The CSS PROFILE is basically a non-governmental financial aid application administered by the College Board, the same people who bring you the SAT and the AP Exams. Although used by some scholarship programs and graduate schools (the CSS stands for College Scholarship Service), it is more commonly used by over 200 colleges to determine eligibility for institutional aid. (You can see a list of all PROFILE colleges below.)
Why You Should Care about the CSS PROFILE
The PROFILE asks much more detailed questions than the FAFSA including in some cases the year of the car you drive. However, given that some of the schools most generous with their financial aid use the PROFILE, it can be worth answering the financially intrusive questions. After all, it is their money.
Unlike the FAFSA, the EFC calculated by PROFILE schools use their own institutional methodology (IM) as oppose to the Federal Methodology. Furthermore, although the application is being administered by a single entity, the schools are not necessarily using the same institutional methodology. This means that EFC calculated by the PROFILE will vary from school to school-there is no one PROFILE EFC.
Furthermore, completing the PROFILE does not mean you get out of having to submit the FAFSA. If you want to be eligible for any federal and possibly state programs, you’ll have to complete the FAFSA as well. This includes federal student loans, work-study, and Pell Grants.
Students will also have to pay to submit the PROFILE. There is a set $25 to submit the form to one school and then $16 for each additional school. The PROFILE does have fee waivers but they are granted only once students have completed the form.
Who Should Care about the CSS PROFILE
Because of the differences between the FAFSA and the PROFILE, students can receive very different financial aid awards depending on their family’s situation. If you fall into any of the following categories, you should pay extra attention to the school’s net price calculator.
If you have substantial home equity.
Unlike the FAFSA, the PROFILE asks for information on home equity although not all schools use that information as part of their institutional methodology. Furthermore, the schools that do generally cap the contribution expected from home equity at some percentage. This is a good reason to use the college’s net price calculator.
If you are divorced.
The FAFSA does not require information from the non-custodial parent whereas the PROFILE does for some schools. It’s actually a separate form for the parent to complete. You can find a list of PROFILE schools that require the non-custodial form at the College Board.
If you have large health related expenses.
The PROFILE has specific areas for you to enter information on health and dental expenses; the FAFSA does not.
If you have large retirement investments.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the PROFILE asks a lot more questions about your finances in general than the FAFSA and that includes retirement savings. Again, net price calculators can be your friend.
If you are considering applying to any of the following schools.
The list of schools requiring the PROFILE changes from year to year as some decide to start using the application while others drop it. You can find the most up to date list at the College Board.
You should also use the College Board’s EFC calculator since it is literally the only EFC calculator that can provide your EFC for PROFILE schools. And even that will be an estimate.
US Colleges the Require the PROFILE
(with 500 or more full-time undergraduates)