The CSS Profile is an application for college financial aid required by about 400 undergraduate institutions. Completing the CSS Profile, short for the College Scholarship Service Profile, can be arduous, experts say.
But filling out the form, administered and maintained by the College Board, opens the door to nonfederal scholarships and other kinds of institutional aid that can make a big difference when it comes time to pay for college.
Aiming to paint a fuller picture of a family’s finances, the CSS Profile offers opportunities for families to describe any unique or extenuating circumstances affecting their ability to pay.
The schools that require the application are mostly private colleges or other institutions that have large endowments, experts say.
How to Complete the CSS Profile
Students applying to a college that requires the CSS Profile or families who need financial aid and are interested in schools that use the form should follow these steps below.
Step 1: Make a College Board account.
Step 2: Gather the necessary documentation.
The CSS Profile requires tax documents from the same year as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is required for students interested in receiving federal financial aid. Students who have already completed the FAFSA can use much of the same documentation for the CSS Profile. Families will report their income from two years prior to the year a student plans to attend college on both forms.
However, the CSS Profile is a very in-depth form, so families should expect to need additional documents. These will include most recently completed tax returns; W-2 forms and other records of current year income; records of untaxed income and benefits; assets; and bank statements, according to the College Board.
Step 3: Select colleges.
Students have the opportunity to specify which colleges they want to receive their CSS Profile.
Step 4: Complete the application.
“In many ways it’s going to start off feeling very much the same (as the FAFSA),” says Scott Wallace-Juedes, director of undergraduate financial aid at Yale University in Connecticut. “Tell us about your family, where you live, how old are your parents, do you have other siblings in college. Then it will ask for tax data.”
There will also be an opportunity for families to detail any special circumstances. Experts say this is a good place for families to describe anything not apparent on their tax forms or in any other questions, such as the costs of caring for a grandparent overseas or other financial hardships.
Step 5: Submit the application.
Families must pay a fee or receive a waiver before the CSS Profile will be sent to colleges.
Step 6: Check back.
There may be more instructions after the CSS Profile is submitted. Students should refer back to the College Board’s Dashboard to view any necessary action items and to see a payment receipt. After the form is submitted, students can still add colleges where they would like their profile to be sent, though they will be charged for each additional school.
The CSS Profile vs. the FAFSA
The CSS Profile is different from the FAFSA, the free U.S. Department of Education form that determines a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid.
Created by the College Board, the CSS Profile allows institutions to ask financial questions not on the FAFSA and to customize the questions. It is more detailed, so it may take more time to complete, but it can also result in additional financial aid.
CSS Profile Fee Waiver
To complete the CSS Profile, families must pay a fee.
“Note that unlike the FAFSA, which is always free, it costs $25 to fill out the CSS Profile and submit it to one school, plus $16 for each additional college,” Joe DePaulo, CEO and co-founder of College Ave Student Loans, a private student loan provider, wrote in an email. “There are fee waivers available to first-time domestic applicants, for those who qualify.”
Waivers are available to low-income undergraduates who received a SAT fee waiver; in cases where the parental income reported on the CSS Profile application is approximately $45,500 or less for a family of four; or if students are orphans or wards of the court under 24 years old. There is no fee for noncustodial parents with income of $45,000 or less for a family of four.