What Is the CSS Profile Form?

Mother and daughter filling out financial aid form online
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DEFINITION

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.

Key Takeaways

  • The CSS Profile form is an online application for nonfederal financial aid and is run by the College Board.
  • The form is different from FAFSA's and is designed to get a more comprehensive picture of your financial situation.
  • The CSS form and applications are free to undergraduates whose families make less than $100,000 per year. For others, it costs $25 initially, plus $16 for each additional school to which you are applying.

Definition and Example of the CSS Profile Form

The CSS Profile form is an online application form that gives prospective college students access to non-federal grants and scholarships. It is administered by the College Board and varies, depending on the school you are applying to.

If you want to receive any private financial aid for college, you will probably need to fill out the 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.

CSS Profile Form

Who Uses the CSS Profile Form?

The CSS Profile form is used by prospective undergraduate college students who need help paying for college because not all forms of financial aid cover educational expenses. For example, suppose your tuition will be $3,000 per semester, but you're only approved for $1,500 in federal financial aid because the government determined that your family's contribution is $1,500. However, your family can't actually afford this amount, so you'll need another source to help you pay for your schooling.

This is where private scholarships, private grants, private loans, state- and regional-based aid, employer-sponsored aid, and institutional financial programs come in. College Board partnered with select colleges and universities to help cover additional educational costs. The form is the first step in creating a CSS profile with College Board used to apply for financial aid at these schools.

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

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 must complete the FAFSA.

Key Dates and Fees

The CSS Profile is a service provided by the College Board. It comes online on October 1 for the following academic year. It uses prior-prior-year (PPY) income tax information—the last two tax years. For the 2022–23 application, this means that you will be able to utilize information from your 2020 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 2021 and 2022 to provide a complete picture of your financial situation.

The CSS Profile form and application are free to all undergraduate students whose families earn less than $100,000 per year. If your family earns more, it costs $25 to create and submit to one school, and each additional school costs $16 per submission. Fee waivers are available for students under the age of 24 who are orphans or wards of the court.

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. You should try to submit the CSS form at least two weeks before your school’s financial aid deadline to leave yourself additional time to fix errors, omissions, or other complications after your initial submission.

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

Eligibility

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 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 included 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.

Where to Get the CSS Profile Form

To get your College Scholarship Services profile form, you first visit the College Board's website. Click on "Learn How to Apply," and begin filling out the automated questions to build your profile through the CSS Profile Overview.

Once you've given your high school graduation year, you're given a series of tutorials that walk you through setting up your profile and account. When you're done, you fill out the information in guided steps. You can then use your CSS profile to apply for scholarships or other financial assistance.

How to Complete the CSS Form

To complete the CSS Profile, take the following steps:

  1. Verify that your school uses a CSS Profile: Check the list of participating institutions and programs to ensure that your school uses your CSS profile in its financial aid process.
  2. Gather information: Put together your 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.
  3. 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 at any time to complete it.
  4. Complete the application: Follow the customized pre-application worksheet provided, as it will help you complete your profile. As you answer questions, the system will automatically offer online help and edits to minimize mistakes.
  5. Submit the application: You will be able to pay online if necessary and receive an online acknowledgment of your application. Read it carefully to see whether 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.

What to Do if You've Made a Mistake

The College Board allows you to correct any mistakes or add additional information to your application by signing in and clicking on "Correct Your CSS Profile" from your profile dashboard. You're only given this opportunity once, so it's essential to have all of the information you need to create your profile or update it.

Article Sources

  1. College Board. "CSS Profile 2022-23."

  2. College Board. "2022-23 Participating Institutions and Programs."

  3. College Board. "Getting Started."

  4. College Board. "Domestic Undergraduate Fee Waivers."

  5. College Board. "CSS Profile."