CSS Profile vs. FAFSA®: Know The Differences


The College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) are two tools that students can use to receive financial aid for college. The major difference is that the FAFSA® provides federal grants, loans, and other types of government assistance, and the CSS Profile is an application that universities use to gauge how much non-federal financial aid you need.

What financial aid can I receive with the FAFSA®?

Fill out the FAFSA® to access federal financial aid like Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.

The FAFSA® will also give you access to a variety of loans, such as subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, PLUS Loans, and Perkins Loans.

What financial aid can I receive with the CSS Profile?

Colleges and universities that accept CSS Profiles use the forms to calculate institutional aid. The institutional aid available varies from school to school but usually includes scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Universities may use the CSS Profile to determine how much help you need from state grants, loans, scholarships, work-study funds, and tuition assistance.

What are the deadlines for the FAFSA® and CSS Profile?

To check deadlines for the FAFSA®, go online to the U.S. Department of Education, select your state of legal residence and the school year when you’re applying, and click on “View Deadlines.” There are federal and state deadlines for the FAFSA®, and the schools you’re applying to may have their own deadlines as well. Some federal aid programs have limited funds, so you may receive more aid if you apply far in advance of the deadline.

Each school has its own CSS Profile deadline, but many of them fall between Jan. 1 and Mar. 31.

Where can I submit the FAFSA® and my CSS Profile?

You can submit your first FAFSA® online through the U.S. Department of Education in about an hour (or with Frank, you can complete it in only a few minutes). Then renew your application each year you’re in college. It’s free to apply, so it’s worth completing the FAFSA® even if you don’t think you’re entitled to much aid.

You can complete your CSS Profile online with The College Board. Hundreds of universities, including private and state institutions, require that you submit a CSS Profile if you want to receive financial aid from the school. There’s a $25 fee to complete the CSS Profile, but it’s automatically waived if you meet certain requirements.

Do the FAFSA® and CSS Profile require the same information?

In general, the CSS Profile requires more information than the FAFSA®. For example, you may need to provide information about your parent’s financial status and household and medical expenses when you complete the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile is more comprehensive in terms of looking at factors that will affect your ability to pay for school.

The FAFSA® and CSS Profile are excellent tools that can save you thousands as a college student. Fill out the FAFSA® every year, and check whether a school requires a CSS Profile when you start preparing your applications.

“FAFSA® – Free Application for Federal Student Aid.” FAFSA® on the Web. Web. 27 Feb. 2018.
“Student Aid Deadlines.” Student Aid Deadlines – FAFSA® on the Web – Federal Student Aid. Web. 27 Feb. 2018.