This is the 2nd in our email series to help you better understand and navigate the financial aid process! If you missed the first one, you can find it on our website here.
Normally I save this CSS Profile email for last because most families are starting with the FAFSA. Because the FAFSA is delayed but the CSS Profile will open on October 1st, I'm skipping ahead to give you this information now.
REMINDER: October 1 is the first day you can access, complete, and submit the CSS Profile financial aid form, and the FAFSA will not be available until December or possibly even as late as January 1st.
CSS PROFILE: WHAT IT IS
The CSS Profile is an additional financial aid form required by approximately 175 colleges for institutional needs-based financial aid
The CSS Profile would rarely (if ever) be required for merit aid scholarships
The CSS Profile is used to award NEEDS-BASED financial aid
My rule of thumb is that families that have adjusted gross income (AGI) of greater than $200K per year and typical assets should not expect any needs-based aid other than at a small handful of the most selective colleges in the country.
If the household AGI falls between $100-200K and the student is applying to some selective colleges, needs-based aid may be available and filing the CSS Profile is probably worth the time and effort
If the household AGI falls under $100K, it is worthwhile to file the CSS Profile
In considering these amounts, please understand that for divorced/separated parents, the CSS Profile almost always requires income and assets for both parents so you would be thinking about AGI on a joint basis
The CSS Profile is a more in-depth look at a family's resources and financial profile
There is NEVER an instance when you would file the CSS Profile and not file a FAFSA -- the CSS Profile is an additional form beyond the FAFSA required by certain colleges (99% of CSS Profile colleges are private)
CSS PROFILE: WHAT WILL IT DO FOR US?
If the student is applying to a CSS Profile institution under Early Decision or Early Action and the student expects to be eligible for some needs-based aid, the college may generate a financial aid package (particularly for ED applicants) based solely on the CSS Profile. Once the FAFSA is available and on file, they will then adjust the overall award letter to re-allocate specific awards (scholarships, institutional grants, PELL grants, federal student and/or parent loans, federal work study) based on FAFSA eligibility for federal programs. Many CSS Profile colleges are signaling that they can make an overall financial aid award based on the CSS Profile and will simply reallocate the individual components based on the FAFSA.
CSS PROFILE: WHO NEEDS TO FILE
You can find a list of institutions that require the CSS Profile here
You will want to double-check the financial aid webpages for each college on your student's list to confirm whether a CSS Profile will be required (the linked list is meant to be exhaustive, but occasionally we have heard of a college missing from the list that does still expect a CSS Profile filing)
DIVORCED OR SEPARATED PARENTS:
Most CSS college require financial information and filings from BOTH parents
The above list includes a column titled CSS Profile - Non-Custodial Parents
For all colleges that say "Yes" to the Non-Custodial Form, both parents must separately file the CSS Profile
The primary custodial parent and the student will file the primary CSS Profile
The non-custodial parent will create his/her own log-in and file separately
Custodial and non-custodial parents will not be able to access or see one another's filings or financial information
FAQs relating to the Non-Custodial Parent Form are here
If the non-custodial parent is unknown or is not involved in the student's life (note this is a high bar to prove), the student may petition each individual CSS Profile college for a waiver
CSS PROFILE: HOW & WHEN TO FILE
How Long Will it Take?
Budget 3-4 hours to complete the CSS Profile -- think of it as a weekend afternoon project
You can break it up into multiple sessions, but be sure to save your work on each screen (it should prompt you to do this)
When's the Deadline?
You can file the CSS Profile and then file the FAFSA later when it is available - there is no need to wait on the FAFSA or file both forms on the same day or same weekend
Deadlines vary by college. Note: we expect that colleges will be forced to move their typical deadlines for financial aid filings out later as a result of the delay in roll-out of the new FAFSA this fall.
You have the option to send the CSS Profile to different colleges at different times
The deadline for filing financial aid forms has in the past corresponded with the college's early-action or early-decision date (often November 1 or November 15), but with the delay in the FAFSA, we do expect colleges to push those deadlines into February or even March
Know your deadlines!
Where do we Start?
On October 1, go here to start the CSS Profile form (be careful you are choosing the 2024-2025 form)
You will need your student's College Board log-in credentials (the same login for their SAT and AP scores)
Log-in as the student and navigate to the CSS Profile to start
How much does it cost?
Unlike the FAFSA, which is free, the CSS Profile costs per filing
$25 for the initial filing, $16 per additional filing
CSS PROFILE: LOGISTICS OF FILING
Gather all documents used to complete the FAFSA, plus mortgage information for your primary residence and other homes; data relating to cars, farms, businesses, and other assets; information about extraordinary expenses (including health/medical, private school tuition for younger siblings, care for elderly parents) or any other significant events affecting income or assets
The CSS Profile page includes several helpful video tutorials. Helpful hints in yellow boxes will pop up as you complete the form. Follow those hints to minimize mistakes.
You can hit “save and continue” if you are unable to complete the CSS Profile in one sitting.
Each college may have supplemental information requests. Be sure to put those in the supplemental information sections so that you aren’t “over-sharing” additional financial data with the other colleges on your student’s list.
One advantage of the CSS Profile over the FAFSA is that the CSS Profile does give you a designated space where you can provide context and additional information about your family's financial picture (for example, if your 2022 income was unusually high due to a one-time bonus or if you lost your job in 2023 and haven't been able to find another job).
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER WE FILE?
Like the FAFSA, your CSS Profile filing may be flagged for additional verification. You will be instructed how and when to submit additional documents (often through the Institutional Document Service (IDOC)). You can log-in to IDOC through the College Board website and follow the prompts to upload the required documents. College Board provides a tutorial video with helpful tips for complying with verification requests. You can check the status of your submitted documents through the IDOC dashboard.
Keep in mind that you will need to refile the FAFSA (and if required by the college where the student enrolls, the CSS Profile) every year in order to continue accessing needs-based financial aid, including federal student loans.
Please also bear in mind that changes in your financial picture from year to year can increase or decrease the student's financial aid package.