These days, a growing number of students are thinking about a college education in dollars and cents: how much they pay and how much that degree raises their starting salaries. And with good reason — college grads can expect higher lifetime earning potential than their noncollege-bound peers. Yet paying for college can be difficult, and students and families may not be thinking about how to cover college costs during the excitement of deciding on which college to attend.
In addition to completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to determine eligibility for financial aid, some students may need to also complete the College Scholarship Services (CSS™) Profile. The CSS Profile is required by about 400 colleges and scholarship programs and it can help you access nonfederal financial aid (i.e., institutional aid). It is more extensive than the FAFSA and looks at your family's finances, including:
- Expenses, including home equity on the primary home residence, retirement accounts and life insurance plans.
If applicable, the CSS Profile may also look at the income and assets of a noncustodial parent. If you're not attending a participating institution then you do not need to complete the CSS profile.
If you're a student, you might already have an account with College Board, namely if you registered with them for your AP, PSAT/NMSQT or SAT exams. If not, it's easy for students and/or parents to sign up here.
Ace the application
The application can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to complete. Unlike the registration process, you can save your progress and exit, so you don't have to do everything in one sitting.
Note your deadlines
Like the FAFSA, you can submit your CSS Profile as early as October 1 of your senior year in high school. College or program due dates can vary among CSS, so don't forget to check out specific deadlines before you start the process.
Gather the required information
Take advantage of the Pre-Application Worksheet, which is available once you've finished registering and will help guide you through each step of the process. Generally, you will need:
- Your or your parents' current and previous years' tax details
- Income figures
- Information on your or your parents' financial assets
Even if you've qualified as an "independent" applicant (e.g., if you're over 24 years old, married, have a legal dependent), some institutions still require you to submit your parents' information. If you see the parental information section listed within your application, you must fill it out.
If your parents are divorced, enter the information for the parent you have lived with the most for the past 12 months. Just note that, depending on the institutions you submit to, you may be required to fill out an additional profile for the noncustodial parent.
Be thorough and truthful when filling out this application, as errors or omissions could disqualify you from receiving aid. The College Board's Institutional Documentation Service may request some of these documents down the road, so don't throw out your documentation even after you've submitted your CSS Profile.
Once you feel ready to submit, double-check everything. You can add more institutions after you submit, but you can't change the substance of the profile itself. Want to remove any schools or programs? Do that now, before you submit.
The CSS Profile charges $25 for the application and one college or program report. Additional reports cost $16. Fee waivers are available for low-income students (up to 8 colleges) and are processed immediately during the application process.
Once you've finalized your profile and paid the fees, your application will be sent immediately to the institutions you chose.
The next step? Sit back and wait for those award letters to start rolling in.
FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.
CSS Profile™ is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.