Filling out the CSS/Profile: Your Guide

by | Nov 10, 2023

The College Board offers the College Scholarship Service (CSS)/Profile to help colleges allocate financial aid. The College Board also administers the SAT and AP Exams. Colleges use the CSS/Profile, like the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), to determine how much money they 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 to the first college and $16 for additional colleges. If you qualify for a fee waiver for the SAT, you’ll also receive one for the CSS/Profile.
  •  Colleges use the CSS/Profile to determine eligibility for aid from their endowments (“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 “Institutional Methodology” method 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 2023 CSS/Profile for students attending college in the 2024-25 academic year became available on October 1. The College Board publishes a step-by-step guide to filling it out.

LifeLaunchr Webinar On Maximizing Financial Aid: Filling out the Css/Profile

LifeLaunchr’s webinar on maximizing your financial aid is an excellent resource before you fill out the CSS/Profile. It will explain how you can maximize your aid legally by filling out the form correctly. Sign up to watch it at this link.

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

You Need a College Board Account

If you took the SAT, you should already have a College Board account. If not, you (the student) will have to create one. Each student must have only one account, so check before creating a new one. To create an account, visit this linkPlease use a student account to start your CSS/Profile, not a parent account.

Some students whose parents are divorced or separated will also need to have their non-custodial parents create an account and provide information separately. The non-custodial parent is the parent who provides less than 50% of the student’s financial support. 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 must 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 2024-25 school year, you need your 2022 tax return. As with the FAFSA, you’ll also need information on untaxed income and exclusions.

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

Fill It Out Early

Colleges use the CSS/Profile and FAFSA to allocate governmental and institutional aid (aid from colleges). They often give out this aid from a fixed pool of money each year. So, submitting the form early helps.

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


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Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan (Swami) is the founder and CEO of LifeLaunchr, the world's first virtual college admissions coaching platform, and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Swami has been an executive in the education and technology industries for over 25 years. He has an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois, and a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He is the father of a child in college, and in his spare time, he is a jazz and Indian classical singer and pianist.

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