You may have heard of the FAFSA, but to get additional financial aid — and possibly score free money for school — consider submitting the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. Nearly 250 colleges use it to determine whether you qualify for institutional grants and scholarships.
The FAFSA can also be used for institutional aid, but its main use is to help you qualify for federal aid, including grants, work-study dollars and student loans.
If you can’t afford the fees, there are ways to curb your college application costs, including fee waivers for the CSS Profile. More on that later.
CSS Profile versus FAFSA
|Cost||$25 for the application and one report to a school. $16 for each additional report.||Free|
|Type of aid||Institutional||Federal, and sometimes state and institutional
|Administrator||College Board||Department of Education|
• More information is considered. The CSS 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.
• Your school may have unique questions. Colleges that use the CSS Profile can also add customized questions and adjust the formula they use for determining aid.
• Divorced parents’ income may be used. 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.
How to complete the CSS Profile
Prepare and complete
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.
- Create a College Board account. You might already have one if you took the SAT.
- 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
3. Records of savings, stocks, bonds and trusts. 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 past 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 past 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.
PAY THE FEE OR GET A FEE WAIVER
6. Find out whether 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.
Submit every year
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.