The CSS Profile is a form some schools use to determine institutional financial aid. Used by around 200 institutions nationwide, the CSS Profile asks more questions than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and can qualify students for aid packages funded by their college. Here’s what you should know about this application before filling it out.
What is the CSS Profile?
The CSS Profile is an online application used to award institutional aid, grants and scholarships. Because the CSS Profile is used by specific colleges and universities, students should fill out the CSS Profile only if their college requires it.
The CSS Profile doesn’t have a national deadline; the deadline to apply can vary from school to school. However, the CSS Profile does have an opening date: Oct. 1 of each year. For the 2022-23 academic year, the opening date for the application was Oct. 1, 2021. If you’re applying for financial aid at multiple schools, you can add the schools you’d like to send your application to on your online dashboard.
The CSS Profile application is much lengthier and more detailed than the FAFSA. The application considers income streams, assets and expenses not included on the FAFSA, such as retirement accounts, life insurance plans, home equity on a family’s primary residence and income and assets held by a noncustodial parent in cases of divorce.
The CSS Profile vs. the FAFSA
There are important distinctions between the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile. Here are some key differences to consider.
|CSS Profile||Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)|
|Costs to apply||$25 for the first college, $16 for each additional college (waivers available)||Free|
|Type of aid||Institutional||Federal and state|
|Who can apply||Undergraduate, graduate and professional students||U.S. citizens, permanent residents and eligible noncitizens enrolled in an eligible degree or certification program|
|Where to apply||College Board||U.S. Department of Education|
|Application opening date||Oct. 1||Oct. 1|
|Deadline||Varies by college||June 30; state and college deadlines may vary|
Keep in mind that the CSS Profile is not a substitute for the FAFSA; it’s a supplement for specific colleges and universities. If your prospective college uses the CSS Profile, you’ll still want to fill out both applications. Without the FAFSA, you won’t be eligible for federal student loans, federal grants like the Pell Grant or state grants.
How to complete the CSS Profile
To begin the CSS Profile process, go to the CSS Profile website. Here you can find the application itself, check participating schools and scholarships and locate resources to assist you.
1. Gather the appropriate information
You may need to have the following forms on hand to complete your application:
- Most recently completed tax returns.
- W-2 or 1099 forms for the past two years.
- Total untaxed income and benefits for the current and previous tax years.
- Current savings, checking, stocks, bonds, trusts, UTMA and UGMA balances for both the parent and the student.
- Current 529 plan balance for all children in the home.
- Current balance of all retirement savings accounts.
- Information about your primary residence, including the year you purchased it, its purchase price, its current value, mortgage information and more.
2. Create an account
If you have a College Board account already, you can log in using your existing account information. Otherwise, you’ll need to create a College Board account in order to use the CSS Profile to apply for institutional aid.
3. Fill out the CSS Profile
Once you have an account set up and have all your information together, you can fill out the application. For the most part, the process involves answering questions about your life and providing your personal information and financial information.
If you have trouble during the process, College Board offers several resources that can help. For example, it offers an online tutorial that is free to use. It also offers live help over the phone at 844-202-0524 or through a live chat function. Agents are available to answer questions and walk you through the process Monday through Friday.
4. Submit the application
Once you’ve filled out the necessary forms, you’ll select the schools you’d like to send the form to and pay any application fees.
At this point, you can view the information you submitted on your account dashboard. You may be asked to upload documentation here, and you can add additional schools as well. If you made a mistake on your CSS Profile application, you can update this form by visiting the dashboard and clicking on “Correct Your CSS Profile.”
What questions does the CSS Profile ask?
The CSS Profile asks more questions about income streams and assets than the FAFSA, and many colleges also add their own supplemental questions to get a more comprehensive view of your financial situation. Michael McLaughlin, director of financial aid operations at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, says that this is because more aid is often at stake with private institutions that require the CSS Profile.
“We need to be more diligent on the information that we collect and get a more accurate picture for each student when giving out high amounts of institutional aid,” he says.
The CSS Profile assesses the money you have, but it also examines the money you pay out with questions about your family’s medical expenses, debts, mortgage status, business expenses and other costs not included on the FAFSA.
The CSS Profile may ask for more information, but more assets doesn’t necessarily mean a lesser financial aid package. Unlike the FAFSA, which determines how much government aid you’re eligible for regardless of where you attend school, colleges and universities individually decide how to interpret CSS Profile information, including which assets and expenses to take into consideration.
When is the CSS Profile due?
Most students who plan to attend an institution that uses the CSS Profile complete their application at some point during their final year of high school. But individual schools have different deadlines, so you’ll have to check with your future school to find out exactly when your CSS Profile is due.
Many schools go with a deadline between Jan. 1 and March 1 each year. However, it’s always better to apply for institutional aid as early as you can.
CSS Profile tips and tricks
The CSS Profile is more thorough than the FAFSA, but there are certain steps applicants can take to maximize their aid eligibility:
- Don’t overestimate the value of your primary home. By keeping the value of your home in line with actual values, your expected family contribution also stays down.
- Shift assets from accounts held in a student’s name to those held in a parent’s name. Many schools give greater weight to assets held in a student’s name than those held in a parent’s name, though those formulas can vary by institution.
- Monitor deadlines. The CSS Profile deadline is often significantly earlier than that of the FAFSA, and deadlines will vary from school to school. Complete the application as soon as possible to take advantage of aid awards distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
CSS Profile schools
There are hundreds of schools that use the CSS Profile to help determine financial aid eligibility. These include major Ivy League institutions, smaller schools and even state schools.
Here are some examples of schools that use the CSS Profile:
- Baylor University.
- Bryn Mawr College.
- California Institute of Technology.
- Duke University.
- Georgetown University.
- Harvard College.
- Johns Hopkins University.
- Middlebury College.
- Stanford University.
- Tulane University.
- University of Michigan.
- University of Virginia.
- Vanderbilt University.
- Wake Forest University.
- Yale University.
To see the full list of schools that currently accept the CSS Profile, visit the CSS Profile’s database.
The bottom line
The CSS Profile may require more information than the FAFSA, but it’s worth the time and effort if you’re applying to a college that requires it for financial aid. By not filling out the CSS Profile, you could miss out on thousands of dollars of gift aid that is offered only through the college’s own financial aid funds.