Your Guide to the 2016-17 CSS Profile

For many families that are pursuing regular admissions decisions at schools across the country, financial aid form deadlines are quickly approaching. While most all schools require the FAFSA, families may be requested to complete another financial aid form; the CSS Profile.

So what exactly is the CSS 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. These schools wish to dig deeper into a family’s financial picture since they are providing beyond what the government is extending.

Who requires the CSS Profile?

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. You can find a full list of participating schools here.

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.

CSS Profile vs. FAFSA

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.

Also check out our guide to the 2016-17 FAFSA >>

Getting started

To get started on the CSS Profile, you will log in through the College Board. Here is the website you’ll use to start the process.

Your student will likely already have login information for the College Board site, as the site is used for the SAT and AP tests, among other things.

While the CSS Profile is significantly longer than the FAFSA, it does allow you to save your progress and sign out as needed. While it can be completed in one sitting, you’ll want to provide yourself plenty of time. You also need to considering the time required to gather the information you’ll need to complete the CSS Profile.

Feel free to send me specific questions you have regarding the CSS Profile. I’m available to review or even complete the CSS Profile for families. If you’re interested in learning more about those services you can email or call.

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