In addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), some college-bound students complete another application called the College Scholarship Service Profile (the Profile). The Profile is required by 240 colleges and a number of private scholarship programs. It enables a student to be considered for the scholarships, stipends, and grants of participating colleges. Each year, over 430,000 students receive an average of $45,000 per year in need-based aid from colleges and scholarship programs that use the Profile.

Families welcome financial aid that helps pay for their student’s college education. Although they may not accept all offers, they prefer as wide an array of choices as possible. The FAFSA is the best way to obtain financial aid from Federal agencies and other entities — and it’s free. The Profile isn’t free but it’s an affordable way to obtain additional offers from the colleges that use it. Students should submit a Profile in addition to the FAFSA when applying to a college that participates in the program.

What Is the Profile?

The Profile is a fee-based product of College Board, the same nonprofit organization that administers the SAT exams and the Advanced Placement program. College Board is an association of educational institutions with over 6,000 secondary schools, colleges, and universities as members.

The form used to create a Profile becomes available on College Board’s website in the fall of the year preceding the one for which the student is seeking financial aid. Deadlines for submission vary by college but usually align with a college’s application deadline.

The Profile is intended by College Board to give participating colleges a comprehensive look into the financial condition and personal situation of students and their families. This information assists colleges in determining eligibility for its own financial aid programs.

The Profile allows students an opportunity to provide relevant information or describe extenuating circumstances that they want colleges to consider, such as high family medical bills or a recent parental job loss. Other questions cover such matters as the value of the family’s primary home and small businesses and the cost of the private primary or secondary school education of siblings.

Families should anticipate that questions of a more personal and detailed nature will be asked on the Profile than are asked on the FAFSA. This is especially true for families with divorced and separated parents.

Recent Changes to the Profile

Participating colleges provide substantial financial aid to students, which is a good thing. But the Profile is confusing for most families and nearly impossible for some. The Chronicle of Higher Education called the Profile the “most onerous form in college admissions.”

In response, the Board announced late last year that the following changes would be   effective in this year’s Profile:

  1. Noncustodial Parent Application Requirement: Students are asked to report all of their parents on their Profile, which includes:
  • Biological parents.
  • Adoptive parents.
  • Current stepparents.
  • Current parental partners
  • Current legal guardians.

Once all parents are identified, the Profile asks students to report:

  • The parents with whom they live.
  • The parent whose information is provided in the Profile.

In the past, College Board has required noncustodial parents to complete a portion of the Profile. It is difficult, if not impossible, for some students to meet this requirement because of family circumstances. The Board found that 96% of Profile applicants who reported their second parent as “unknown” or “no contact” were unable to get the noncustodial parent to complete their portion of the Profile.

To reduce this impediment, College Board implemented an approach that balances a college’s desire to understand student finances and the fact that some students are unable to provide noncustodial parent information.

  1. Corrections to the Profile

 Another change is the opportunity for students to make corrections to the Profile. College Board data showed that 10% of customer service calls came from students and families wanting to make corrections.

In the past, the process of making corrections was manual, limited, and tedious for students and colleges. To remedy this, College Board added data elements so that colleges would have virtually everything they needed when reviewing Profiles. The Board also allowed students to explain any issues within their in Profiles and took steps to ensure that colleges received updates automatically.

The Profile now allows applicants to submit certain types of corrections once. The purpose is to allow students to add more information to their Profile instead of altering existing information. For example, applicants are now able to make changes to  dependency status. The correction process also allows applicants to add missing business, real estate, or farm information.

Additionally, students are now able to add explanatory text as part of the correction process. They’re also able to provide other information that they believe the college should know about their financial situation.

  1. Eliminating Fees for More Profile Applicants

 The Profile is now free for undergraduate students whose family income is less than $100,000. For others, it costs $25 to submit the form to one college and $16 each to submit it to additional colleges. With the new policy regarding families with incomes of less than $100,000, College Board predicts that the number of students who are eligible to submit the Profile for free will double to 40% of all applicants.

How to Complete the Profile

Tips about the Profile, including a tutorial with step-by-step instructions for students and parents, are available on College Board’s website. The website also offers PDF file downloads to use as references in completing the Profile. An overview of the Profile process is provided below:

Step 1: Set up a College Board account – Students who have taken the SAT will have a College Board account that can be used. Others will create one.

Step 2: Gather the necessary documentation – Students who have already completed the FAFSA can use much of the same documentation for the Profile. As with the FAFSA, families report their income from two years prior to the year in which the student plans to begin college. Since the Profile is more thorough than the FAFSA, families will need additional documentation, including the annual tax return most recently submitted to the IRS; W-2 forms and other records of current year income; records of untaxed income; assessments of certain assets such as the primary residence and family-owned small businesses; and records of financial assets including securities and bank balances.

Step 3: Select colleges and scholarships programs – Specify the colleges and scholarship programs to receive the Profile.

Step 4: Relevant information – There is a section for families to detail any information that they think should be considered as part of a college’s eligibility determination.

Step 5: Submit – Families must pay the fees noted above or receive a waiver before the Profile can be sent to colleges and scholarship programs.

Step 6: Check back with the College Board – There may be more instructions to follow after the Profile is submitted and distributed. Students should refer to  College Board’s Dashboard to view any action items that apply to them. Applicants may add more colleges and scholarship programs to which they want the Profile to be sent. There may be a charge for each additional distribution.

Step 7 – Colleges can require an Institutional Document Service (IDOC), which collects and distributes family financial documents to colleges on behalf of students.