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Windbourne College Consulting

Understanding the CSS Profile for Financial Aid

FAFSA Updates:

When it comes to college financial aid, most families are familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA has many changes that will be launched this year due to the FAFSA Simplification Act of 2021.   These changes have resulted in a delay in releasing the application.  In prior years the application opened on October 1st.   This year, it is not expected until December or potentially January.    

For more information about the changes to FAFSA please take some time to read this helpful breakdown on Forbes.com

While you wait for the FAFSA you may still need to complete the lesser-known application called the CSS Profile. 

 What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile, or the College Scholarship Service Profile, is an online application that collects information used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal aid. Unlike the FAFSA, which is used to allocate federal grants and loans, the CSS Profile is primarily used by private colleges to distribute their own institutional funds.

 Key Differences Between FAFSA and CSS Profile

 Who Requires It?

FAFSA: Required by all U.S. colleges and universities for federal aid including grants, work study or federal loans.

CSS Profile: Required by some private colleges and a few public schools for institutional aid.

 Depth of Financial Information

FAFSA: Asks for basic financial information and can be matched to your tax filing from the prior, prior year.

CSS Profile: Requires more detailed financial information, including home equity and small family businesses.  

 Fees

FAFSA: Free to submit.

CSS Profile: Costs $25 for the first college and $16 for each additional college. Fee waivers are available for eligible students.

When should you complete the CSS Profile?

The application opened on October 1st and it may benefit you to complete it as early as possible.  Each college will have its own deadline and it is important to ensure this is done before those deadlines for college applications.  

 Why Should You Complete the CSS Profile?

1. More Aid Opportunities: The CSS Profile allows you to be considered for institutional scholarships and grants that are not available through FAFSA.

2. Comprehensive Financial Picture: The form considers more nuanced financial situations, potentially leading to more generous aid packages. CSS Profile will still take into account if you have multiple college students at the same time, which FAFSA will not.

3. Early Application: Some colleges have earlier deadlines for the CSS Profile than for the FAFSA, allowing you to secure aid earlier in the admissions process.

 How to Complete the CSS Profile

1. Create a College Board Account: If your child has taken the SAT, they likely already have an account created.  Parents use this account to help fill out the information.  

2. Gather Financial Documents: This includes tax returns, W-2 forms, and information about savings and investments.

3. Submit by the Deadline: Each college will have its own deadline, so make sure to check and submit the form on time.

For more information on the CSS profile, including a list of colleges requiring it, visit the College Board website.

 Final Thoughts

While the CSS Profile may require more time and effort than the FAFSA, the potential benefits make it well worth your while. By completing both forms, you're maximizing the financial aid opportunities available to your child.

Resources: 

US News: Everything you need to know to complete the CSS Profile

The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber

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