What is the CSS Profile?

Don’t feel bad if your first question when you read the words “CSS Profile” is “What is the CSS Profile, anyway?”. Many families aren’t aware of what it is until they ask a question or two or do a bit of research.

The CSS Profile is an online application that helps around 400 colleges and universities determine your eligibility for non-federal financial aid. The CSS Profile is administered by the College Board — the creator of the SAT.

Not every college requires you to complete the CSS profile. However, when it’s required, it’s in your best interest to fill it out. Here’s why:

Paying for college is like a puzzle. All the pieces must fit together — scholarships and merit-based aid, federal loans, your savings, private student loans, and more — to complete the whole picture.

When you put together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, what do you need?

  • Time.
  • Tools, like a table and a bright light.
  • Your stick-to-it-iveness, plus nimble fingers, and maybe even sharp eyes for catching details.

Paying for college requires you to utilize similar tools (and you need a chunk of time devoted to filling it out as well).

The CSS Profile is one of the tools you can use to complete the paying-for-college puzzle. Here are a few more fast facts about the CSS Profile:

  • The CSS Profile isn’t free. The first application you fill out costs $25. If you want to send reports to additional schools, it’ll cost you $16 for each school. However, if you’re a high-need student, you may be able to get a fee waiver, particularly if your family’s annual household income is $45,000 or less.
  • You can file as of October 1, 2020. It’s a good idea to file the CSS Profile as soon as you can to take advantage of the aid available to you. Aid is distributed from each school on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The opening date for the CSS Profile is the same as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA differs from the CSS Profile in the way it calculates certain assets. Filling out the CSS Profile does not take the place of the FAFSA. Rather, it is an additional application for institutional financial aid.

Should you file both the CSS profile and the FAFSA? Yes!

Schools Require the CSS Profile?

Nearly 400 colleges, universities, professional schools, and scholarship programs use the CSS Profile to award more than $9 billion in financial aid annually. Take a look at the College Board’s website for the full list of schools and institutions that require the CSS Profile application.

What Are the Benefits of Filling Out the CSS Profile?

Here are three main reasons why it’s a good idea to fill out the CSS Profile:

  1. Filing the CSS Profile gives you access to funding sources not available from the FAFSA alone. The FAFSA awards federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity (SEOG) Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, PLUS Loans, and Perkins Loans. The CSS Profile does not offer these types of aid, but may offer other institutional aid opportunities.
  2. The CSS Profile offers a more comprehensive overview of family finances compared to the FAFSA. The CSS Profile requires a much more detailed look at your family’s financial status and even dives into, for example, household and medical expenses. The CSS Profile zeroes in on factors that affect your ability to pay for school.
  3. The CSS Profile lets you explain special circumstances in depth. You can use the CSS Profile to detail special circumstances unique to your family that nobody can see just by scouring tax information. This could include the costs of your parents caring for a disabled child, a parent’s job loss, or other financial hardships.

When is the CSS Profile Due?

It’s easy to assume that the CSS Profile and the FAFSA have the same deadline because they opened on the same date — October 1 of each year. However, unlike the FAFSA, which is due by June 30 of each year, the CSS Profile’s deadline varies.

In general, most schools’ deadlines land between January 1 and March 31.

Your best bet is to fill the CSS Profile out as soon as you can to maximize your opportunity for institutional aid.

What’s the best way to make sure all the puzzle pieces fit regarding the CSS Profile? Great question.

Ask an admissions counselor or financial aid professional, “Do I need to fill out the CSS Profile at your school and how will it help me afford the costs here?”

Ask as many questions as you can think of to better understand what the CSS Profile is used for. It’ll help you start to put the right puzzle pieces in place.


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