Most parents of high school students are familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but there is another application which many colleges also use: the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. While the FAFSA is administered by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, the Profile is administered by College Board’s College Scholarship Service (CSS).
Why two applications? In short, the FAFSA is a standardized application used for federal financial student aid, such as Pell grants or loans. Many states and schools also use the FAFSA to determine their own financial aid. However, if a college wants more flexibility in the factors used to determine financial aid, the CSS/Profile allows for more variation. The Profile is used to apply online for non-federal financial aid from more than 200 colleges and scholarship programs.
There is no fee to complete the FAFSA, but the CollegeBoard does charge $25 for the Profile. The FAFSA and CSS/Profile are always available on October 1 for the following year. (In other words, the FAFSA and CSS/Profile for 2021/2022 were available on October 1, 2020). In the case of a divorce, the FAFSA requires the custodial parent's information, but the Profile may require information from the non-custodial parent as well.
Students and parents need to be aware of their selected colleges’ financial aid application process and deadlines. Pay close attention to dates listed for early action or early decision admissions, as the Profile may need to be submitted immediately. The fee for the initial application and one report is $25, with additional reports billed at $16. Fee waivers may be granted to students from low-income families who are first-time college applications.
Completing Your Profile For Financial Aid
Here are some of the steps you will need to complete the Profile online:
Gather Documents: As with the FAFSA, it is helpful to gather the necessary documentation before beginning work on the Profile. This will enable you to move right through the application without stopping to search for any needed information. This includes federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, assets and bank statements, and records of other income and benefits (taxed and untaxed).
Register: Visit the College Board website and register, making sure you are completing the Profile for the proper year. You may have already registered for the College Board if you signed up for the SAT online. Based on the answers you provide during the registration process, the Profile will be tailored to your individual family situation and the requirements of the colleges or programs you have selected. You can securely save your application and return to it at any time.
Complete the Application: At the end of registration, you will receive a customized pre-application worksheet along with application instructions. You can print out this information and fill out the form manually before completing it online if that makes the process easier for you. If you are answering the questions directly online, the system does have online help available.
Submit the Application: When you are ready to submit the application, the system will also look for any potential discrepancies and prompt you to fill in any uncompleted answers. Review all of your information one last time before submitting the form. The date and time of submission will be recorded as Eastern Time. You may pay online as part of the submission process using a valid debit or credit card. Be sure to print out your Profile Acknowledgement and look for any additional steps required.
You can go back and add colleges or programs by visiting the Profile home page and clicking “Add Colleges.” You will be charged $16 for each additional report. The college application season is here — make sure you know whether you need a FAFSA, a Profile, or both.
Lastly, remember that you need to complete these steps every year in order to qualify for financial aid again. It would be an unpleasant surprise to lose financial aid simply because you forgot to fill out the FAFSA or Profile.
This article was updated by Abby Chao.