About the FAFSA and CSS Profile

Financial Aid, Saving Money

Planning to apply for financial aid in college? Good! At many colleges, there is aid available to decrease your costs – but you may have to apply for it. This post will outline the basics of college financial aid applications.

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 typically awarded without regard to financial circumstances. Some colleges award merit aid based solely on the admissions application, others may require a separate application or essays in order to be considered for specific scholarships.

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 various sources, and these different sources require different information.

The FAFSA, which is the starting point for financial 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 CSS 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 a lot more questions and is far more time consuming than the FAFSA.

Which of these forms will you be submitting?

And it’s also good to know that some private colleges will require even MORE from financial aid applicants, including copies of tax forms and special institutional forms. Read the financial aid website of each college very carefully to fully understand what you are required to submit.

Confused? That’s OK! Most people find college financial aid a bit baffling at first. If you would like to have expert guidance, contact us. Each year, we help families of all backgrounds successfully navigate the college financial aid system.