Most families welcome any type of external financial aid that can help them afford college. Although they may not accept all aid offered to them, they prefer a wide array of choices.
The FAFSA process is the best way to obtain aid from Federal and state governments, colleges, and private sources — and it’s free! The College Board’s College Scholarship Service (CSS) isn’t free, but submitting a CSS Profile application form is an inexpensive way to apply for aid from the institutions that participate in the service. Students should submit a CSS Profile if applying to one or more of the colleges that use it to allocate their institutional funds.
How the CSS Profile Helps Students
The CSS Profile is required in addition to the FAFSA by over 400 selective and highly selective colleges that have sufficient funds to offer substantial need-based financial aid to students. The Profile enables an applicant to be considered for a college’s scholarships, stipends, grants, and loans. It’s also required by a number of private scholarship foundations.
The Profile is an online fee-based product of the College Board, the same nonprofit organization that administers the PSAT and SAT tests and Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams. The College Board operates a membership association of institutions that includes over 6,000 secondary schools, colleges, universities, and other education-oriented entities. The Profile is intended by the College Board to give the member colleges that use it a more comprehensive look than the FAFSA into the financial condition of students and their families.
The form used to create a CSS Profile is available online on the College Board’s website beginning on October 1 of the calendar year preceding the year for which financial aid is sought. Colleges usually have a deadline for submission of the Profile that aligns with the admissions application deadline. Students should check with each college to which they plan to apply to ensure timely submission.
The fee is $25.00 to submit the CSS Profile to a single college or scholarship foundation and $16.00 for each additional college or foundation. Domestic undergraduate students may submit and distribute the Profile for free if:
- The Family adjusted gross income is less than $100,000, or
- The student qualified for an SAT fee waiver, or
- The student is an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24
Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile allows applicants 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. Questions on the form cover the value of the family’s residence or small business and the cost of the private schooling of siblings.
Families should anticipate that questions of a more personal and detailed nature will be asked on the CSS Profile than are required on the FAFSA. This is especially true for families with divorced, separated, or never-married parents. The Profile requires financial information from both parents and their spouses. There is a section on the website devoted to explaining the intricacies of this topic under the heading “Completing the CSS Profile for the Noncustodial Parent”. Users should know that their personal information is secured in accordance with the most rigorous data transmission and storage standards.
Completing the CSS Profile
Helpful information about completing the Profile, including a tutorial with step-by-step instructions, is available on the College Board website. The website also offers several .PDF file downloads for reference. The following is an overview of the CSS Profile process:
Step 1: Set up a College Board account: Students who have taken the SAT already have a College Board account that can be used for the CSS Profile. Others will need to set up a College Board account specifically for the Profile. Students don’t need to complete the Profile in one sitting. They may save the form and return to it later.
Step 2: Gather necessary documentation: The CSS Profile requires tax documents from the same “prior-prior” tax year as the FAFSA. In 2023, the relevant tax year is 2021. Since the Profile is more thorough than the FAFSA, families will need additional documentation such as their most recently submitted annual tax returns, W-2 forms, and other records of income, records of untaxed income, assessments of fixed assets such as a primary residence or family-owned business, records of financial assets such as securities and bank balances, and records of associated outstanding debt.
Step 3: Select colleges and scholarships programs: Students need to specify the colleges and organizations who should receive their CSS Profile. A list of 2024-25 participating institutions and foundations and their CSS Codes is provided on the website.
Step 4: Other 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. Some families find that their taxes from two years ago do not reflect their current financial situation. They may detail special circumstances in this section.
Step 5: Submit and pay fees: Families must pay the fees noted above or receive a waiver before the CSS Profile will be sent to colleges and scholarship foundations.
Step 6: Check back with the College Board: There may be more instructions after the CSS Profile is submitted and distributed. Refer to the College Board’s Dashboard to view action items. After the Profile is submitted, students may add more colleges or foundations to receive the Profile. Students will be charged for each additional distribution. If a user makes a mistake on the application or wishes to include additional information after submission, they can update their application by clicking “Correct Your CSS Profile” on the Dashboard. Corrections may be made beginning in late November.
Many CSS colleges provide institutional financial aid to eligible international students. Students should check the College Board’s list to see if colleges-of-interest accept international Profiles.
Since participating colleges need to understand a family’s financial situation in the context of the local economy, the CSS Profile application will collect information about family income, assets, and expenses in the home currency. CSS will then do currency conversion.
The CSS software platform and database are in the United States. The personal information of international students and families will be transferred from their country to the United States. When a student furnishes information to the College Board through this system, they must consent to cross-border information transfers.