The College Board offers the College Scholarship Service (CSS)/Profile to help colleges determine how to allocate financial aid. The College Board which administers the SAT and AP Exams, and the CSS/Profile, like the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), it is used to determine how much money a college will offer you. The main differences between the CSS/Profile and the FAFSA are these:

  • It’ll cost you money to fill out and send the CSS/Profile. It costs $25 to send it to the first college and $16 subsequent colleges. If you qualify for a fee waiver for the SAT, you’ll receive one for the CSS/Profile as well.
  • Colleges use the CSS/Profile to determine eligibility for non-governmental aid, i.e., money that is not awarded by the federal or state governments. This is also called “institutional aid.”
  • Most public (state or federal government-owned) universities do not use the CSS/Profile to award aid to domestic students, although some require it for international students and a handful of public universities require it for merit aid.
  • About 400 universities require the CSS/Profile for some students. To find out whether your colleges require it, click this link.
  • The financial aid determinations from the CSS/Profile are made using a different methodology than the one used by FAFSA. This method is called the “Institutional Methodology,” and it considers many other types of income and assets in determining your aid.

This piece focuses on what you need to know about filling out the CSS/Profile. For information on filling out the FAFSA, please read the companion piece.

Here’s what you need to know to fill out the CSS/Profile

You Need a College Board Account

If you took the SAT, students should already have a College Board account. If you don’t, you’ll have to create one. It’s important you have only one account, so make sure you check before you create a new one. To create an account, visit this link.

Some students whose parents are divorced or separated will need to have their non-custodial parents also create an account and provide information separately. The non-custodial parent is the parent with whom the student spends less than 50% of their time. The College Board can tell you at this link whether the colleges you’ve applied to require the non-custodial CSS. 

  • The non-custodial parent should read these instructions to create an account and file their information.
  • If you can’t connect with the non-custodial parent, or they won’t file it, you can request a waiver by filling out this form. You have to send this form to each college that requires the non-custodial parent’s information, accompanied by the relevant supporting documents.

Financial Information You’ll Need to Fill Out the CSS/Profile

You need the same type of information to fill out the CSS/Profile. However, the CSS/Profile considers many more types of assets and income, which makes it harder to shelter assets. Specifically, the CSS/Profile, unlike the FAFSA, considers:

  • For children of parents who are divorced or separated, the non-custodial parent’s assets and income as well.
  • The equity parents have in their primary home.
  • The value of retirement accounts.
  • The assets within a parent-owned small business and the value of the parent’s equity in it.
  • Assets owned by siblings under 19 who aren’t in college yet.
  • All 529 plans that list the student as the beneficiary.

Like the FAFSA, the CSS/Profile uses the “prior-prior” year’s income, which means that for the 2020-21 school year, you need your 2018 tax return. You’ll also need information, as with the FAFSA, on untaxed income and exclusions.

It takes longer to fill out the CSS/Profile since it involves more questions, and it can produce different answers, as it also uses a different methodology.

Fill It Out Early

The CSS/Profile and FAFSA are used to allocate not just governmental aid, but also institutional aid (aid from colleges). This is often a fixed pool of money each year for a college. So filling it out early is important.

This piece is a companion piece to our article on filling out the FAFSA, which is at this link.

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