What Is a CSS Profile?

The FAFSA might not be the only financial aid application you need to complete.

Written by Devon Delfino / February 2, 2022
Reviewed by Mark Kantrowitz

Quick Bites

  • The CSS Profile is a financial aid application for school-based aid like scholarships and grants.
  • You’ll still need to complete the FAFSA to qualify for federal and state financial aid.
  • Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile takes special circumstances into account when calculating your expected family contribution.
  • You can only edit your CSS Profile once after you’ve submitted it.

The financial aid world is filled with jargon. EFC. COA. IDOC. FSA. The list goes on, and it can be a lot to decode if you’re a student or parent.

When it comes to forms, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important financial aid application you need to know about. But for some, the CSS Profile is another vital part of the process. So if you’re just starting to look at your college options, here’s what you should know about the CSS Profile, including if you need to fill it out and how to get it done.

Inside this article

  1. What is the CSS Profile?
  2. How is it different from FAFSA?
  3. Does it cost money to use it?
  4. How to fill out the CSS Profile

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is a financial aid application that about 200 schools and scholarship programs use to give out institutional aid. And it can be used to apply for either undergraduate or graduate study.[1]

“Many schools with a significant commitment to need-based financial aid use the Profile to distribute grants and scholarships more equitably,” says John Gudvangen, associate vice chancellor of enrollment and director of financial aid at the University of Denver. “Looking at Profile-user schools could be the key to finding your best fit that is affordable.”

Just remember that you’ll only need to complete the CSS Profile if one (or more) of the schools you’re applying to use it.

Tip: Use the College Board’s CSS Profile directory to see if any of the schools you’re applying to require the application. Keep in mind that your student status (domestic or international) can also impact whether or not you’ll have to fill out the application.

How is the CSS Profile different from the FAFSA?

There are major differences between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile. For one thing, the FAFSA gives you access to federal financial aid. But the CSS Profile is all about institutional aid, like school-based scholarships and grants.[2] So if you need to fill out the CSS Profile, you’ll still need to fill out the FAFSA to maximize your aid.

The CSS Profile has more than twice as many questions as the FAFSA.

“Unlike the FAFSA, families can share special circumstances or additional details on the Profile application. Each situation is unique, but it’s certainly possible that low- and moderate-income families will find that the Profile provides a truer assessment of their ability to pay,” says Gudvangen.

So, if you’ve had large medical bills or your parents’ income fluctuates, those kinds of things can be taken into account through your CSS Profile application, while the FAFSA doesn’t provide a way to disclose special circumstances.[3,4,5] (However, you can appeal for more aid after you file a FAFSA.)

One thing to be aware of is that the estimated family contribution calculated by the CSS Profile is often higher than on the FAFSA, partly because, among other things, it counts more assets and a higher contribution from student income.

Does it cost money to use the CSS Profile?

If you’re applying as an undergrad and meet any of the following requirements, the CSS Profile is free:

  • Your family makes under $100,000 a year.

  • You qualified for an SAT waiver.

  • You’re an orphan or ward of the court under age 24.[6]

If you don’t qualify for the fee waiver, you’d pay $25 for the first application and $16 for each additional report.[2]

If you’re not sure, you’ll find out if you’re eligible for the waiver during the application process.[7]

How to fill out the CSS Profile

You need a College Board account to complete the CSS Profile. If you’ve created an account for the PSAT, SAT or advanced placement tests, you can use that login. Once you have that out of the way, here’s how to complete the application:

  1. Log in to your College Board account.

  2. Fill out the application. And make sure to include any special circumstances that the FAFSA doesn’t account for. (You’ll see a checkmark appear next to each section as you complete it.)

  3. Pay for your application, if necessary.

  4. Make sure everything is accurate and then submit the application.

  5. If required, you’d then be able to submit additional information through the Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC). Or you could submit your CSS Profile to more schools.[2] Note that you may have to answer additional questions if you add schools as different colleges have different CSS questions.

Tip: If your parents are divorced, some schools may require both of them to fill out the CSS profile application. Be sure to check the rules.

What you’ll need to fill out the application

The general process to fill out the application is simple. But you’ll need a lot of financial documents on hand to get started, like:

  • Federal tax returns for the previous two years

  • W-2 forms, 1099 forms and other income-related tax documents

  • Records of any untaxed income

  • Bank statements

  • Records of savings and investments[8]

If you’re a dependent, you’ll need these documents for both yourself and your parents. Otherwise, you’ll only need your own financial records.[9]

When is the deadline?

It depends. Schools have their own deadlines to receive the CSS Profile, so you should familiarize yourself with those dates. That said, the general application opened on Oct. 1, 2021, for the 2022-23 academic year.[2]

Can you make changes after you submit it?

Yes. If you make a mistake or need to add something to your application, you can edit your application one time after you’ve hit the submit button. To do that, go into your CSS Profile dashboard and click “Correct Your CSS Profile.”[2]

Article Sources
  1. “Financial Aid Info for Prospective Students,” Yale School of Art, https://www.art.yale.edu/about/resources/financial-aid/prospective-students.
  2. “2022-23 CSS Profile Student Guide,” College Board, https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/css-profile-student-guide.pdf.
  3. “Tips for Completing the CSS Profile,” MEFA, https://www.mefa.org/blog/tips-for-completing-the-cssfinancial-aid-profile.
  4. “Institutional Methodology,” College Board, https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/professionals/institutional-methodology.pdf.
  5. “CSS Profile: Better Data for Better Financial Aid Decisions,” College Board, https://professionals.collegeboard.org/higher-ed/financial-aid/profile.
  6. “Fee Waivers,” College Board, https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/fee-waivers.
  7. “Domestic Undergraduate Fee Waivers,“ College Board, https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/css-profile-fee-waivers.pdf.
  8. “CSS Profile Overview,” College Board, https://www.proprofs.com/training/course/?title=css-profile-overview_610a8b71a66f7&c=1&p=2.
  9. “The 2022-23 CSS Profile Tutorial,” College Board, https://www.proprofs.com/training/course/?title=the-202223-css-profile-tutorial_612d14524e336&c=1.

About the Authors

Devon Delfino

Devon Delfino

Devon Delfino is a writer who’s covered personal finance—including everything from student loans to budgeting to saving for retirement and beyond—for the past six years. Her financial reporting has appeared in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Teen Vogue, Masha

Full bio
Mark Kantrowitz

Mark Kantrowitz

Mark Kantrowitz is a nationally-recognized expert on student financial aid, the FAFSA, scholarships, 529 plans and student loans. His mission is to deliver practical information, advice and tools to students and their families so they can make smarter, more informed decisions.

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