistantship positions that offer quite a bit of aid to those that get it! The financial aid brochure - which you can download here - also has great information on scholarships available to students outside of the division, however I recommend that you do additional research as well because there are a lot of scholarship opportunities that people miss out on. Student worker positions are also a great way to get involved in the division, and they include the Student Ambassador position that I’m in right now! I also work as a research assistant for one of the many research studies currently being conducted by the division, which is a great opportunity students have available to them as well. 

Lastly, I want to talk to you a bit more about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program available to students that have taken out federal loans and work in a non-profit setting after they’ve graduated. This program requires that you make 120 payments towards your loans (which is about 10 years), and then waives or “forgives” the remaining balance after you’ve made those payments. Examples of non-profit settings include - but are not limited to - hospitals, some outpatient clinics, and even universities. As OTs, there is a high chance that we may end up working at a site that is considered a non-profit, which means we can qualify for this program! I do want to add that this program only waives federal loans, and not private loans that have been taken out in addition to federal ones.

I highly encourage prospective students to weigh their options before making a decision, and not to let the finances intimidate you from applying/attending USC. After being here for the last year and a half, I truly feel like I made the best decision coming to USC, as the education I’ve received is of the highest caliber. In addition, I have had access to professors and clinicians who are leaders and innovators in the field, which has been instrumental in my own career development. Just know that you have lots of options, and I would be happy to talk to you guys about this further if you have any other questions or concerns!

Melissa

What is it like to be a Student Ambassador?

, by Melissa

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Hey guys! For this post I wanted to talk a bit about what I do as a Student Ambassador. I feel like we do a bit of everything, therefore I wanted to offer some more insight in case any of you would like to pursue this position when you’re in the program!

First, I want to provide a bit of background information on my journey to becoming a Student Ambassador. When I was first considering applying to USC, I attended an information session and had my first interaction with an Ambassador. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s such a cool opportunity for students!” but didn’t think much about it after that as I was more concerned with getting into the program at the time. As the application date got closer, I scheduled a meeting with Dr. Carley – the previous Director of Admissions – and a tour with a Student Ambassador. It was an incredibly personal experience; Dr. Carley answered some of my burning questions about the application, and the ambassador shared about her experience with the program and answered my questions regarding life as a student. It was then that I realized how badly I wanted to get into the OT program at USC, and how much I would love to be a Student Ambassador.

Fast-forward two years, and here I am! It’s still pretty surreal to think back to that time, and I’m incredibly grateful to be able to be a part of this program and to be an Ambassador. This position gives me the opportunity to combine my passion for the program and my passion for occupational therapy all into one!

So what exactly do we do? Well, I wasn’t kidding when I said that we do a little bit of everything. We help with information sessions, we correspond with potential applicants and admitted students, we give presentations to pre-health and pre-OT clubs to spread the word about our program and OT as a whole, we present and table at conferences and grad fairs, we give tours to students and their families, and help with all sorts of events! Although there are things that we all do as Ambassadors, there are also things that are unique to each of our positions! For example, Joyce is in charge of all things social media, Serena and I help the admissions team and have Diversity projects that we work on, Jess is responsible for event planning, and Evan works on the content calendar! We each get to work on things that appeal to us and that we have a skill set in, which makes the job even more interesting. In addition, we have an Ambassador from the OTD program as well as the MA-I (post professional) program, which makes us a pretty well rounded team. They each correspond with students that have questions about their specific programs, and have their own individual projects as well.

Ultimately, this job provides us with a great opportunity to advocate for our profession, to increase awareness about OT and the Chan program, and to give potential applicants information about our program from a student’s point of view, among many other things. I’m very lucky to be a part of a team that is made up of such kind, hard-working, and passionate people that make the job so much fun.
If you have any questions about the position or about scheduling a tour with us, feel free to reach out!

Melissa

Fieldwork in Pediatric Mental Health

, by Melissa

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Hey everyone! I wanted to talk to you guys about my experience working in pediatric mental health, as I recently completed my full week for my level I fieldwork. For those of you that don’t know a lot about what fieldwork means and what that looks like in our program, Joyce does a great job of explaining it in her blog and you can also find additional information here.

I’m not sure how much you guys already know about OT’s role in pediatric mental health, but I knew very little before taking part in this internship. This is not your typical pediatric placement, as I don’t have an occupational therapist onsite, nor am I seeing children with specific developmental or intellectual disabilities. Instead, I work with children in the early intervention program that are between the ages of 3 and 5 who have been exposed to some sort of trauma. The trauma includes, but is not limited to, domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and being removed from the home. Because of this trauma, children exhibit behaviors that prevent them from being able to participate in a typical classroom setting. Thus, they are sent to the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic – where I am placed this semester - in hopes that receiving mental health services can help them get back to their previous school settings.

Young children exposed to trauma often do not have the ability to understand what they have gone through. Some may be removed from their homes for an extended period of time, and others may be adopted by someone in their extended family. This is all happening while they are trying to build healthy attachments with their caregivers, which is crucial to their psychosocial development. As a result, these children may present with aggressive behaviors or tantrums that stem from an inability to regulate how their body is feeling, and that is where OTs come in! Due to our expertise in sensory strategies and techniques, we are able to give children that are presenting with dysregulation the tools they need to successfully regulate their bodies and emotions.

My favorite part about our level I fieldwork experience is the full week, as I feel that that is when I get a true feel for what my role as an OT looks like at my placement. This semester has not been different, and I feel like I have a much better understanding of what OTs role in pediatric mental health looks like. Although I do not have an OT onsite to shadow, I feel confident in my understanding of OTs role. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be scared! You have an excellent team behind you at USC, and you should use them whenever you can. My experience has been that sites truly value occupational therapy, and are always grateful to host students. If you ever have any questions about fieldwork, pediatric mental health, or being placed at a site without an OT, don’t hesitate to reach out!

Melissa

Specialization in Occupational Therapy

, by Melissa

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Hey everyone! I’m currently in the process of picking electives for the upcoming spring semester and I thought this would be a great time for me to talk about the opportunity to “specialize” in OT! Although the program prepares us to be generalists – meaning we graduate with knowledge in many areas –, we have the opportunity to take several elective courses during the spring semester of our second year! This is where the “specializing” comes in, as you can take courses that fit your specific interests and help you expand your knowledge in a specific area. For example, a student that is interested in pursuing a career in hand therapy can take the Advanced Practice in Hand Therapy and Physical Agent Modalities and Hand Rehabilitation electives.  A student interested in pediatrics may want to take the Sensory Integration Theory and Intervention courses, which is a particularly unique opportunity since Sensory Integration originated at USC. Another example is taking an OT In Acute Care course or the Enhancing Motor Control for Occupation course if you’re interested in working in a physical rehabilitation setting. These are just a few of the MANY options available to us. If you would like to see the entire list of courses offered, click here

In addition to taking courses within the division, students can take classes at other schools at USC, such as courses in business, education, and public policy. It’s a great opportunity to expand our knowledge of other fields, and become increasingly well-rounded clinicians. Lastly, I would like to discuss yet another option we have during the spring semester, which is an opportunity to take an independent study course with a faculty member within the division. This option allows you to specialize even further by working on a study that fits your interests. The moral of the story is that the possibilities are endless!

One thing I would like to add is that it’s okay if you don’t know what area you want to go into. You can take electives in several areas, and use the spring semester as a time to explore different options in order to see what feels like the best fit. Our program does a great job of exposing us to many different areas of practice and preparing us to be great clinicians, so don’t stress about making the decision to “specialize” if you’re not ready. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.

Melissa

Let’s Talk Extracurriculars!

, by Melissa

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A question we’re often asked is, “Can I work while I’m in the program?” And our answer to that is always that it depends! What we can handle varies person to person, therefore what you decide to take on while you’re in the program will depend on your preferences. That being said, our program is considered to be full-time and is enough to keep most people pretty busy!

If you do want to get involved, however, there are plenty of great opportunities to get involved on campus! Jessica, my fellow student ambassador, recently touched upon some of the professional and volunteering options you have. The organizations and clubs are diverse in what they address, and I feel like there is something for everyone out there. In addition to those options, you can also apply for a paid job within the division! The beauty of student worker positions is that they are relatively flexible, and everyone at USC is cognizant of the fact that we’re students! In addition to my student ambassador position, I’m also a student worker on one of the many research projects happening here at USC, called the Sensory Adapted Dental Environment 2 (SADE-2). I have learned so much in this position in my short time in the program, and I feel like I have a much better grasp on what a career in research entails.

Overall, my number one piece of advice for students that are wondering whether to get a job or participate in clubs/organizations is to make sure to have balance. This is something that everyone strives for and is difficult to achieve while in graduate school. Ultimately, only you know yourself best, and only you know how much you can handle, so just make sure you listen to your body! And most importantly, remember to enjoy the ride.

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