Understanding the CSS Profile

CSS Profile - ApplicationWhile the CSS PROFILE® is required for only about 20 percent of private colleges, for students applying to those schools, the application can be overwhelming.  Many high school guidance counselors spend most of their time preparing students for submission of the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid (which is required for all schools, both public and private), leaving little time to discuss the CSS Profile.

The CSS PROFILE form is used primarily by colleges for determining non-federal financial aid, such as institutional scholarships, grants, and loans.  It entails a more detailed questionnaire than the FAFSA, focusing on information about the specific programs at schools you to which you will be applying.  While not as commonly used as the FAFSA, for those colleges that do use it, completing the CSS Profile boosts your qualification for more financial aid, and who doesn’t want some extra money toward their college fund?

How is the CSS Profile Different than the FAFSA?

1)    Unlike the FAFSA which is spearheaded by the federal government, the CSS Profile is administered by the College Board.

2)    While the FAFSA is FREE, the CSS Profile requires a cost for submission ($25 for the first college and $16 for each additional college).

3)    The CSS Profile is now available online for fall 2015 admission.  Some colleges have deadlines as early as November 1, 2014 for Early Action and Early Decision applications.  The FAFSA only becomes available on January 1, 2015.

4)    Every college requires your submission of the FAFSA for consideration of any government financial aid.  Colleges that ask for the CSS Profile require it to determine your eligibility for various non-government avenues of financial aid.

5)    Are you part of a two household family?  The FAFSA only asks for financial and household information for the custodial parent household.  The CSS Profile also inquires about financial and household information for the custodial parent household. In addition, many colleges request that the Noncustodial Profile be separately completed by the noncustodial parent.  For those colleges, an Expected Family Contribution will be calculated for both households.

6)    Colleges that call for the CSS Profile also will likely request copies of tax returns, W2s, plus supplemental forms for every business and farm.  Make sure you know the requirements for every college.  It’s important!

Students who apply for early acceptance may need to have this essential application completed as early as October 31st of their senior year of high school, depending on each school’s deadlines, so it is essential to get a prompt start. Rushing to complete the CSS Profile at the last minute can lead to costly mistakes that can affect financial aid eligibility.

Start the process as soon as you know where you will be applying for financial aid, at least two weeks prior to the earliest deadline on your list of schools.  You’ll need an online College Board Student Account to register on the CSS Profile site.

You can print out a customized worksheet to help you review the application questions ahead of time.  Be prepared to answer questions about all family income and all assets (including retirement assets, home equity and small business assets) plus household expenses.  There may also be additional questions required by the schools you are applying to.

We are happy to help you navigate the CSS Profile and other college planning issues.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions.

Westface College Planning can help navigate the financial aid process from start to finish.  To learn how we can help you call us at (650) 587-1559 or sign up for one of our Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Workshops or Webinars.

Photo Credit: Flazingo Photos

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