What Is the CSS Profile Form?

Definition & Examples of the CSS Form

Mother and daughter filling out financial aid form online

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The CSS Profile is an online form college students can use to apply for nonfederal financial aid. It is administered by the College Board and varies depending on the school to which you are applying.

Many private colleges and universities require the CSS form in order to determine student eligibility for nonfederal loans. Let's look at important aspects of the form, when you might need to fill it out, and how it differs from the FAFSA.

What Is the CSS Profile Form?

If you want to receive any private financial aid for college, you will probably need to fill out the College Scholarship Services (CSS) Profile form. Nearly 400 colleges, universities, professional schools, and scholarship programs work with the College Board's CSS Profile to assess student financial needs.

The CSS Profile is designed to get a comprehensive picture of your family's financial situation and give you the chance to explain any extenuating circumstances.

The CSS Profile form is often confused with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). While there are many differences between the CSS form and the FAFSA, the main difference is that they are used to apply for different types of financial aid. If you want to receive federal financial aid or federal student loans, you have to complete the FAFSA.

How the CSS Form Works

Before you begin the process of creating your CSS Profile, it's helpful to know important dates and eligibility requirements.

Key Dates and Fees

The CSS Profile is a service of the College Board. It comes online on October 1 for the following academic year. It uses prior-prior-year (PPY) income tax information. For the 2020–21 application, this means that you will be able to utilize information from your 2018 federal income tax returns. Having your tax returns on hand will help you quickly complete the form, but be prepared to provide income estimates for 2019 and 2020 to provide a complete picture of your financial situation.

Unlike the FAFSA, which is free to complete, the CSS Profile form costs $25 to create and submit to one school. Additional schools cost $16 per submission. A limited amount of fee waivers are available for students who are orphans, those who come from low-income families, and similar situations of financial hardship.

Some colleges may also have their own separate financial aid applications. Check the list of requirements for each school and be sure to pay close attention to their admission deadlines. It is usually recommended that you try to submit the CSS form at least two weeks before your school’s financial aid deadline, just to leave yourself additional time to fix errors, omissions, or any other complications that arise after your initial submission.

Since the CSS Profile form only covers a certain group of schools, you should be sure it is required before you spend the time and money to apply. Have the information submitted only to the schools that you want to attend.


Whereas federal financial aid is calculated based on a strict formula across all students nationwide, the CSS Profile form allows colleges to use unique criteria to calculate aid eligibility for their own programs. Hence, the questions on one school’s CSS Profile may vary dramatically from those of another school.

Because the CSS Profile form is for nonfederal or private scholarships, grants, and financial aid programs, the schools are permitted to consider other factors not considered on the FAFSA form. These include items such as the value of a parent’s home, the income of a noncustodial parent, insurance contract values, and annual retirement plan contributions. Take advantage of the pre-application worksheet, which can help in determining what information will be requested and what documentation to gather.

How to Complete the CSS Form

To complete the CSS Profile, take the following steps:

  1. Gather information: Pull together financial information including tax returns, information on temporary assistance or Supplemental Security Income, W-2 forms, bank statements, mortgage information, and records of untaxed information.
  2. Register: Visit the College Board website and register for the CSS Profile. Your application is tailored to your family situation and the colleges or programs you select. You can securely save your application and return to complete it at any time.
  3. Complete the application: Follow the customized pre-application worksheet provided, as it will help you complete the Profile. As you answer questions, the system will automatically provide online help and edits to minimize mistakes.
  4. Submit the application: You will be able to pay online and will receive an online acknowledgment of your application. Read the acknowledgment carefully to see if there are any additional steps you must take.

Some schools that accept the CSS Profile will use the College Board's verification service, IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service). If your school uses this, you will receive an email from the College Board about this next step.

Key Takeaways

  • The CSS profile form is an online application for nonfederal financial aid and run by the College Board.
  • The form is different from the FAFSA and is designed to get a more comprehensive picture of your financial situation.
  • The form costs $25 initially, plus $16 for each additional school to which you are applying.