You’ve finally gotten through the FAFSA, take a big breath and relax. But only for a minute, because you can’t forget to fill out the CSS Profile—another long, yet important part of the financial aid process.
Just like our FAFSA guide, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process and hopefully make things a little easier when it comes time to apply for financial aid.
What is the CSS Profile?
The CSS Profile is a form you fill out to request financial aid for college, much like the FAFSA. But the CSS Profile is different than the FAFSA in a couple ways.
First, the CSS Profile is not administered by the federal government, but rather through colleges themselves. This is why not all schools require the Profile. You can find out if your college participates, here.
Since aid is not given by the government, there is also a cost, per school, to submit the application (ironic, since you’re requesting money by filling it out). It’s $25 for the application and one school, and an additional $16 per school. The good news is there are instances where you can get the fees waived, or the college you’re applying to may offer you a code to enter at the end of the application that will cancel out the price.
Finally, the biggest difference between the Profile and the FAFSA is the way aid is calculated.
When you fill out the CSS Profile, you’ll be asked more in-depth questions about your family’s finances. You’ll be asked about all your family’s assets, including small businesses, family farms, vehicles, etc. Questions can also vary from college to college.
You can see how much aid you might receive through this calculator, but it can vary. Now, onto the next step.
Step 1: Create a College Board account
First things first, you’ll need a College Board account to fill out the application. If you took the SATs you may already have once, since you view you now view your scores through College Board.
You’ll use the same username and password every year, so make sure you don’t forget it. If you’re a noncustodial parent (see below) and are required to fill out the noncustodial profile, you’ll be given your own username and password when your child fills out their CSS Profile.
Step 2: Gather all your documents
You’ll need a few more documents than you did for the FAFSA. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:
- Previous year’s federal tax returns
- W-2 forms or other records of income for the previous year
- Records of untaxed income for the previous year
- Bank statements
- Mortgage information
- Records of savings, stocks, bonds and trusts
- Any information regarding your car, businesses, other assets
Most of the questions are about your parent’s finances rather than you own. Which is why things get complicated quickly if you’re an independent student. If you are, your best option is to contact the schools you’re applying to and ask how to proceed, as each school is likely to have a different approach.
Step 3: Student data
Like the FAFSA, there will be basic questions about your taxes and filing status. You’ll also be asked questions about your dependency status to make sure you do qualify as a dependent student (we’ll cover what to do as an independent student later in another post).
Things get a little different than the FAFSA when you get to the questions about any other grants or scholarships you receive. If you applied for any private awards (other than the FAFSA), you’ll enter that information in this section.
Also unlike the FAFSA, you’ll come to a section called Student Expected Resources, where you’ll be asked questions about any financial help you expect to receive from your parents (or other relatives), as well as any money you expect to earn in the next year.
For a full demonstration, with longer explanations for each section, see the video below.
Step 4: Parent data
As I said before, the parent section is much lengthier than on the FAFSA. In fact, the whole CSS Profile will likely take you over an hour (I know that’s a long time, but it’s worth it).
In addition to your parents’ taxes, you’ll be asked the value of your parents’ home, vehicles, other real estate they may own, and all other assets that have any monetary value. This will include any college savings your parents’ have gathered over the years, either in a 529 Plan or other savings vehicle.
Just like you were asked about your expenses, the CSS Profile considers the expenses your parents have in addition to their assets. Whether that be child support (if your parents are divorced), their own education, tuition for other siblings, or mortgage payments.
For a full demonstration, and help filling out this section, see the video below.
If your parents are divorced, you’ll need to fill out the Noncustodial profile (if it’s required by your school).
Even if your parents are divorced and you predominately live with one over the other, colleges consider it the responsibility of both parents to contribute to their child’s education.
The noncustodial parent is the one the child lives with the least during a year. So if you live with your mom seven months of the year and your dad five, your dad is responsible for the information on the Noncustodial profile.
Unfortunately, this application also costs $25.
Step 5: Submit your application
When you get ready to submit your application, carefully consider which schools to send it to. If you don’t qualify for a fee waiver, the CSS Profile is going to get expensive if you’re applying to half a dozen or more schools and pay the $16 additional fee for each.
If you thought the FAFSA wasn’t fun, the CSS Profile is worse. But it also helps you get a lot more aid, and it’s easier to explain special circumstances. When applying for financial aid, make sure you check to see if your school also asks for the CSS Profile. Typically, your school will let you know, but always check anyway.