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Articles / Paying for College / Financial Aid Forms: The CSS Profile

Financial Aid Forms: The CSS Profile

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Jan. 29, 2015
Every January, I recall filling out all the financial aid forms form our two children when they were going through their college years. It took a lot of self-discipline and motivation. Both my daughter and son went to private institutions, so I was required to do three separate financial aid forms for each of them every year they were in college.

Our daughter began her undergraduate years five years before our son did. Thus, across nine years, I had only one year off from filling out a FAFSA, CSS Profile, and college-specific form. Add to that doing my own long-form income taxes, and you may see why I still remember those dark, cold January weekends sitting with bleary eyes, calculator, and stacks of papers.

I found the biggest challenge to be estimating my taxes every January. Most tax filers don't have their final numbers until later in the year, closer to the April 15 submission deadline. Since you may be in that same situation right now, I thought I would share some wisdom with you from an article I found on Forbes.com: How To Submit Your CSS Profile With Estimated Income Tax Information, And Update It. The article's preface states:

If you are one of the parents who had to submit estimated tax and income information on the CSS Profile college aid form to meet deadlines at the colleges your child has applied to, this is what you need to do to update that information in a timely and accurate manner so that the colleges can make an official aid award to your child.

I wish that I had had this kind of information available back in the day. So, I'll post some highlights here to intrigue you. I'll also include some comments from a thread about the CSS Profile on the College Confidential discussion forum.

According to Susan McCrackin, the College Board's Senior Director of Financial Aid Methodology:

“It's common for students and parents to update the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE after its been submitted, and colleges and universities have practices in place to process these changes. Colleges and universities provide institution-specific guidelines and instructions for making changes to the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE after it's been submitted.

Some colleges and universities use the College Board's Institutional Documentation Service (IDOC) to centralize the information needed to assess the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. If an institution uses IDOC, students and parents should make sure to submit changes to the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE through IDOC. Institutions that don't use IDOC will communicate to students and parents directly about how to update the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE and when.

It's important that students and parents be aware of institution-specific deadlines and instructions for submitting changes to the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE as it varies by school. Students and parents should check with individual institutions for more information. For general questions, students and parents can e-mail the College Board at help@cssprofile.org or call (305) 829-9793."


You can learn a lot by visiting the College Board's CCS Profile section on the Web. There, you see such helpful information as:

What you need to know before you apply for financial aid

  • View this interactive presentation before you start your PROFILE application.The minimum browser requirements to view the presentation are Internet Explorer 9+, Chrome 21+, Safari 5.1+, Firefox 14+, iPad 5+, and Android tablet 4.1+.
  • Have all tax forms and documents ready.
  • Use a secure browser and a valid credit card.
  • Sign up with the same username if you submitted a PROFILE application last year (2014-15) and we'll automatically fill in some of your information.


Another helpful site comes from Peterson's. There, you can find information that can simplify your understanding of what can be an intimidating process. For example:

The basics of the CSS Profile

  • The PROFILE is a fee-based financial aid application. Based on information entered on the PROFILE, a limited number of fee waivers are automatically granted. These waivers are granted to eligible first-time college applicants from families with few assets and very low income.
  • Submission deadlines for the PROFILE vary by school, so be sure to check with each institution for its specific deadline. The PROFILE can be due as early as the fall of your senior year. At the very latest, the PROFILE should be filed no later than 14 days before the earliest priority filing date your colleges or programs specify.

Comparing the CSS Profile with the FAFSA

  • In measuring your family's ability to pay for college, the PROFILE uses the Institutional Methodology (IM) instead of the Federal Methodology (FM), which is used on the FAFSA. Although the two systems are fundamentally the same—in both the IM and FM, the primary “drivers" that determine how much you will be expected to pay for college are income, assets, family size, and the number of children in college—the IM takes into account whether your family owns a home and assumes a minimum student contribution.
  • The PROFILE contains questions specific to the schools you're applying to, while the FAFSA is a standardized financial aid application designed to be used in conjunction with federal aid.
  • The PROFILE allows financial aid counselors to take special circumstances into greater consideration.


While the FAFSA is a free-to-submit form, the CSS Profile requires a fee. Here are some thoughts about that from College Confidential posters:

– I'm a bit annoyed at the fact that colleges want us to pay a fee to complete the CSS profile when it is extremely unlikely we will be considered for need-based financial aid. Do colleges use this in other ways (non-need based aid?)? There is only one college on our list that requires it and it's a long shot. I guess I don't see the point in spending more money for no reason, if there aren't really valid reasons.

– If a college requires the Profile for any reason they say…complete it. In other words…if you want to be considered for institutional need based aid…complete it if required…or you will not be considered for one dime of institutional need based aid.

– This is a timely thread…one of the schools my daughter is applying to ( happened to be her first choice ) requires it now for consideration for scholarships. Their policy has changed from the time her sister went was accepted. I don't think she will qualify for much , but at least we are going to put it out there. Her admissions rep told me that if the EFC is X , then they will meet Y .It's been several years since I last filled out a CSS Profile . If it doesn't work out in our favor, then so be it..she will have other options

– We were right on target for finaid,, got the support indicated. I think what some parents forget is that the Fafsa is our only preview to what the college “might" see as EFC. The CSS is so much more detail and each school will evaluate per its own policies. As we often point out, some will look at your car values, some won't use the full home equity.


I hope that some of this information will help you become acquainted with the CSS Profile. It's an important component in your quest to acquire financial aid.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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