What is the CSS Profile?

So what exactly is the CSS Profile?

That is a question I’ve been asked by many families. It’s a question I myself asked early in my financial aid career.

As a graduate of Millersville University, a state school in Pennsylvania, and La Salle University, a private school in Philadelphia, I had not encountered the CSS Profile, only the FAFSA. When most think of financial aid forms they think of the federal form, the one that is standard across all schools that wish to distribute aid provided through the government.

But what about this Profile?

The CSS Profile, or the College Scholarships Service Profile if you want to get official, is a form produced by the College Board. It’s used by schools that offer institutional aid beyond the aid made available through the government that wish to dig deeper into a family’s financial picture.

Over the years, more and more schools have decided to use the CSS Profile. At this point nearly 400 schools require those applying for financial aid to complete the form each year.

Most of the participating schools are private schools which provide a high percentage of need-based aid to their students, often 80-100%. As such, these schools want to make sure their endowment dollars are going to students who truly need the money.

To get a more accurate idea of a family’s financial situation the CSS Profile goes beyond the questions of the FAFSA, looking closer at businesses, primary residences, cash values of life insurance and noncustodial parent information, to name a few.

While the CSS Profile does a good job of digging deeper into what a family has in regards to assets, it doesn’t go above and beyond to ask for expenses a family might have in addition to a mortgage, student loans and education costs for other children. The Profile does provide an explanations section, both for general explanations and those related to businesses, where families can share things that provide a clearer picture on their situation.

The CSS Profile is different than the FAFSA in a lot of ways, but one main difference is that it costs money to submit. Where the FAFSA is free, at this point the CSS costs $25 to submit to one school and then another $16 for each additional school you submit the Profile to. You only have to complete one form, but each school can ask questions specific to its institution.

Another way the CSS differs from the FAFSA is when it is available to be completed. Where the FAFSA doesn’t become available for submission until Jan. 1 of each year, the CSS Profile is made available each fall. Schools that are making early decisions on students require this form so they can get an idea of the family’s financial situation prior to the new year.

So there you have it, a breakdown of the CSS Profile. If you have any other questions regarding the form or need someone to help you complete it be sure to email me at financialaidcoach@gmail.com. I can either help you get started and then review the form prior to submission or walk you through the entire completion process.

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