What is The CSS Profile?

Melissa Cox CFP® CFLSA

What is The CSS Profile?

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As a College Planner and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I do a lot of talking to students and parents about the FAFSA. Most people entering college know about the FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as a necessary step to apply for college. Through the FAFSA, we're able to get in and apply for scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. However, fewer people are aware of the CSS Profile, which has been on the rise in recent years. The CSS Profile stands for The College Scholarship Service Profile, which is another way for potential students to apply for aid!

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While the FAFSA is totally free, the CSS profile does require a little investment ($25); however, there are fee waivers should you or your child not be able to afford that. Either way, $25 is a meager investment for a potentially huge return that could help you or your student gain access to scholarships from many private colleges. 

What are the Main Differences Between FAFSA and The CSS Profile?


Melissa Cox CFP explains the difference between the FAFSA and CSS Profile

Since most of us associate the FAFSA and The CSS Profile, let's quickly explore how they're similar and how they're different. For starters, yes - these are both ways that a potential student may apply for aid. The FAFSA and the CSS profile may be completed online but are provided by two different groups. The FAFSA is provided by the federal government on their own site, The CSS Profile is supplied by College Board. They're an independent not-for-profit organization that provides memberships to colleges and administers standardized tests, like the SAT and AP.


A critical difference between the CSS Profile and the FAFSA is their accessibility. While the FAFSA is free, as indicated by its name, the CSS Profile charges a small fee to submit an application. The CSS Profile also charges a small fee for each college your application is submitted to and each resubmitted application. However, if everything goes smoothly, you should only need to submit one application to The CSS Profile. In contrast, you'll need to resubmit a FAFSA each year. Both applications require information about the applying student and their (and their families) finances and tax information. The CSS Profile is generally seen as a little more invasive about its required information, which includes bank statements and living situation questions. 

Melissa Cox CFP describes the FAFSA and CSS Profile


The last main difference between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile is where the money (provided by scholarships you're applying for) comes from. With the FAFSA, you're applying for federal student loans, scholarships, and work-study programs. However, with the CSS Profile, you're applying for mainly non-federal student aid. The CSS Profile is used primarily by private universities. Still, it has been adopted by a handful of public universities as well. All-in-all, The CSS Profile allows colleges and universities to ask students more in-depth questions that aren't requested on the FAFSA as a way to provide their awards more selectively. 



Who Should Fill Out the CSS Profile?

Melissa Cox CFP explains who should fill out the CSS Profile


While most of the time, the answer to "who should fill out X" is "EVERYONE," that may not be the case with The CSS Profile. If you're a high-achieving student who's attempting to keep their options, you should fill out the CSS Profile. You should also fill out The CSS Profile if you know that you're applying to a school that either requires it or uses it to provide aid to students. If you're on the fence, it may be best to meet with a college planner or talk to a college provider who can help you figure out if one or more of the schools on your list utilizes the application. However, you can find a list of schools that require the CSS Profile here.



How to Fill Out the CSS Profile 

Melissa Cox CFP describes how to fill out the CSS Profile


Before you begin filling out an application, be sure to gather some necessary items like your latest tax information, W-2 forms, records of yearly income/benefits, assets, and bank statements. You'll also need access to your ACT/SAT and transcripts. 


Melissa Cox CFP lists information needed to complete the CSS Profile

The next thing you need to do is create an account. Navigate to the CSS Profile homepage, click sign in, then click create an account. This will direct you to the first page, where you'll begin filling out your general information like name, date of birth, address, and parent information. Once your account is set up, it's time to get to work filling out an application. The information required by the CSS Profile will vary depending on the school/schools you're applying to but will be around 270 questions. Since this application is lengthy, you should be sure to save often along the way should anything go awry. 


After you're done filling out your application, review it for correctness and submit! Once you've submitted your application, you can check up on it on your profile's dashboard. Here you'll be able to see information regarding the next steps to the process, like submitting documents to the Institutional Documentation Services (IDOC). 

A Few More CSS Profile Tips


After you've submitted your CSS Profile application, you'll be able to add colleges at any time. However, each additional college will cost $16 to add to your application, so it may be best to have your options narrowed down to your most realistic choices. The CSS Profile Application opens each year on October 1st, and like the FAFSA, some aid is first-come, first-serve, so you'll want to get it done ASAP. Though the application opens simultaneously for everyone, different schools have varying deadlines for submitting your application. Ensure that you double-check your school's deadline by contacting an advisor from that school (or check their website). 


Cox Collegiate Planners can help you navigate College Planning

As a College Planner, Melissa Cox CFP helps families to create comprehensive college funding plans

Like students, all colleges and universities are different. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the steps to applying to each university or college on your list! Yes.. college planning seems like a lot. However, college planners like myself are here to help. If you're interested in discussing the different possibilities for your future academic career, please reach out and give me a call or send me an email to schedule an appointment. Together, we'll develop an innovative, strategic, and forward-thinking plan to achieve financial success in higher education. 


Schedule a call with Melissa Cox CFP®

Schedule a call with Melissa Cox CFP®

Until next time… this is Cox Collegiate Planners!


Melissa Anne Cox, College Funding and Student Loan Advisor, is also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and financial coach in Dallas, Texas.

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