If your child is considering attending one of these schools, they will be required to fill out the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE alongside the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Even though filling out the CSS can take more time than the FAFSA, it can be a large resource of college funding that would not be available through FAFSA alone. Here's what you need to know before your child starts the CSS application.

What is CSS?

The CSS is an online application to determine eligibility for non-federal financial aid, which is administered by the College Board, creator of the SAT®. Not every college requires it, but nearly 400 colleges do, so be sure to first check the list of schools to determine whether your child needs to complete the application. It's also important to see if the school requires students of divorced parents to complete the additional Noncustodial PROFILE.

Unlike the FAFSA, there is a fee to apply. The first application is $25 and reports to additional schools are $16 each. Fee waivers are granted to high-need students, generally for household incomes of $45,000 or less per year.

Both the CSS application and the FAFSA can be filed as early as October 1 and should be completed as soon as possible to take advantage of aid that is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. All schools have their own deadlines in place for the CSS, but many require students to file the profile two weeks before the college's priority admission application deadline.

What Are the Benefits of Filling Out the CSS?

The purpose of the CSS is to provide students with financial aid packages to make college attendance possible.

"These schools generally meet 90 to 100 percent of family need and package their financial aid with institutional grant - or free - money," says Andy Hoge, vice president of admissions and placement at New Jersey SEEDS. Founded in 1992, SEEDS is a nonprofit organization that prepares students to attend selective private schools and colleges and helps families navigate the financial aid process.

"Except for the highest-need families, financial aid packages will always include loans," he adds. It is important to understand the breakdown of free aid to student loans in any financial aid package before accepting it.

Should Students Fill Out Both the FAFSA and CSS?

Filling out the CSS PROFILE does not take the place of the FAFSA. Rather, it is an additional application for nonfederal financial aid. Hoge says it can be especially useful for students from low-income families.

The FAFSA awards families with federal grants, scholarships and student loans while the CSS helps schools award non-federal institutional aid. For example, Brown University is committed to meeting 100% of an undergraduate student's financial aid with a mix of need-based scholarships from the school's scholarship budget, institutional loans and student work-study programs.

It is important to know that the CSS has some significant differences from the FAFSA, in particular the way it calculates certain assets. The FAFSA considers cash gifts - such as from grandparents to grandchildren for college - as a part of parents' total assets. The CSS counts it as parental income thus decreasing a dependent student's eligibility for aid.

On the up side the CSS takes a closer look at family finances than the FAFSA does. The CSS evaluates a family's medical bills and school costs for younger children, among other factors, to determine a family's expected contribution. FAFSA looks strictly at numbers such as income and family size, so families must discuss personal situations and hardships directly with schools. For some students, this could mean more financial aid opportunities are available through the CSS.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.

SAT® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

CSS Profile™ is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

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