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What is the CSS Profile?

Don't overlook this application for private student aid.

Want to maximize the amount of free financial aid you receive? You’re going to want to fill out the College Scholarships Service (CSS) Profile in addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

This financial aid application can open doors to scholarships and grants from your school and beyond, reducing the amount you have to borrow. While it costs to apply, the savings in student loans might more than make up for it.

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is a financial aid application for non-federal aid offered by the College Board. Over 400 colleges and scholarship programs use it to assess your eligibility for private student aid.

Like the FAFSA, you can apply online. But there’s a fee, and it might take a little more time. The CSS Profile asks for a lot more information about you and your family’s finances than the FAFSA and typically requires more documents.

Why fill out the CSS Profile?

There are three main reasons you might want to fill out the CSS Profile:

  • Access to more types of free aid. The CSS Profile is a requirement for many scholarship and grant programs, which you can’t access by filling out the FAFSA alone.
  • Adjusted expected family contribution (EFC). Because the CSS Profile takes a deeper dive into your family’s personal finances, your family might be expected to contribute less toward your education — making you eligible for larger funding amounts than the FAFSA might have calculated.
  • Might be available to DACA and international students. Unlike with the FAFSA, you don’t necessarily need to be a US citizen or permanent resident to qualify for aid through the CSS Profile — though it varies by school.

CSS Profile vs. FAFSA: How do they compare?

What types of aid can I get through the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile unlocks access to the following types of aid:

  • College scholarships. Funding from your school based on merit, financial need or a combination of the two.
  • College grants. Funding from your school based on financial need.
  • Private scholarships. Funding from a company, government agency or other organization based on merit, financial need or a combination of the two.
  • Private grants. Funding from a company, government agency or other organization based on financial need.
  • College loans. Loans offered by your school if you can’t qualify for enough federal aid, usually at more favorable rates and terms than you might find with a private lender.

Am I required to fill out the CSS Profile?

You’re required to fill out the CSS Profile if you’re applying to a scholarship program or school that uses it to assess your eligibility. It’s pretty common — over 400 programs use it. You can find out if you’re required to submit it by visiting your school’s financial aid website. The College Board also has a searchable list of participating schools and programs that require it.

When should I apply?

The College Board recommends that you fill out the CSS Profile as soon as you can after the application becomes available on October 1st. Since many schools and scholarship programs offer funding on a first-come, first-served basis, getting your application in early maximizes your chance of getting more aid.

It’s also common for schools to have a priority deadline. The College Board recommends that you submit your application at least two weeks before this deadline to make sure you’re considered for financial aid.

When is the CSS Profile deadline for 2020-2021?

How much does it cost?

The total fees depend on how many schools or programs you apply to. It costs $25 to fill out the initial application and $16 per college or program you send it to. That’s why you might want to research the schools and programs you’re interested in thoroughly before you apply — it can quickly add up.

If you only want to send your CSS Profile to one school, it costs $41. Send it to four schools and you’ll have to pay $89.

Is there a fee waiver?

Yes, the College Board offers CSS Profile fee waivers to low-income first-year undergraduate students. You should find out if you’re eligible for a fee waiver at the end of the CSS Profile — you don’t have to apply beforehand. If you’re ineligible, you might qualify to receive a fee waiver through your school.

3 steps to apply for a CSS Profile fee waiver

How do I fill it out?

You can complete the CSS Profile online through the College Board website. You might want to set aside a few hours to complete it, since it can be detailed. Before you get started, gather documents like your parent’s recent tax returns, bank statements and W-2 forms to speed up the process.

How to fill out the CSS Profile in 22 steps

3 tips for filling out the CSS profile

Here are a few pointers to make the most of the CSS Profile:

  • Research schools and scholarship programs first. Save on the CSS Profile fee by only sending it to schools and scholarship programs that require it. Also consider factors like what percentage of students receive institutional aid to decide if it’s even worth it.
  • Apply ASAP. The sooner you apply, the more aid you’re eligible to receive — even if you haven’t submitted your college application yet.
  • Have a parent help. This application requires a lot of information about your family’s finances, which you might not be as familiar with.

Bottom line

Filling out the CSS Profile can help you qualify for a wider range of free aid and potentially reduce the amount of debt you need to shoulder to pay for school. It’s particularly important for international students, who aren’t eligible for federal student aid. And since it’s not free, you might want to limit how many schools and programs you send it to.

You can learn more about your options to pay for school by reading our guide to student loans.

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