The FAFSA and CSS Profile
Planning to apply for financial aid in college? Good! There is a lot of money available to decrease your costs – but you may have to apply for it. I typically recommend that most college applicants apply for financial aid, even if you think you won’t qualify.
First, it’s important to know that many colleges will award aid based solely on the application for admission. This is called merit aid, and it is awarded without regard to financial circumstances. For this type of aid, the student often doesn’t need to submit anything beyond the admissions application.
However, merit aid is only one part of the financial aid puzzle. To be considered for the full range of financial aid in college, there are two additional forms you may need to file: the FAFSA and the CSS Profile. Here’s a quick overview:
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid – FAFSA
- Operated by the U.S. Department of Education
- Free to submit to an unlimited number of colleges
- Available beginning October 1
- Used to determine eligibility for federal aid, state aid, and sometimes institutional (college-based) aid
The CSS Profile
- Required by some private schools (In addition to the FAFSA)
- Operated by the College Board
- $25 for registration and submission to first college, $16 for each additional college
- Available beginning October 1
- Used to determine eligibility for institutional (college-based) aid ONLY
Why are there 2 forms, and how are they different?
Put simply, since financial aid comes in many forms from many sources, not everyone agrees on what information needs to be collected before they give the money away.
The FAFSA, which is the starting point for need-based aid consideration, is fairly simple, and asks for basic financial information. In fact, many families are surprised by how little information the FAFSA requires, and wonder how a college can possibly get an accurate impression of their financial situation with this limited information.
And that is exactly why the Profile was created. Many private colleges want to know much more about a family’s financial situation before they start distributing funds from their endowments. So these colleges use the Profile to get an in-depth picture of a family’s financial situation. As you can predict, the Profile asks for much more information than the FAFSA. It may actually feel invasive to report this much about your finances, but this is the reality of financial aid.
Which of these forms will you be submitting?
- I typically recommend that all students submit the FAFSA.
- If you believe you may qualify for need-based aid, and if any of the colleges you apply to require the Profile, plan to file this as well. Click here for a list of colleges that require the CSS Profile.
And it’s also good to know that many selective private schools will require even MORE from financial aid applicants. Check out this post for a quick description of what else you might be asked to submit.
Confused? Don’t be! Most people find college financial aid a bit baffling at first. If you want expert guidance, contact us. Each year, we help families of all backgrounds successfully navigate the college financial aid system.