This October there has been a lot of attention focused on completing the 2019-20 FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Many college-bound students and parents rush to complete the FAFSA, only to be surprised to learn that some colleges also require completion of the CSS Profile. In fact, nearly 400 colleges, professional schools, and scholarship programs use CSS Profile to award non-federal financial aid.
You must be careful to check the website of each college on your application list to determine if any of them require completion of the CSS Profile, or even if they have their own financial aid application. The CSS Profile is administered by our old friends at The College Board – you may recognize them from the SAT exams or your AP classes. Their CSS Profile is a little more in-depth than the FAFSA because it is designed to help colleges see a truer picture of your family’s financial need. It may even request financial information on a non-custodial parent.
To complete the CSS Profile, you’ll need to use your College Board username and password. If you have not already created an account for the SAT or to view your AP scores, you can sign up for a new account. As you complete the CSS Profile, the system automatically builds an application tailored to your family’s specific situation. There are plenty of online help options to provide guidance as you move through the application.
Unlike the FAFSA, there is a fee associated with submitting the CSS Profile, so be very sure you want to apply to each college on your list. There are certain hardship exceptions for this fee, and this year there are fee waivers to undergraduate students experiencing hardship due to hurricanes and fires. Once you have submitted your application, keep an eye on your dashboard in case a college wants you to submit additional information through the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC). Mistakes to avoid when completing the CSS Profile include:
• Consistency with the FAFSA: Some colleges may require both the FAFSA and the Profile to award federal, state and institutional aid. Information must be consistent between these two applications, or it will raise a red flag. As most applications are completed at separate times, double-check to look for any inconsistencies.
• Keep your income figures straight: The FAFSA makes it pretty easy to report income from your 2017 federal income tax returns using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, but the Profile may also request updates on your 2018 financial situation and can ask for projections about 2019. If your financial situation has changed dramatically, this could be an advantage for you, but be sure to provide a concise explanation in the “Explanations/Special Circumstances” section.
• Watch the supplemental questions: Make sure you answer any additional questions required by each college, but do that in the “Supplemental Questions” section, so only that college will see your answers.