Financial Aid for Private Schools – Understanding the College Scholarship Service Profile
The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, or College Scholarship Service Profile, is the private college system's answer to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This supplemental financial aid application is offered through the College Board, the folks who brought you the SAT. Private schools still rely on the FAFSA to distribute federal financial aid, but many prefer to use the CSS Profile to award their own grants, scholarships, and loans.
CSS PROFILE and FAFSA Differences
The CSS Profile offers a more in-depth view of your educational and financial realities. While the FAFSA is fully standardized and asks the same questions to every applicant, the CSS Profile asks questions pertinent to specific degree programs at the schools to which you are applying. The customized application also allows you to explain any special circumstances affecting your ability to pay for college.
Determining Your Financial Need
The CSS Profile employs a different methodology than FAFSA and requires additional financial information to calculate your financial need. Unlike the FAFSA, it includes assets such as home equity and financial contribution from noncustodial parents in determining what a student can afford to pay. The CSS Profile's Institutional Methodology also differs from the FAFSA's Federal Methodology in that it requires a minimum contribution by the student where FAFSA does not. CSS also applies different allowances for siblings, their educational expenses, and minimums for living expenses.
The CSS Profile's detailed, customized questionnaire and more restrictive need analysis may add up to a lower estimate of your financial need. In other words, the amount you are expected to contribute to your educational expenses (the FAFSA's Expected Family Contribution (EFC)) can be higher under the CSS Profile.
CSS Profile is the preferred financial aid application for schools offering Early Decision or Early Action (non-binding admission), because it can be submitted before January 1st. Early acceptance applications are due in early to mid-November, and students receive word from schools by mid-December. The CSS Profile enables admissions committees to make preliminary financial aid decisions before the FAFSA is available. Each school to which you apply sets its own priority filing deadline for the CSS Profile. This deadline applies to regular admission applicants as well. You can submit a CSS Profile for the upcoming school year beginning October 1st of every year. FAFSA deadlines can vary depending on the state.
Cost of the CSS Profile
Unlike the FAFSA which has no fees attached, the CSS Profile comes with fees. Charges include a $25 initial application fee and a $16 processing and reporting fee for each additional college or program you designate to receive the application report.
Beware of Scholarship Displacement
After you fill out the FAFSA, the government then determines what your expected family contribution should be compared to the total cost of attendance. The difference between the cost of attending and what your family is expected to contribute is known as “financial need” and that amount is the most you can receive in federal financial aid. For example, let’s say you fill out the FAFSA and receive $10,000 in federal grants. You then go on and receive $6,000 in private scholarships. Because of this “extra” amount, many universities across the country see this as an “over-award” and may reduce the amount of federal aid by $6,000, so you only receive $4,000 in grants.
While this can be confusing and a little discouraging, not all institutions participate in this practice — some actually have policies against it. Before you accept any financial aid awards, it’s a good idea to speak with your intended institution’s admissions counselor or financial aid advisor to understand where that college or university stands. You don’t want to be caught by surprise.
Three Steps to Completing your CSS PROFILE
The CSS PROFILE application process takes place almost entirely online, through the College Board website, and involves three steps:
1. Register for your personalized CSS PROFILE application
The College Board will ask you to fill out a registration form including some basic personal information questions and a list of colleges to which you are applying. This registration process will enable the College Board to customize the questions in your CSS PROFILE.
Create an account. To fill out a registration form for the CSS PROFILE, go to the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Home Page. The site will prompt you to create a collegeboard.com account in order to proceed.
Complete Registration Form. After you sign in, Click "Register for PROFILE." Answer the registration questions and select the colleges to receive your completed PROFILE report. In addition to basic personal information (such as name, date of birth, email address, etc.), the registration form will require input concerning your parent(s) financial circumstances, and the schools to which you want the PROFILE sent.
School Codes. In order to designate schools on your registration form, you will need to provide the PROFILE code. You can find this information on the College Board Website's List of Participating Institutions and Programs.
Supplemental Forms. Depending on which programs you select, you may be instructed to download and complete the following supplemental forms:
- Business/Farm Supplement
- Noncustodial Parent PROFILE
Payment. To complete the registration process, you will be asked to provide a credit card or alternate form of payment to cover the cost of the CSS PROFILE. Some applicants may be eligible for a fee waiver.
The College Board recommends that you register for the CSS PROFILE at least two weeks before the earliest priority deadline set by your schools. If you are unsure of your schools' particular deadlines, you can check the date by going to the CSS PROFILE Home Page and clicking on "Participating Institutions."
2. Fill Out the CSS PROFILE
After you register, you will have immediate access to your customized CSS PROFILE application. The application consists of:
- Pre-Application Worksheet. This worksheet lists the information you'll need to complete the PROFILE application so you can gather the necessary documents beforehand. You may also print out guidelines for filling out the application.
- Core Questions. This portion of the application includes basic personal and financial information, and is standard for all schools.
- Institution-specific Questions. These questions are drawn from a pool of 200 optional questions. Based on the college or program codes you provided during registration, the College Board searches this database and pulls any questions required by the schools.
- Optional Supplements. These are the Business/Farm and Noncustodial Parent applications mentioned above. The Noncustodial Parent Supplement can be completed online, but the Business/Farm Supplement must be printed, signed, and mailed directly to the school's financial aid office.
The CSS PROFILE application is only available online. Your username and password provide secure access to your PROFILE. You can fill out the application gradually, saving your work as you go and returning later.
If you have any further questions about filling out the CSS PROFILE, contact College Board support at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (305) 829-9793.
3. Submit the CSS PROFILE
To ensure that the schools you designated receive your PROFILE in time, plan to submit the application at least two weeks before their filing deadlines.
After you complete and submit your CSS PROFILE online, you should receive an acknowledgement of receipt from the College Board. This confirmation reports the information you entered on the application, and includes any further instructions for completing the financial aid application process.
Review the Profile Acknowledgement and print a copy for your records. If you notice an error in your application information or need to make a change to the information, contact your college financial aid department directly. It's not possible to revise your Profile application online after you have submitted it.
The CSS PROFILE may require more information than needed for the FAFSA, but its online format is just as easy to follow.
- CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Student Guide, https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/prf/VignetteServlet/VignetteServlet.srv?relativePath=/profile/pdfs/1718_profile_regist_guide.pdf; Accessed August 2017
- CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, https://student.collegeboard.org/css-financial-aid-profile; Accessed August 2017