CSS Profile: Everything You Need to Know in 2018-19

Almost 400 colleges and universities use this application to award grants and scholarships.
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CSS Profile: Everything You Need to Know

Yes, there’s another application you should add to your college admissions to-do list. But this one could help you score free money for school. It’s called the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, and almost 400 colleges use it to award grants and scholarships.

Submit the CSS Profile if the schools you’re considering require it, even if you’re application-ed out after completing half a dozen admissions forms and the FAFSA. Check this list to see which schools need it.

The CSS Profile for the 2018-19 school year came out in October 2017, and each school or program sets its own deadline. Here’s what you need to know about the application:

How it compares to the FAFSA

      How the CSS Profile works

How to complete the CSS Profile

CSS Profile versus FAFSA

The CSS Profile and the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, both assess your family’s income and assets to calculate your expected family contribution. And colleges use your expected family contribution to determine your financial aid package. But the two forms have some key differences.

The FAFSA helps you qualify for federal aid, including grants, work-study dollars and student loans. Some colleges also use the FAFSA to award institutional grants and scholarships, but others — mostly private schools — use the CSS Profile. Some state universities use it, too, including the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Another difference: It costs $25 to fill out the CSS Profile and submit it to one school and $16 a pop for each additional college. The FAFSA is free, as its name suggests.

We know you might be saying, “I can’t afford application fees! That’s why I’m applying for financial aid in the first place.”

If you’re in that boat, there are ways to curb your college application costs, including fee waivers for the CSS Profile. More on that later.

 CSS ProfileFAFSA
Cost$25 for the application and one report to a school. $16 for each additional report.Free
Type of aidInstitutionalFederal, and sometimes state and institutional
AdministratorCollege BoardDepartment of Education

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How colleges use the CSS Profile to calculate financial aid eligibility

There’s one more important difference between the CSS Profile and FAFSA: Both calculate your expected family contribution, but each could produce a different result because they use different methodologies.

For one, the Profile collects more detailed information about your family’s finances and considers assets that the FAFSA doesn’t, including home equity, and the value of family farms and small family businesses. Colleges that use the CSS Profile can also add customized questions and adjust the formula they use for determining aid.

The CSS Profile collects more detailed information about your family’s finances and considers assets that the FAFSA doesn’t.

And some schools that use the CSS Profile collect income information for both parents even if they’re divorced or separated and don’t live together. The FAFSA only considers one parent’s income in those circumstances.

You can use the College Board’s EFC calculator to estimate your financial need based on the CSS Profile, but your actual aid eligibility may vary by school.

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How to complete the CSS Profile

Before you get started, note your schools’ CSS Profile deadlines. Many fall between Jan. 1 and March 31. Some schools have early filing deadlines in November.

1. Create a College Board account. You might already have one if you took the SAT.

2. Gather your financial documents. Having the following documents on hand will make filling out the application easier:

  • 2016 federal tax returns.
  • W-2 forms or other records of income for 2016 and 2017.
  • Records of untaxed income for 2016 and 2017.
  • Bank statements.
  • Mortgage information.
  • Records of savings, stocks, bonds and trusts.

3. Register for the CSS Profile. This process includes filling in basic identifying information and selecting the schools where you want to send your CSS Profile. Your CSS Profile questions will be customized based on your answers during registration.

4. Complete the application. This takes roughly 45 minutes to two hours, according to the College Board. Many of the questions concern your parents’ finances. If they’re divorced or separated, have your custodial parent — the one you’ve lived with most in the last 12 months — complete those questions. If you lived with each parent for an equal amount of time, your custodial parent is the one who provided you with the most financial support in the last 12 months.

5. Have a parent complete the Noncustodial Profile, if necessary. This step only applies if your parents are divorced or separated and your school requires the Noncustodial Profile. For more information, check out the College Board’s tips for separated and divorced parents.

6. Find out you’re eligible for a fee waiver. The College Board automatically determines if you qualify for a waived application fee based on your responses. The waiver also includes the cost of sending your CSS Profile to up to eight colleges. Generally, you’ll qualify for one if you’re an incoming freshman and your family’s annual income is $40,000 or less.

If you don’t qualify for a fee waiver, you’ll have to pay the $25 application fee before you can submit the form.

7. Submit the application. Check your work first! Once you submit it, you can’t change your answers electronically. If you need to correct your CSS Profile after you’ve submitted it, print out the application summary form, make your corrections and fax, email or mail it to your school’s financial aid office.

8. Submit the application each school year. If you use the same account each year, parts of your application will automatically fill.

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