What is a College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile)?

Want to maximize your financial aid award? One of the best ways to do so is by completing the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. The CSS profile is an application that you can complete to apply for financial aid as a college student in addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Over the years, CSS profiles have generated more than $9 billion dollars for students, making it a must for those seeking additional aid. 

What is a CSS profile?

The CSS Profile is an online application for non-federal aid from nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs. It is an additional step you can take to file for non-federal financial aid. That includes scholarships, non-federal grants, and college-based awards. Many colleges use CSS profiles to determine whether or not to award you more free money.

Do I need to complete the CSS Profile?

Currently, there are over 400 institutions that request the CSS Profile, but not every college requires you to complete one. To see whether your school participates in the CSS Profile you can check out the full list here

If you’re still unsure if you’re required to submit a profile, check with your financial aid office.

If you’re an international student the rules may be different. You’ll want to check with the schools you’re applying to as well. 

Before you get started

The CSS Profile requires you to provide information about your financial standing. They collect this information to determine what your family can reasonably provide (similarly to the way FAFSA® determines your Expected Family Contribution) and what assistance you might need from the school. 

Be aware that the CSS Profile goes more in-depth with your finances than the FAFSA®, taking into consideration things such as home equity and household expenses. Also different from the FAFSA® is that the information required varies from school to school. 

If you want to get ahead of the game, gather these standard documents before you get started:

  • Your most recent tax returns
  • Your most recent W2s and other income records
  • Bank statements and mortgage information
  • Records of other assets, such as stocks and bonds

What kind of questions will I be asked?

Questions differ for each student as they are customized depending on how you answer them. However, many of the questions are about your parents’ finances and your family’s living situation. 

What parent should fill out financial information?

If you have a unique family situation, your custodial parent should fill out the answers to the CSS Profile questions.

A custodial parent is the one you’ve lived with for the majority of the past 12 months or that has provided the most financial support over that period of time.

Your non-custodial parent may also be required to fill out the information, but that will be determined by how you answer each question. To avoid any delays, make sure you have their documents and financial info on hand as well. 

The CSS Profile At-A-Glance

Cost: $25 for the application and one report to a school. $16 for each additional report.

Opens for Submissions: Generally October 1st (check here to be sure)

CSS Profile Deadline: January-March (Varies by the school, check with your financial aid office)

Required: Varies by school

Complete Every Year: Yes

Estimated Time to Complete: 45 minutes – 2 hours

How to fill out the CSS Profile

To complete your CSS profile you’ll head to The College Board. Once there, you can get started by following these steps:

1 – Create or log on to your College Board account.

2 – Gather all relevant financial documents for you and your parents.

3 – Fill out all of the questions. Keep in mind that questions are generated based on how you answer them, so they are not the same for everyone.

4 – Select your schools. 

5 – Apply for a Fee Waiver.

6 – Submit your application and send it off to the schools you’re applying to.

The CSS Profile Fee Waiver

Some students will automatically qualify for a fee waiver based on the answers to the questions on the form. Here are some situations in which your fee may be waived:

  • You qualified for an SAT fee waiver
  • Your family income is less than $45,000
  • You are an orphan or ward of the court under 24 years old

In addition to waiving the $25 fee, The College Board will also waive the $16 per college fee for up to 8 schools. 

Need to add more Colleges?

If you need to add more schools after you’ve submitted your application, you can do so. Simply log in to your account and click Add a College or Program

The $16 fee will apply for each additional school or any unused fee waivers will automatically apply.

I’m done! Now what?

Once you’ve submitted your application you’ll want to double-check your College Board Dashboard to ensure that they’re not requesting any additional documents. 

Otherwise, your application is now on your way to your chosen schools and they will let you know about any additional aid awards once they have processed your information.