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CSS Profile

CSS Profile
The CSS PROFILE is required by many private colleges and universities to determine your eligibility for non-government financial aid, such as the institution's own grants, loans and scholarships. For a list of schools that require the CSS Profile click HERE.

The biggest differences between the CSS PROFILE and the FAFSA are:

  • Specific questions: The CSS PROFILE contains questions specific to the school or program you're applying to; FAFSA contains the same questions for everyone.
  • Different methodology: The CSS PROFILE determines your financial need differently than the FAFSA, taking into account such factors as whether your family owns a home. In general, the CSS PROFILE asks for more detailed information than FAFSA.
  • Minimum student contribution: The CSS PROFILE requires this; the FAFSA doesn't.
  • Greater reliance on professional judgment: The CSS PROFILE gives financial aid counselors greater freedom to grant aid based on a student's particular circumstances.
  • Cost: There is a cost to filling out the CSS Profile, though some families may qualify for fee waivers; the FAFSA, as the name implies, is free.

You can complete the CSS PROFILE online


On Oct. 1, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or the FAFSA, went live.  The FAFSA is essential for any student who wants to qualify for federal student aid. But there’s another financial aid form that’s just as important: The CSS Profile. 

This form also went live on Oct. 1. It’s more involved and invasive than the FAFSA, but it’s worth the time and effort because it could get you a huge chunk of college aid.

Here’s what you need to know.

The CSS Profile will make students eligible for institutional aid from nearly 400 colleges.   (Karin Price Mueller | NJ Advance Media for

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is a financial aid form created by The College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT and other tests. Close to 400 colleges use the form. “The schools that ask for both forms will typically use the FAFSA calculations in determining any federal aid they offer to a student, but use the CSS Profile information in determining their own institutional resources,” said Steven Sirot, co-founder of College Benefits Research Group (CBRG) in Roseland.

Expected Family Contribution

Colleges will use the form to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

The EFC is a measure of your family’s financial picture, and the FAFSA and the CSS Profile calculate this differently.

For the FAFSA, the federal government uses a formula called the Federal Methodology, while colleges use their own formulas, known as Institutional Methodology. Both formulas figure out your EFC by looking at your assets, income, family size and more.


But colleges, using the CSS Profile, ask for more information about you. While there is a standard CSS Profile, individual colleges can add supplemental questions about items that the particular college makes part of its formula. These supplemental questions will help the college dive deeper to consider other items, such as if the family has large medical expenses.  So while the FAFSA is uniform, the CSS Profile is not, and colleges are permitted to use the information in whatever way they choose. Further confusing many families is that colleges use different proprietary algorithms to determine your EFC. And while the FAFSA will tell you your EFC, colleges that use the CSS Profile generally will not. This all means if you apply to several colleges that use the CSS Profile, each school could give you a different EFC.


While the CSS Profile may take time to complete, the aid you may receive makes it worth it. (


A time investment

Because colleges consider more items than the FAFSA application, the CSS Profile will take you longer to complete.

It will ask for information the feds don’t require, such as your primary home, your retirement accounts, and non-custodial parent income. Think giving overall this additional information will make your family look wealthier, and therefore not eligible for more aid? Wrong. Colleges that require the CSS Profile are typically the schools that are more generous with aid, Sirot said.

If you have ignored certain schools because you think they’ll just be too expensive, think again. You never know what you may be offered, especially by schools with large endowment funds.


The fees

Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile isn’t free.The fee for the initial application is $25, according to The College Board, and additional reports are $16.The group does offer a fee waiver for students who qualified for fee waivers when they took the SAT. Waivers are also available “if the student is an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24 or based on parental income and family size (e.g. family of 4 would qualify with the income of $45,000 or less),” it said. Make sure you don't miss your college's deadline for the CSS Profile. (



You don’t want to miss the chance for this aid, so don’t delay in completing the form.

So when do you need to complete it? The sooner, the better. There will be only so much money available in each college’s coffers, and most awards are given on a first-come, first served basis. Importantly, individual colleges will have different deadlines, so you need to check with the school’s financial aid office to be sure. Also note that if the student is applying for Early Decision or Early Action, the deadlines could be earlier, too.


Completing the form

There are several items you will need to complete the CSS Profile. If you don’t have all your documents when you start, or if you need to double-check something, that’s okay. You can save your progress and return to the application later.

You’re going to need:

  • The most recent tax return for the parents and the student
  • The current year’s income records
  • Recent statements from bank accounts, brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, and any other investment
  • College savings account statements
  • The value of your home and other real estates, plus mortgage information


Getting started

Your student, assuming she took the SAT, will already have a login with The College Board. Parents need to create one, too.

After entering your basic information, you’ll need to choose which schools to which you want to send the form.

This does several things. It makes sure the school will get your information, yes, but it will also customize your CSS Profile so you receive whatever supplemental questions your colleges require.


Important tips

Unlike the FAFSA, which allows you to make corrections by certain deadlines, once you send the CSS Profile, you’re done.

If you realize you made an error, you’ll have to contact each college to see if it has a process for you to submit corrections.

So double-check and make sure you don’t mistype important information such as Social Security numbers. Also, don’t leave any blanks on the form. Be sure to write “0” or not applicable to questions that don’t apply to you. Also, pay attention to fields for explanations/special circumstances. This will give you a chance to offer additional information about certain questions.


What about next year?

While the FAFSA must be submitted every year, the CSS Profile may not be required annually. Or it may.

Confusing, right? Each college sets its own requirements here, so when your student accepts admission to a school, be sure to understand what the school’s expectation. Not all aid awards will automatically renew for all four years of school, so be sure to understand what the college is offering. You don’t want to have lots of aid as a freshman but have no guarantee for the remaining three years.


Extra help

All the form requirements are a lot to take in, but The College Board offers some additional help.

This link offers a step-by-step slideshow about how to complete the form. 

Click here to see the 2021-2022 CSS Profile Student Guide. 

This link has information for divorced or separated parents. 

And you can learn more about CSS Profile fee waivers here.