In addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), some schools require you to complete the CSS Profile. This online application helps them determine your eligibility for non-federal financial aid. Unlike the FASFA, the CSS Profile costs money.

However, spending money to fill it out may be worth it — even if your school doesn’t require it — if it helps you qualify for aid like scholarships or grants that can reduce your need to take out student loans.

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is short for the College Scholarship Service Profile. It’s a private, independent survey you fill out through a nonprofit organization known as the College Board. At present, around 200 universities rely on the CSS Profile for guidance in awarding scholarships and other nonfederal financial aid.

According to the College Board, the CSS Profile helps college students nationwide access over $9 billion in financial aid annually. Filling out an application could potentially help you secure institutional scholarships and aid on top of any grants or student loans the federal government may offer you.

If a college you’re considering offers scholarship programs and you plan to apply, you should check to see if you need to complete the CSS Profile. The good news is that you have to fill out the CSS Profile application only once. From there, the College Board can share your information with as many participating colleges or scholarship programs as you select.

When should you complete the CSS Profile?

CSS Profile applications open on Oct. 1 each year. Should a university or scholarship program require a CSS Profile to consider you for financial aid, you’ll want to complete your application a minimum of two weeks before any scholarship priority application deadlines. However, it’s wise to complete your application as soon as it becomes available for the upcoming school year.

How much does the CSS Profile application cost?

Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile isn’t free. Be prepared for the following costs:

  • $25 to submit your CSS Profile to a single college or scholarship program.
  • $16 for each additional profile submission.

Despite the costs listed above, domestic undergraduate students may be eligible for fee waivers under the following circumstances:

  • Their family has an adjusted gross income (AGI) of under $100,000.
  • They qualified for an SAT fee waiver.
  • They’re under the age of 24 and are currently considered an orphan or ward of the court.

Why is the CSS Profile important?

Completing the CSS Profile is important because it has the potential to save you money on college education costs. Some students may receive scholarships or lower-priced tuition based on the financial or other information they include in their profiles.

Although there are fees associated with the CSS Profile, there’s a chance that those expenses could be well worth it in the end. Submitting your profile to multiple schools and scholarship programs gives you more chances to qualify for institutional aid. Colleges you thought were off the table financially might suddenly become within reach if you discover that you’re eligible for assistance you weren’t aware of.

How to complete the CSS Profile

To fill out a CSS Profile, begin by visiting the CSS Profile website. Then follow these steps:

  1. Create a College Board account. If you took the PSAT or SAT, you might already have one.
  2. Gather the required information. You will need your family’s most recent tax return, W-2 forms or other income records, bank statements and documents confirming assets like savings, stocks and bonds.
  3. Fill out the application. Answer questions about your income, assets and expenses, along with the same details for your parents. (Divorced parents may need to fill out separate profiles.) You should also expect to provide academic and housing information, along with answers to supplemental questions. The CSS Profile application is detailed. However, you can complete part of it, save your progress and come back at a later time to finish if needed.
  4. Review and save your application. Make sure the information on your CSS Profile is complete and accurate. Remember to save a copy for your records too.
  5. Select the colleges or scholarship programs to which you want to send your CSS Profile. You can also come back and add additional schools or programs in the future.
  6. Enter your payment information. Once your application is complete, you can enter your credit card or debit card information to cover your costs. Unless you qualify for a fee waiver, it costs $25 to submit your CSS Profile to the first university or scholarship program. Additional profile submissions are $16 each.

How is the CSS Profile different from the FAFSA?

Both the CSS Profile and the FAFSA form can help you find ways to cover educational expenses. Yet while you may share similar information on both applications, there are several key differences you should be aware of.

In general, the CSS Profile requires more information from you than the FAFSA form, especially where your family’s income, assets and liabilities are concerned. These two applications also differ in cost, the type of financial aid they may help you secure and which universities accept them.

Use the following cheat sheet to compare the CSS Profile versus the FAFSA.

Cost $25 for the initial school or scholarship program, $16 for additional profile shares Free
Who can apply U.S. citizens and international students U.S. citizens, permanent residents, refugees and students seeking asylum in the United States
Type of financial aid Private, from the institution Federal, though sometimes state and local as well
Financial information required from both parents if divorced Yes (with a few exceptions) No
Colleges that participate Institutions that voluntarily participate All postsecondary institutions that offer and accept federal aid
Annual renewal Required Required

Next steps

If you run into any problems while filling out your CSS Profile application, you can contact the College Board for help. Support is available via phone, email or chat. Simply click the “Contact Us” button in your application to access these options.

Once you submit your application, you’ll receive confirmation if your payment was successful. Be sure to check your CSS Profile Dashboard as well. It may contain new messages from the specific colleges or programs with which you shared your profile.

Frequently asked questions

  • You can fill out a CSS Profile application as early as Oct. 1 for the upcoming school year. Ideally, you should aim to complete your profile as close to the application opening date as possible to increase your aid potential. The College Board recommends submitting your profile no later than two weeks before a college’s priority filing date for financial aid applications.As far as the cutoff date goes, each institution sets a deadline regarding when you can submit your completed CSS Profile application. Often, these deadlines fall somewhere between Jan. 1 and March 31. You should check with individual schools or scholarship programs you’re interested in to learn more about specific deadlines that could affect you.
  • Completing the CSS profile — unlike the FASFA — costs money, but it might be worth it if it helps you qualify for scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid that can defray the cost of your college education.
  • Some colleges may require you to submit the CSS profile. If you don’t submit it, the institution that requires it may not consider you for its non-federal aid awards.