Everything You Need to Know to About the CSS Profile

Written by: Reyna Gobel
Updated: 3/31/21

FAFSA is the free form from the federal government for applying for financial aid, but many private schools use an alternative form called the CSS Profile. The form asks for more information, which might seem like a negative, but the good news is this additional information results in a more thorough picture of a family’s financial need.

5 Things You Need To Know About a CSS Profile

  • CSS Profile schools generally have more cash to give.
  • The CSS Profile costs $25 for the first school and $16 per additional school.
  • Fee waivers are available for specific reasons such as family income and being a ward of the court under 24.
  • Small business value counts in assets, but it’s only assessed at 5 percent of it’s value.
  • The CSS Profile collects a variety of information, but schools choose how they use it and which information collected they use to evaluate financial aid.

If your student is applying to a school that uses the CSS Profile, here’s what your family needs to know:

The fee and the fee waiver policy

Unlike FAFSA, there is a $25 fee for completing the CSS profile for the first school and $16 for each additional school.

Thus, you want to be careful that the student narrows down their college list to just the schools they really plan on attending. At the very least, they should spend a few hours learning about schools they may be interested in before adding a school to the CSS Profile list.

If students meet the requirements, they may be able to waive fees. They can qualify based on income and family size, if they are an orphan or ward of the court under 24, or if the student has already qualified for an SAT waiver.

Which schools use it

Generally, it’s used by private colleges, although some states use the form, too. Check the College Board website to see if a school you are considering uses the FAFSA profile.

How income is evaluated

The FAFSA generally counts the income of the parent and step parent that the student lives with for more than 6 months of the year. The CSS profile collects all parents and step parents income. The form also includes assets of both parents and step parents.

How does the difference in income information collected affect financial aid awarded?

Not necessarily at all. Schools collect the information, but they don’t necessarily use it. They may decide to use any combination of parents. The good news is because more household expenses are deductible and CSS Profile schools generally have more financial aid to offer, students may get more financial help from these schools.

The home equity and small business value that FAFSA doesn’t

FAFSA doesn’t count home equity on a primary residence as an asset but the CSS Profile does. However, the exact amount home equity counts varies by school. One school may see it and say it’s irrelevant to financial need. Another, may count half the value. Another, may just count an equivalent of one year’s income.

Small business value counts as an asset at a 5 percent value level. If a business is valued at $200,000, it would count as $10,000 in assets.

Which expense information CSS Profile collects that FAFSA doesn’t

The CSS Profile collects information on state and local taxes paid, certain medical expenses, and private school costs for siblings. Schools can also check out the CSS Profile’s cost of living index to be able to compare the real financial need of families based on what their real expenses are compared to other parts of the country.

Bottom line: The CSS Profile is a pricier form as the FAFSA is free, but it’s well worth it for students applying to schools using the CSS Profile to evaluate financial need. These schools often award more financial aid and take into account a wider variety of expenses to make up for the extra income and asset information they collect that FAFSA doesn’t.