Financial aid season is upon us and in addition to filling out the FAFSA application form some students will also have to file the College Scholarship Service Financial Aid Profile, also known as the CSS Profile. It is a financial aid profile produced by the College Board allowing college students to apply for financial aid and is much more extensive than the FAFSA. The CSS Profile is used by more than 350 private institutions throughout the U.S. and is primarily designed to give private member institutions of the College Board a closer look into the finances of a student and their family.
Similar to the FAFSA, the CSS Profile asks questions about the financial status of the student and the student’s parents. The one difference is the CSS Profile has a more detailed questionnaire than the FAFSA, focusing on information about the specific programs at schools you will be applying to. The information the student gives in the CSS Profile is then sent to colleges or universities that the student specifies. It can qualify students for enormous nonfederal financial aid packages funded by their college such as institutional scholarships, grants and loans.
Another key difference between the FAFSA and CSS Profile, the FAFSA is free and the CSS Profile is not. The cost for filing a CSS Profile is $24 for the first college and $18 for every additional college. Although the CSS Profile is a fee-based financial aid application, a limited number of fee waivers are automatically granted based on information entered in the CSS Profile. These waivers are granted to eligible first-time college applicants from families with few assets and very low income.
The need analysis formulas for the way the applications determine financial aid is also different. The FAFSA uses what is called the Federal Methodology (FM) for determining financial need, while the CSS Profile uses the Institutional Methodology (IM). The two systems are fundamentally the same, following 7 key factors: parent and student income, parent and student assets, family size, the number of children in college and the age of the oldest parent. The difference comes in the formulas.
- The IM takes into account home equity while the FM does not. This can be a big deal for Bay Area families who tend to own more expensive homes.
- The IM assumes a minimum level of contribution from the student. FM assumes that students may not be able to contribute anything.
- IM is tied to the consumer price index, while FM is tied to governmental studies of the low standard of living.
- The CSS Profile contains questions specific to the schools you are applying to, while the FAFSA is a standardized financial aid application designed to be used in conjunction with federal government aid.
- The CSS Profile allows financial aid counselors to take special circumstances into greater consideration. The CSS Profile does allow you to explain your family’s special circumstances, which can influence the award offer. FAFSA does not allow you to do that.
So why do some colleges require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA?
The CSS Profile allows the school to ask tailored, customized questions about a student’s financial aid situation that the FAFSA cannot. Also colleges with early acceptance programs such as Early Decision or Early Action, use the CSS Profile to make preliminary financial aid decisions because the FAFSA is not available until after January 1, while the CSS Profile can be submitted prior to January 1. Then, after a student completes the FAFSA, colleges may then make adjustments to their financial aid awards if necessary.
Many of the colleges that use the CSS Profile have cost of attendance of $50K – 60K a year. Families with the incomes of $200 – $400K per year may qualify for financial aid from these institutions especially if they have more than one student attending college at the same time.
Remember not all colleges and scholarship programs require the CSS Profile. Check with the colleges and scholarship programs that you’re interested in to see if they require it.
Photo Credit: Patricia Drury