You might have heard that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is crucial for most financial aid programs. But filling out the College Board’s College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile is key to getting the most out of nongovernment scholarships and grants. It’s especially important for international students who can’t qualify for federal student aid. It’s a long process, though: Set aside a few hours, and consider having a parent or guardian help you if possible.
What is the CSS Profile?
The CSS Profile is the most widely used application for nonfederal student aid. While not as common as the FAFSA, many schools require you to complete it to be considered for grants and scholarships through your school and outside organizations.
It’s available to complete on the College Board website by following the steps listed below.
Step 1: Familiarize yourself with deadlines.
Like the FAFSA, submitting your CSS Profile as soon as possible after it becomes available on October 1st opens you up to more financial aid opportunities. Regardless, you must submit your application by the school’s priority deadline for your application to be considered.
The priority deadline for the CSS Profile can vary by school, though it’s usually some time in January or February. You can learn when a school’s priority deadline is by contacting the financial aid office.
Step 2: Gather the information you need.
You need to have at least the following documents and information on hand in order to complete the CSS Profile:
Your and your family’s most recent tax returns
W-2 forms for your parents, guardians or yourself if you’re an independent student
Records of untaxed income
Government benefits records for anyone in your household
Bank statements for your parents, guardians or yourself if you’re an independent student
Records of any other financial assets, such as stocks, bonds and savings
Records of tuition payments and student loans in your or your family members’ names
Mortgage or lease statements
Your and your parents’ or guardians’ Social Security numbers
Information about businesses, real estate or farms in your or your family’s name
Information about your parents’ or guardians’ income and employment
Your and your spouse’s current income and expected income for the coming academic year
Expected grants, scholarships and other aid you don’t need to repay for the following academic year
Medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance
Step 3: Make a College Board account.
Skip this step if you’ve already created a College Board account when you signed up for the SAT, ACT, AP exams or PSAT — you can use those login credentials for the CSS Profile. Otherwise, follow these steps to set up an account:
Go to the College Board website.
Click Sign up under the sign-in form at the top of the page.
Select the option to sign up as a Student.
Follow the directions to provide information about yourself and your parents.
Read the terms and conditions, checking the box that you agree to them. Click Next.
Review your name, gender and birth date, checking each box to verify that it’s correct. Click Confirm.
Step 4: Start a new profile.
Once you’re signed in, you can start on your CSS Profile. Here’s how:
Scroll down and click CSS Profile
Click Apply for Fall 2020/Spring 2021.
Review the terms and conditions, checking the box at the bottom of the page. Click Accept.
Review the list of required documents again. If all are readily available to you, click Begin New Profile for 2020-2021.
Step 5: Complete the Getting Started section.
In this section, provide basic information about yourself:
Date of birth
Step 6: Complete the Student Status section.
Select “Yes” or “No” for the following statements about yourself, the student:
The student has legal dependents (not including the student’s spouse). You must provide more than 50% of support for a non-spouse dependent.
The student is a veteran of the US Armed Forces or currently serving on active duty. This doesn’t include ROTC students, students who are attending service academies or enlistees of the National Guard or Reserves.
The student is 18 or older, but was a ward of the court before turning 18. This does not apply if your parents arranged for a legal guardian. If you select “Yes,” you might have to provide documentation.
The student is 18 or older, but was in foster care before turning 18. This applies only if you were in foster care when you turned 18 — even if you’re no longer in foster care.
The student was determined to be an emancipated minor by a court in the student’s state of legal residence. Only answer “Yes” if you have documentation of the court’s decision. It must be from a court that was in your state of residence at the time you were emancipated — not necessarily your current state of residence.
The student is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Select “Yes” if you were an unaccompanied youth — under 23 or still enrolled in high school while living away from your parents or guardians — who was homeless or at risk of being homeless. Homeless in this case means you don’t have fixed, regular housing.
After you’ve finished this section, click Save and Continue.
Step 7: Provide your address.
Fill out the form with your permanent address.
Fill out the form with your mailing address. If it’s the same, you can leave the second section blank and select “Yes” next to The student’s mailing address and permanent address are the same.
Click Save and Continue.
Step 8: Confirm your personal information.
Review the personal information you just provided, making any adjustments if needed.
Once your information is accurate, check the box at the bottom of the page. Click Save and Continue.
Step 9: Provide the basics about your parents.
Provide the names of all parents and guardians, including your father, mother, any stepparents or legal guardians. Select “Other” if none of the above accurately describe the relationship with your guardian. Click Save and Continue.
Select your parents’ marital status. Click Save and Continue.
Select the country where your parents currently live.
Enter the ZIP code of your residence on September 13, 2019. Click Save and Continue.
Step 10: Provide information about your academics.
Select your year in high school for the 2019-2020 academic year. Click Save and Continue.
Enter your high school name by clicking on the High School Search tool. If you can’t find your school, select “Not Listed” or “Home Schooled.”
If you attended a private high school, enter the amount of grants and scholarships you received for the 2019-2020 academic year. Leave this field blank if you didn’t attend private school.
If you attended a private high school, enter the amount your parents paid in tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year, not including fees for extracurriculars or student loans. Leave this field blank if you didn’t attend private school. Click Save and Continue.
Select the colleges or programs you’d like to have receive your CSS Profile by clicking College/Program Selection. You can search for your school or program by name, CSS code or state. Click Save and Continue.
For each school, select your year in school for the 2019-2020 academic year, enter your college ID if available and select your plans for housing — this won’t be reported to your schools, just pick the choice that’s most likely.
If you’re applying as a first-year student, select whether you applied to the school as regular decision, early action or early decision. Click Save and Continue.
Step 11: Provide information about your parents’ background.
Read the paragraph about what to expect in this section. You might want to have them help if you don’t know their birthday, contact information, basics about their job or their retirement plans.
Enter your first parent’s birthday, Social Security number (if they have one), email, phone number, state of residence and highest level of education.
Enter your parent’s occupation and the name of their employer — or type of employer if they don’t have a traditional work setup.
Indicate if they were ever in the US armed forces.
Enter the number of years they’ve worked with their current employer.
Select the types of retirement plans in their name.
Enter the value of the tax-deferred retirement, pension, annuity and savings plans in their name. This amount should include the balance, not just the amount your parent contributed. Click Save and Continue.
Repeat steps one through six in this section for all other parents or guardians you listed earlier in the application.
Step 12: Provide information about your parents’ taxes.
Read the paragraph about what to expect in this section. Make sure you have your parents’ federal tax returns for 2017 and W-2 forms from their employers. You also might want to have them help you with this section.
Select the status of your parents’ 2017 federal tax return: -Completed current tax return -Estimated current tax return — will file -Not filed — and not required to file — a tax return
If you selected the last choice, continue on to the next section. Otherwise, select the type of tax return your parents filed in 2017.
Answer the question about your parents’ filing status that year. Click Save and Continue.
Use your parents’ tax return to enter all of the exemptions and claims they filed. Do not use any commas, decimals or dollar signs. You don’t have to complete this section if your parents didn’t file a tax return. Click Save and Continue.
If applicable, enter the required information from any IRS Form 2555, Form 2555EZ or Form 8959 filed with their 2019 tax return. Click Save and Continue.
Step 13: Provide information about your parents’ income and benefits.
Under Parent Earnings, enter the amount each of your parents earned in 2017, including salaries, tips, commissions and other earnings — even if they didn’t appear on earnings statements.
Enter the amount your parents contributed to retirement or pension savings plans, flexible spending accounts or health savings accounts.
Enter 2017 income information about all members of your household, including nonparents. Click Save and Continue.
Enter information about your parents’ 2019 and 2020 income and benefits, if applicable. Click Save and Continue.
Check any government benefits your family received in 2018 or 2019 — including the amount. Include benefits your parents signed up for on behalf of dependent family members as well. Click Save and Continue.
Answer questions about whether your parents paid or received child support in 2018 or 2019. Click Save and Continue.
Step 14: Provide information about housing.
Read the paragraph about what to expect in this section. Get together information about how much your family spends on housing — including mortgage or lease statements. You might want to complete this section with a parent or guardian who handles housing costs.
Enter the address of your parents’ home. Click Save and Continue.
Choose the option that best represents your parents’ living situation: own home, rent home, live with others, housing provided by employer.
If you live in employer-provided housing, enter the value of the monthly housing benefit. If you live with others, explain the relationship. Click Save and Continue.
Enter the required information about your parents’ mortgage or rental payments, if applicable. Click Save and Continue.
Step 15: Provide information about your parents’ assets.
This section is about other items with a dollar value that your parents own. You might want to have them complete this section with you. Make sure that you provide the value of each asset the day you’re filling out the form — not an average over time.
Select whether your parents have investments or assets in the name of their children. Click Save and Continue.
Enter the amount your parents have in their bank accounts, the current market value of any investments and the total value of all assets your parents hold in the name of all of their children. Click Save and Continue.
Check all types of real estate properties your parents own. If they rent property to others, enter the number of properties they own. Click Save and Continue.
For each property, enter the address, number of months your parents rented the property to others (if at all), when they bought it, how much they bought it for, the current market value and the balance of any mortgage. Click Save and Continue.
If your parents own a farm or business, check the boxes that best describe their situation. Enter the number of businesses or farms they own. Click Save and Continue.
If applicable, provide information about your parents’ business, such as the address, percentage of ownership, number of employees and tax information. Click Save and Continue.
If applicable, provide information about your parents’ farm, including the name, purpose, acreage and other details. Click Save and Continue.
Step 16: Provide information about your parents’ expenses.
If your parents had medical expenses not covered by insurance or paid off any kind of student debt in 2018 or 2019, check all boxes that apply. Click Save and Continue.
Provide information about the medical, dental or student loan repayments your parents made during 2018 and 2019. If they paid student loans for you, themselves or your siblings, provide the amount repaid during those years and the loan balance. Click Save and Continue.
Step 17: Provide information about other family members.
You might want to have your parents help you complete this section if your siblings are in college or attend a private school. You need details about their cost of attendance, scholarships and how much your parents paid.
Provide the names, date of birth and relationship status for all other dependents that rely on your parents or guardians’ financial support. Include siblings, stepsiblings, children, spouses and grandparents.
If there are no other dependents, click Save and Continue to move on to the next section.
Provide information about each dependents’ year in school for the current and upcoming academic year.
If they’re in college or private school, provide details about the school they attend and how they’re funding their education. Click Save and Continue.
Step 18: Provide information about your income.
Read the paragraph about what to expect in this section. If you have a job, you need to have your 2017 federal tax return and all W-2 forms on hand. Have a spouse who’s employed? You need their W-2 and tax returns as well. International students should base this information on taxes that were due before April 1, 2019. If you didn’t file taxes that year, you might not have to complete all of these steps.
Select your tax return status for 2017: -Completed current tax return -Estimated current tax return — will file -Not filed — and not required to file — a tax return
If you submitted or plan on submitting a tax return, select the type of form you filed or plan on filing for 2017.
Select your tax filing status: -Single -Married — filing joint return -Married — filing separate returns -Head of household -Qualifying widow or widower with dependent child
Click Save and Continue.
Provide information about the exemptions and claims listed on the tax form you submitted or plan to submit. Click Save and Continue.
Provide information about your earned income from work, earnings from need-based work programs, financial aid that you paid taxes on or other untaxed income. Click Save and Continue.
Enter information about your expected summer and school-year salary, as well as other taxed and untaxed income for the upcoming academic year. Click Save and Continue.
Provide information about the funds you expect to receive from your parents or other relatives to help pay for school, outside scholarships and grants, and tuition benefits from your or your parents’ employers. Click Save and Continue.
Step 19: Provide information about your assets.
This section is about financial assets that are in your name — such as a trust fund, retirement fund or investments. Not sure if you have any assets? Ask your parents or guardians. If you do, you might want to have them help you fill out this section as well.
Select whether you have a trust, retirement assets or investments.. Click Save and Continue.
Provide information about all assets in your name, including the current value and the amount of funds you currently have access to — if any.
Check all the boxes that apply if you own any real estate, businesses or farms. Enter how many of each type of property or business you own. Click Save and Continue.
Provide information about each real estate, business or farm holding — including its market value, how much you still owe and whether you live on the property. Click Save and Continue.
Step 20: Provide information about special financial circumstances.
This section is where you get to inform your school of any ongoing situations that might affect your or your family’s ability to pay for school — and therefore your financial aid eligibility.
Select whether any of the following situations apply to your family: -Change in employment -Potential scholarships or sponsors -High medical or dental expenses -Siblings in private school -Natural disasters -Catastrophic events -Eldercare costs -Financial support of other family members -One-time income or expenses -Other
Provide an explanation for any special circumstances you select — keeping it under 2,000 characters. You can send additional information or documents directly to the college or program you’re applying to. Click Save and Continue.
Step 21: Answer supplemental questions from colleges.
You might have to answer additional questions depending on which schools you’re having your CSS Profile sent to. These might include more questions about your parents’ assets, your assets or other details about yourself and your family. You might want to have a parent or guardian nearby when completing this section — it can get specific.
Step 22: Submit your application.
If you missed any sections or provided questionable information, this is where the College Board advises you to go back and review certain answers. If you don’t need to make any changes, click Save and Continue.
Review your application carefully — you might want to have a parent, guardian or sibling also look it over to help catch any mistakes.
To keep a copy for your records, click Print Form at the bottom of the page. Even if you don’t have a printer, this allows you to save the application as a PDF. Click Save and Continue.
Read the application certification stating that the information you provided is true to the best of your knowledge. Check the box agreeing to the statement and click Save and Continue.
Enter your debit or credit card information to pay the CSS Profile application fee. Or provide the fee payment code if you have a fee waiver from your school or scholarship program.
Submit your application and your payment.
Got questions? Reach out for help
College Board has a live-chat feature on its website as well as two dedicated phone lines with agents who can help with your application. Its customer service team is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET at the following numbers:
US and Canada helpline: 844-202-0524
International helpline: 212-299-0096
I submitted the CSS Profile. What happens next?
Keep an eye on the status of your CSS Profile by logging in to your College Board account. That’s where you’ll receive notifications about any additional information you need to submit — including any documents or bank statements. You can also add schools to your profile through the College Board dashboard, even after you’ve already submitted the application.
The CSS Profile is essential to lowering your out-of-pocket college expenses — and student debt load. It can be particularly useful for students who aren’t eligible for federal student aid, since it’s open to international students.
You’re an orphan or ward of the court under 24 years old.
The College Board considers your family to be low income — this typically entails a parental income of $45,000 or less for a family of four.
You might be able to get additional fee waivers from individual schools you’re applying to. Reach out to each school’s financial aid office for more details.
No. The CSS Profile is long and can take several hours to complete — even if you have all of the information you need on hand. You also might want to give your parents your login credentials so they can complete the sections that require information about their finances in their own time.
Anna Serio is a trusted lending expert and certified Commercial Loan Officer who's published more than 1,000 articles on Finder to help Americans strengthen their financial literacy. A former editor of a newspaper in Beirut, Anna writes about personal, student, business and car loans. Today, digital publications like Business Insider, CNBC and the Simple Dollar feature her professional commentary, and she earned an Expert Contributor in Finance badge from review site Best Company in 2020.
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