What is the CSS Profile for Financial Aid: How it Can Impact You?

While applying for financial aid or filling out college applications, you may have heard of the CSS Financial Profile (or CSS Profile). It is an online application much like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). However, not every freshman will have to complete the CSS Profile, so what exactly is it?

What is the CSS Profile?

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The CSS Profile is the financial aid application available online through the College Board. With the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), it gives colleges and programs a more complete picture of what the student and their family can afford when it comes to education expenses. These programs and colleges may then offer need-based aid to the individual depending on their financial situation.

What Schools Require the CSS Profile?

About 400 colleges, scholarship programs, and universities currently use the CSS Profile. Some examples include Alabama A&M University, Babson College, Colorado College, Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, and Kutztown University.

This list from the College Board details the participating institutions. If you have any concerns or questions about your potential school’s participation, be sure to reach out to the college’s Financial Aid department.

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CSS Profile vs FAFSA

You already completed the FAFSA for your financial aid, so why do you have to complete the CSS Profile, too? Well, this application collects more information than the federal application and takes other circumstances into account. If your family’s income has been impacted by the pandemic, for example, your school will be notified thanks to the CSS Profile. (If you’re only filling out the FAFSA, however, you can notify them of any similar issues through the special circumstances form.)

The CSS Profile also could contain questions specific to the individual school. They could also ask about:

  • annual medical bills
  • a family’s assets
  • private school tuition for siblings and the student
  • home equity
  • other financial questions.

The financial information that is requested on both the FAFSA and CSS Profile should match. Errors, misleading information, or mismatching information can result in a request for additional information or even loss of financial assistance. If you make an error on either application, be sure to submit correction forms as soon as possible!

How Could the CSS Profile Impact your Financial Aid?

The CSS Profile may qualify you for more financial aid than the FAFSA will, so it’s important to complete it if your school requests it or offers the option. Even if you think you won’t qualify for any additional assistance, you might be pleasantly surprised!

Similar to FAFSA, this application uses data to determine your Student Aid Index (SAI), formerly known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

However, since some schools use the CSS Profile in conjunction with FAFSA, it could open the door to additional financial aid including grants and scholarships. These colleges, universities, and programs have their own requirements to be eligible for their offers. If you skip this application, you could miss out on some big bucks!

8 Things You Need to Know To Complete the CSS Profile?

  1. It is designed for only one school at a time. The FAFSA allows you to send your financial information to 10 schools. Since the participating college or university can ask for school-specific information, you will have to complete the CSS Profile for every individual school.
  2. You will need financial information ready. Documents including W2 forms, other forms of income, tax returns, mortgage details, bank statements, and more.
  3. Review your family’s unique or special circumstances, including instances like the pandemic that could have affected income.
  4. The first CSS Profile you complete is $25. Every additional school is $16. Low income students may be eligible for a fee waiver.
  5. Graduates and professional students can complete the CSS Profile.
  6. You can check your CSS Profile dashboard for updates from schools and programs.
  7. In some cases, the college or university might request additional documentation.
  8. Deadlines for the CSS Profile can vary.

The CSS Profile may seem like an extra chore you have to complete for college, but it can definitely pay off. Even if you think you won’t qualify, you might be a bit surprised by just how much assistance colleges offer their students to make their education more affordable. If you have any questions about your school’s financial aid process, make sure you reach out to the appropriate department before you start on your CSS Profile! Students should always aim to complete this application in addition to the FAFSA.

Are you looking to get a bit of extra cash for your college education? Our Scholarship Search Tool can help you locate awards you qualify for with minimal hassle. We also recommend looking into and comparing some affordable student loans using our Student Loan Finder.


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