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  • Almost 250 institutions require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, which determines eligibility for institutional aid and scholarships.
  • The CSS Profile is available on October 1 each year through the College Board®.
  • 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. The list of requirements can sometimes feel overwhelming, but making the effort 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® exam. Colleges and scholarship programs use it to distribute institutional aid, which is different than federal student aid like loans and grants. Let’s unpack how the CSS Profile works and why it can be an important part of paying for college.

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is an online application used by colleges and scholarship programs to determine eligibility for non-federal financial aid. It takes a deep dive into your family finances to determine your need for financial aid. That includes your and your parents’ income, expenses, financial assets, and current and previous tax information.

You’ll still need to fill out the FAFSA as well. Even though filling out the CSS Profile usually takes more time, it can be a great resource for college funding that wouldn’t be available through the FAFSA alone.

Is the CSS Profile required?

Not always. Unlike the FAFSA, not all schools require a CSS Profile from students seeking aid. Nearly 250 colleges use it for their financial aid process, so be sure to check the list of participating schools to determine whether you need to complete the application. Also keep in mind that some schools require divorced parents to each fill out their own CSS Profile.

If your college uses the CSS Profile, make sure to fill it out along with the FAFSA each year you’re enrolled in school to maximize your opportunities for financial aid.

What are the benefits of filling out the CSS Profile?

The purpose of the CSS Profile is to provide students with financial aid packages that make college more affordable. Filling it out may also unlock scholarship opportunities for all kinds of students, including those from higher-earning families who don’t qualify for federal aid.

How much does it cost to complete the CSS profile?

Unlike the FAFSA, which is free, there is a fee to complete the CSS Profile. It costs $25 to complete and submit the form to one college or scholarship program. Any reports to additional schools are $16 each. You can waive the fee if your family’s adjusted gross income is $100,000 or less, or you’re a first-year domestic undergraduate student who:

  • Qualifies for an SAT fee waiver or
  • Is an orphan or ward of the court who’s under the age of 24

What is the difference between the CSS Profile and FAFSA?

The CSS Profile takes a closer look at family finances than the FAFSA does. For example, it evaluates a family's medical bills and school costs for younger children, among other factors, to determine a family's expected contribution. The 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 Profile.

The FAFSA awards families with federal grants, scholarships, and student loans, while the CSS Profile helps schools award institutional aid.

How long does the CSS Profile take to fill out?

Since the CSS Profile is more comprehensive than the FAFSA, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to complete it. Give your parents a heads up so they can begin gathering their financial details and required documents. Once you begin the application, take your time and complete it gradually if it feels overwhelming. It’s best to be thorough, and you can save your application as you go and revisit it later. After completing the CSS Profile and paying the fees, your application will be sent to your chosen institutions.

What is the CSS Profile deadline?

Just like the FAFSA, the CSS Profile becomes available on October 1 each year. That means you can technically submit it on that day. Bear in mind that CSS Profile deadlines vary from school to school. Make sure you’re aware of the deadlines and get your application in as soon as possible since some schools distribute aid on a first-come, first-served basis. The College Board suggests getting your application in at least two weeks before the earliest priority application date.

Should I complete both the FAFSA and CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile doesn’t take the place of the FAFSA. Instead, it’s an additional application for non-federal financial aid—and it can be especially useful for students from low-income families.

When taken together, your FAFSA and CSS Profile responses will be used to calculate your financial aid package. This may include a combination of scholarships and grants, work-study programs, and student loans. You can also search for private scholarships on your own to maximize your opportunities.

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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