DEFINITION of CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® is an online form that allows prospective college students to apply for nonfederal financial aid. Nearly 280 schools and scholarship programs accept the PROFILE application. These schools use the form in addition to the FAFSA, the form students use to apply for federal student aid. The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE® application was developed and is provided by the College Board, the not-for-profit organization that also provides the SAT and the Advanced Placement Program. The CSS in the name stands for College Scholarship Service, the branch of the College Board that provides financial aid solutions. The PROFILE is used not just for undergraduate programs but for graduate ones as well – even law school and medical school.

CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®

To complete the PROFILE, students and their parents will need information from the previous year’s federal income tax return; the current and previous year’s records of any other earned income as well as untaxed income and benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI); current bank statements; current mortgage information, if applicable; and recent statements for savings and investment accounts. It costs $25 to file the first PROFILE application and college report, which breaks down as a $9 registration fee and $16 college report fee) and $16 to report the student’s PROFILE information to each additional college.Fee waivers are available to some applicants from low-income households. 

The PROFILE asks for the student’s name, date of birth, address, telephone number, Social Security number and email address. It also requires information about both the student’s and parents’ income and assets, as well as their expenses and the number of family members and dependents. In addition, it inquires about the parents’ home value, if the parents and/or students are self-employed and if they have any business or farm assets. Credit card and other unsecured debt is not reported on PROFILE, but first and second mortgage debt is.For students whose parents are divorced, the noncustodial parent may also need to complete a PROFILE form; this requirement varies by school. 

For the 2014–15 school year, about $39.8 billion in student financial aid came from private institutional grants.To secure this funding, which makes up 22% of undergraduate student aid overall and a much larger percentage at private colleges, students must submit the PROFILE form. Starting with the 2017–18 school year, the PROFILE form becomes available October 1. Registration must be completed in one setting, but the rest of the form can be saved and returned to later.  Deadlines vary by school, and families are encouraged to submit the application as early as possible to give themselves the best chances of securing any aid that is distributed on a first-come, first served basis. The College Board sends the student’s completed PROFILE application to the colleges the student has selected, and the student then receives a financial aid decision from each school.

The PROFILE application collects more information than the FAFSA in an attempt to get a more complete picture of a student’s financial situation and financial need. For example, it includes a section for families to provide information about any special circumstances they face that other parts of the form may not convey. Perhaps one parent was recently laid off and received a severance package, so the previous year’s income looks quite high, but in reality, the parent is still unemployed, still living off that money and cannot afford the next year’s tuition bill. Other special circumstances might include a recent death or disability, recent divorce or separation, or unusually high medical expenses.