The College Board offers the College Scholarship Service (CSS)/Profile to help colleges determine how to allocate financial aid. The College Board administers the SAT and AP Exams. The CSS/Profile, like the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), is used to determine how much money a college will offer a student in financial aid and scholarships.
The main differences between the CSS/Profile and the FAFSA are:
- 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 for 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 aid from their endowments (also called “institutional aid”), i.e., money not awarded by the federal or state governments.
- Most public (state or federal government-owned) universities do not use the CSS/Profile to award aid to domestic students. However, some require it for international students, and a few 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.
- Colleges use a different methodology from the one used by the FAFSA for financial aid determinations from the CSS/Profile. This method, the “Institutional Methodology,” 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.
The 2020 CSS/Profile, for students attending college in the 2021-22 academic year, becomes available on October 1. The College Board publishes a summary of what’s involved.
Here’s what you need to know to fill out the CSS/Profile
You Need a College Board Account
If a student took the SAT, they should already have a College Board account. If not, they will have to create one. You must have only one account, so make sure you check before creating 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, making it harder to shelter assets. Specifically, the CSS/Profile, unlike the FAFSA, considers:
- For children of divorced or separated parents, the non-custodial parent’s assets and income
- The equity parents have in their primary home
- The value of retirement accounts
- Assets within a parent-owned small business and the value of the parent’s equity in the business
- 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 2021-22 school year, you need your 2019 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
Colleges use the CSS/Profile and FAFSA to allocate not just governmental aid, but also institutional aid (aid from colleges). They often give out this aid from a fixed pool of money each year. So filling it out early is essential.
This piece is a companion piece to our article on filling out the FAFSA, which is at this link.