A Complete Guide to the CSS Profile for College

A Complete Guide to the CSS Profile for College
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By Hannah Muniz

Published on September 17, 2020

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Administered by the College Board, the CSS Profile, or College Scholarship Service Profile, is similar to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in that filling it out may qualify you for certain types of financial aid for college. However, unlike the FAFSA, which awards federal aid, the CSS Profile awards nonfederal, institutional aid.

Today, hundreds of colleges require first-year applicants to submit the CSS Profile so they can better understand students' financial situations and needs when awarding aid.

The CSS Profile entails a detailed process of gathering tax documents, consulting parents, and calculating income. This in-depth guide walks you through everything you need to know about the College Board's CSS Profile, including who needs to submit it and how to fill it out.

Table of Contents

Who Should Submit the CSS Profile? How to Fill Out the CSS Profile How Much Does the CSS Profile Cost? When Is the CSS Profile Due? What Schools Require the CSS Profile? 4 Essential CSS Profile Tips and Tricks Additional Financial Aid Resources

Who Should Submit the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is meant to be used in addition to — not in place of — the FAFSA. This form allows colleges to award applicants extra types of institutional aid, such as institutional grants, loans, and need-based scholarships, that are not available through the FAFSA.

You only need to fill out the CSS Profile if your school requires it. By contrast, all college applicants should submit the FAFSA.

“[The CSS Profile] helps us understand where our families are coming from [so] that we can better support them through our need programs.”. Source: — Scott Wallace-Juedes, Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid at Yale University

Experts strongly advise applicants from low-income families to submit the CSS Profile; doing so could result in additional need-based aid that they otherwise would not have received had they only filled out the FAFSA.

"[The CSS Profile] helps us understand where our families are coming from in such a way that we can better support them through our need programs," said Scott Wallace-Juedes, director of undergraduate financial aid at Yale University. "Many of our students receive more aid than if we had just used the [FAFSA]."

How to Fill Out the CSS Profile

The CSS Profile is an extremely in-depth form that generally requires more time and effort than the FAFSA. For this financial aid profile, you must fill out information about your parents' taxes and assets using documents like tax returns from the previous two years, mortgage statements, bank statements, W-2 forms, and other records of income.

If your parents are divorced, the CSS Profile can become more complicated, as some schools require documentation from all biological parents and stepparents, regardless of whom you live with.

“A student in a family with high medical or childcare expenses could benefit from sharing … additional [parental income] information through the CSS Profile, since it’s not reported on the FAFSA.” Source: — Becky Claster, Founder of Claster Educational Services Link: More Info

Compared to the FAFSA, the CSS Profile places more emphasis on an applicant's family situation, taking into account factors like medical bills and school costs for other dependents. There's even a special section you can use to describe extenuating circumstances, such as a disability you or a family member has, a family death, or a recent job loss.

To fill out and submit the CSS Profile, go to the College Board's official website. There, you'll need to make an online account. (If you've taken the SAT, you can simply log in with those credentials.) All of your financial aid information is saved as you go, allowing you to return anytime to complete the form.

How Much Does the CSS Profile Cost?

Unlike the FAFSA, which is free to fill out, it costs $25 to send the CSS Profile to one college or scholarship program; after that, it's an additional $16 per recipient. As an example, if you applied to five schools that all require the CSS Profile, you'd need to pay $89.

Fortunately, fee waivers are available to low-income students. If you previously qualified for an SAT fee waiver, you'll automatically qualify for a CSS Profile fee waiver, making it free to send to schools.

Eligibility requirements for a CSS Profile fee waiver are as follows:

Your parents live in the U.S. AND Your parental income meets the federal reduced-price lunch and/or free lunch guidelines (about $45,000 or less for a family of four) OR You are an orphan or ward of the court and younger than 24 years old

To learn more about ways to reduce the CSS Profile cost, refer to the College Board's fee waiver FAQ.

When Is the CSS Profile Due?

The CSS Profile opens each year on October 1 — the same day the FAFSA window opens. Due dates, however, can vary depending on the institution. Many colleges require applicants to submit their CSS Profile by the general application deadline, though the College Board recommends turning it in at least two weeks prior to this date.

Ultimately, you'll need to check with each school to figure out submission deadlines. As with any important document, the earlier you get it done, the better.

Remember that the CSS Profile takes quite a long time to fill out, so give yourself at least a few weeks, if not months, to gather all of the documentation needed to complete it.

What Schools Require the CSS Profile?

Approximately 400 colleges and universities — consisting of a mix of research universities, technical schools, and small liberal arts colleges — require the CSS Profile.

The vast majority of these schools are private institutions, though a handful of big-name public universities, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, also require the profile.

Some colleges require the CSS Profile from all first-year applicants, while others require it from domestic or international students only. Consult your school to determine whether you'll need to submit the CSS Profile.

A complete list of CSS Profile schools is available at the College Board's website.

Popular Schools That Require the CSS Profile

  • Amherst College
  • Boston College
  • Bowdoin College
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Rice University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Virginia
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yale University

4 Essential CSS Profile Tips and Tricks

The CSS Profile takes time to fill out and is due earlier than the FAFSA, so it's best to get started as soon as possible — plan to start filling it out soon after October 1, when the form is released.

You're not expected to complete the CSS Profile all on your own; after all, it asks a lot of questions about your parents' incomes. Sit down with your parents to go over what documents you'll need and coordinate specific dates and times you can all work together to fill out the form.

The CSS Profile is an intensive aid application that typically takes hours to fill out. You're more likely to mess up something important if you do it all at once, so spread out the process over several days or weeks.

Never submit the CSS Profile without looking over all of the information in it first. You'll need to confirm you've answered every question accurately and supplied all necessary documents. Even just one small mistake could compromise your prospects for institutional aid, so try to commit an entire session to looking over your application alongside your parents.

Additional Financial Aid Resources

BestColleges' Guide to Financial Aid

Peruse this guide to learn about your options for college aid, such as loans, grants, and scholarships.

BestColleges' Guide to the FAFSA

This in-depth guide goes over what the FAFSA is and offers tips for filling it out.

Feature Image: fizkes / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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