Article Highlights

  • Around 250 institutions require the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile determines eligibility for institutional aid and scholarships.
  • The CSS Profile is available on October 1 each year at cssprofile.collegeboard.org.
  • The CSS Profile can unlock opportunities for institutional scholarships. For federal aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

When you’re applying for financial aid opportunities, you may feel like you’re spending all your time filling out applications. And the list of requirements can sometimes feel overwhelming. But spending time applying can pay off in the long run.

The CSS Profile is a standardized application created by the College Board® (the organization that creates and distributes the SAT®) used by scholarship programs and colleges to distribute institutional aid. Unlike federal loans and grants, which distribute federal aid, institutional aid is non-federal and distributed by the college or university.

The CSS Profile can be time-consuming to fill out, but the good news is that, because it’s standardized, you only need to fill it out once, regardless of how many schools you are applying to. You will also need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as well. Unlike the FAFSA, not all schools require a CSS Profile from students seeking aid. The CSS is required at about 250 institutions, including these schools. Even though filling out the CSS can take more time than the FAFSA, it can be a resource of college funding that would not be available through FAFSA alone. Here's what you need to know before you start the CSS Profile application.

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is an online application to determine eligibility for non-federal financial aid. Not every college requires it, but nearly 250 colleges do, so be sure to first check the list of schools to determine whether you need to complete the application. It's also important to see if the school requires students of divorced parents have both parents complete the CSS 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 domestic undergraduate students whose family adjusted gross income is up to $100,000, among other factors.

Both the CSS application and the FAFSA can be filed as early as October 1 each year. Schools may have their own deadlines in place for the CSS Profile so be sure to check with each school you are applying to.

What are the benefits of filling out the CSS Profile?

The purpose of the CSS Profile is to provide students with financial aid packages to make college attendance possible. Filling out a CSS Profile may also unlock scholarship opportunities for students whose families may be in too high of an income bracket to qualify for financial aid. Institutional dollars can also be especially beneficial in minimizing the amount you’ll have to pay for school.

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.

Should students fill out both the FAFSA and CSS Profile?

Filling out the CSS Profile does not take the place of the FAFSA. Rather, it is an additional application for non-federal financial aid. And it can be especially useful for students from low-income families.

Your FAFSA and your CSS Profile will be used to calculate your student loan package. The FAFSA awards families with federal grants, scholarships and student loans while the CSS helps schools award non-federal institutional aid.

Your student loan package will likely contain a combination of financial aid (money that needs to be paid back) with gift aid, like scholarships and grants. To maximize scholarship opportunities, you can also search for private scholarships on your own, too.


FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

CSS Profile®, College Board®, and SAT® are trademarks registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this site.

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