The CSS Profile Explained

If the FAFSA is a financial snapshot, the College Search Scholarship (CSS) Profile is a living portrait of a family’s actual finances. Adapted by the College Board and adopted by approximately 400 colleges and universities, the CSS Profile collects information schools use for internal decisions about institutional aid. It’s not widely used by public and state universities. But many private colleges depend on the CSS Profile to award need-based aid to middle-class families that are ineligible for federal Pell Grants.

Here are eight things you need to know right now about completing the CSS Profile.

Have Your Deadlines Down

Both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile for the 2020-21 award year are live beginning Oct. 1. File as close to the opening day as possible. But if you’re undecided between schools, reach out and ask the financial aid office about their CSS Profile deadline. Submit your profile no less than two weeks before the earliest priority deadline arrives.

Create Your College Board Account

If you’ve sat through the SAT, you already have one. Scores are now viewed through the College Board. If not, visit the College Board’s website to register your username and password. Save it somewhere secure. You’ll need it for all four years. Parents required to do a non-custodial profile also have a username and password to remember.

Gather All the Documents

Multiple tax documents are demanded by the FAFSA. The CSS Profile asks for more. Last year’s tax returns, W-2 forms and other records of taxed and untaxed income are just the beginning. Bank statements, mortgage information, the value of your family’s vehicles, companies, and other real estate—basically any assets with monetary value—must be counted.

Declare Your Dependency Status

Like the FAFSA, the CSS Profile asks questions about your taxes. But the “Student Expected Resources” section seals your status based on how much assistance you report from your parents (and other relatives). That’s on top of your estimated income for next year and any private grants or scholarships received.

Cover Your Assets

More is asked of parents by the CSS Profile than the FAFSA. They’re expected to report the market value of their property and other assets. But the CSS Profile also takes an interest in what they’re spending, whether that’s on unusual medical expenses, mortgage payments or the cost of putting other siblings through school. Non-custodial parents may be asked to submit a separate application if both parents are expected to cover their child’s education.

State Any Special Circumstances

Speak up if you need to once the dust settles. The CSS Profile offers a section to explain any sudden changes to your family’s financial fortunes in 2,000 characters (not words) or less. Job loss, illness or a recent death or birth, among other examples, can affect a family’s contribution and free up more aid.

Choose Wisely

Unlike the FAFSA, information isn’t shared freely. It costs $25 to fill out the CSS Profile and submit it to a single school. Each additional campus costs $16 per submission. Some schools, however, offer fee waivers to families making $40K or less.

And Check It Twice

No online changes can be made to the CSS Profile after you hit the send button. If there’s a mistake, print out the application’s summary form, amend it, and then forward the new information to your school’s financial aid office. Complete the profile and the FAFSA every year you enroll in school.

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Joseph NovinsonJoseph Novinson is a financial aid consultant at Vested Academics. He regularly counsels students, parents, and families on all aspects of the financial aid process.

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