How the CSS Profile Helps You 

The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile is required by about 400 colleges a few scholarship organizations.The form enables you to be considered for eligibility for a college’s institutional funds in the form of scholarships, stipends, grants, and loans. 

Most families welcome any financial aid offers that helps pay for their children’s college education. Although they may not accept all offers, they prefer as wide an array of choices as possible. The FAFSA process is the simplest way to obtain financial aid offers from the Federal government — and it’s free. The CSS Profile isn’t free but it’s an affordable way to obtain additional offers from the colleges you apply to that require the Profile. You should submit a CSS Profile when applying to any college that uses it to allocate its own funds to eligible applicants.

What Is the CSS Profile

The CSS Profile is a fee-based product of the College Board, the same nonprofit organization that administers the SAT exams and Advanced Placement classes and tests. The College Board serves a membership association of institutions that includes over 6,000 secondary schools, colleges, universities, and other educational organizations.

The form that you’ll use to create a CSS Profile is available online in the fall of the calendar year preceding the year for which you’re seeking financial aid. Deadlines for submission vary by college but they usually align with a college’s application deadline. You should check with each college to which you plan to apply to ensure timely submission.

The CSS Profile is intended by the College Board to give member colleges that choose to use it a comprehensive look into the financial condition and personal situation of students and their families to assist in determining eligibility for their own financial aid programs. The fee is $25 to submit a Profile to a single college or scholarship program and $16 for each additional college or scholarship program. Fees are waived for qualifying students.

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. 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. 

You should anticipate that questions of a more personal and detailed nature will be asked on the Profile than were asked on the FAFSA. This is especially true for families with divorced and separated parents. The CSS Profile requires financial information from both parents and their spouses.

How to Complete Your CSS Profile

Tips about the form, including a tutorial with step-by-step instructions for students and parents, are available on the College Board website. The website also offers .PDF file downloads to use as references as you complete the Profile. 

An overview of the CSS Profile process is provided below: 

Step 1: Set up a College Board account – Students who have taken the SAT will already have a College Board account that can be used for the CSS Profile. Others will need to create an account specifically for the Profile.

Step 2: Gather the necessary documentation – Students who have already completed the FAFSA can use much of the same documentation for the CSS 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 CSS Profile is more thorough than the FAFSA, families will need additional documentation, including the annual tax returns 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 who should receive your CSS 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.

Due to the pandemic, many families have found their tax returns don’t adequately reflect their current financial situation. They may detail the circumstances that led to this condition on the form.

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

Step 6: Check back with the College Board – There may be more instructions to follow after your CSS Profile is submitted and distributed. Refer to the College Board’s Dashboard to view any action items that apply to you. You may add more colleges or scholarship programs to which you want your Profile sent. You’ll be charged for each additional distribution. 

Step 7  – A college can require an Institutional Document Service (IDOC). IDOC is a service that collects family financial documents and distributes them to institutions on behalf of the students.