CSS Profile Fundamentals – 8 Questions Answered About the College Scholarship Service Profile

Chris Ladd

The CSS Profile is a used by many colleges and universities to award non-federal financial aid. If you have a high school senior or a child in college be sure to work with them to complete the CSS Profile application after completing the FAFSA form for this year.

1) What is the CSS Profile and what is it used for?

The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile is an online application used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal financial aid. Most colleges that utilize the CSS application are private, but it is used by a few public universities. The CSS Profile is administered and maintained by The College Board, a non-profit organization with the mission to connect students to college success. The College Board is the same organization that administers the SAT.

2) How is the CSS Profile different than FAFSA?

The CSS profile is different from and should be completed in addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The CSS profile is used to file for additional institutional aid, such as scholarships, non-federal grants, and work-study programs. FAFSA is always required for federal student aid. CSS Profile is only necessary if one of the schools to which your student is applying utilizes it. Not all colleges use the CSS Profile, but after FAFSA, it is the most common financial aid application completed each year.

If you want to read more about FAFSA, check out our FAFSA Basics article.

3) Why is it important?

Even though not all colleges and universities utilize the CSS Profile, if you are applying at one or more colleges that do, you could be passing up additional free aid by not completing the profile. The list of Participating Institutions and Programs that utilize the CSS Profile can be found on The College Board website.

4) Who needs to complete it?

The student who will be attending college and applying for aid should create the CSS Profile account. If the student created an account to register for the SAT, then the student should login using the same account for the CSS Profile application. Student and parental financial information will be reported on the student CSS Profile account.

For situations where parents are divorced or separated, the custodial parent’s financial information will be included on the student CSS Profile account. The noncustodial parent will need to create a separate CSS Profile account and supply only that parent’s financial information.

The College Board provides a good CSS Profile Tutorial to help you get started.

5) What information is needed to complete the form?

Similar to the FAFSA application, the student and family’s financial information is collected during the CSS Profile application process. The CSS Profile takes a more comprehensive look at the family finances than the FAFSA application. The following information will be needed to get started with the application:

  • Tax return information for you and your child for the tax year two years before your child will start school. (For example, if your child will start school in the fall of 2021, you need your 2019 tax return.)
  • W-2 forms and other current year income information
  • Records of untaxed income and benefits, such as child support, tax-free interest income, workers compensations, and disability benefits
  • Balances or value of non-tax deferred assets, such as checking and savings account balances, investment accounts, non-qualified annuities, real estate, and businesses.
  • Assets held in retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans, pension plans, and IRAs. How this information is used varies by institution. (Note these assets are not reported on the FAFSA application.)
  • Mortgage and home equity information
  • Medical expenses

The CSS Profile application will tailor additional questions based on information entered. If additional information needs to be gathered, you can save the application and return to complete it later. The College Board also provides assistance when completing the application via online chat, phone, or email.

6) When is the deadline for completion?

The CSS Profile opens for applications beginning October 1st for the following academic year. The application should be submitted at least two weeks before the earliest priority filing date for the colleges the student is considering attending. Some colleges and universities require the application to be completed each year, and others only for the initial application year. Check with the school where your student ultimately attends to see if the application needs to be completed after the initial year.

7) How long does it take to complete the CSS Profile application?

Plan to spend one to two hours to complete the CSS Profile application after gathering the needed financial information. If you have recently completed the FAFSA application, the process will be faster since you will use much of the same financial information. If you have not completed the FAFSA application, you should do that first at the Federal Student Aid website.

8) How much does it cost?

The cost to complete and submit the CSS profile application to one school is $25. The cost for each additional school is $16. Fee waivers are available for those that qualify based on family income, and the fee waiver will automatically be applied during the application process. For a family of four, the fee waiver would apply with an income of approximately $45,000 or less. For additional information on fee waiver eligibility, review the CSS Profile Fee Waivers page.

Ready to get started on your CSS Profile or want to learn more about it? Visit The College Board CSS Profile home page to create your account and see what opportunities are available for your student.

By Chris Ladd

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