CSS Profile Guide: How to Fill Out, When, and How to Submit

Filling out the CSS Profile

CSS Profile Guide: How to Fill Out, When, and How to Submit

Published August 1, 2023

Filling out the CSS Profile

Applying for financial aid is a crucial step in the college application process. While most students are familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), many private colleges and universities also require the CSS Profile.

This guide explains what you need to know about the CSS Profile, including its purpose, information required, how to fill it out accurately, submission guidelines, and essential tips to make the process smoother.

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile, short for the College Scholarship Service Profile, is an additional financial aid application used by many private colleges and universities in the United States. Unlike the FAFSA, which is administered by the federal government, the CSS Profile is managed by the College Board. 

This application provides a more detailed and comprehensive view of a student’s financial situation, allowing colleges to distribute their institutional aid effectively.

Purpose of the CSS Profile

The main purpose of the CSS Profile is to assess a student’s eligibility for non-federal financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and institutional aid. It helps colleges and universities determine how much financial assistance a student may need beyond what is offered through federal aid programs.

“It can be a great thing, although it can (also) be very tedious,” said Luanne Lee, a Certified College Planning Specialist with Your College Planning Coach. During a Road2College FB Live, Ms. Lee provided a summary of the CSS Profile, and what you need to know and do. We’ve included the highlights here.

Chart showing sections always completed and parent data required for the CSS profile

How is the CSS Profile Different From FAFSA?

Although CSS is often compared to FAFSA, here are the key differences between the two:

  • FAFSA is required by most universities, whereas CSS is only required by certain private universities and some state universities. Check with the schools you’re interested in to see if they require you to fill one out.
  • FAFSA is free, but completing a CSS profile costs $25 for one school submission, and $16 for each additional school. In some instances the cost is waived.
  • FAFSA considers a student’s need for federal aid, whereas CSS considers outside scholarship opportunities and the college’s own institutional aid opportunities.
  • CSS takes a more detailed look at your household and business financials.


When Is the CSS Profile Due?

CSS applications open October 1. According to the College Board: “You should submit no later than two weeks before the EARLIEST priority filing date specified by your colleges.”

CSS Profile: Going Through the Process

Go to the College Board CSS Profile Page and register. If you already have a College Board account, sign in using the same account credentials.

Keep in mind: You do not need to complete the entire application at one time.

What Information Is Needed to Fill Out the CSS Profile?

  • Student and parent’s SSN or SIN numbers, if applicable
  • Federal income tax return(s)
  • W-2 forms and other record of money earned in the past two tax years
  • Current bank statements
  • Current mortgage information
  • Records of savings, stocks, bonds, trusts, and other investments
  • The noncustodial parent’s email address, if applicable

Who Fills Out the Application?

According to the College Board: “To complete a CSS Profile application, you need a College Board student account. If you need to complete the CSS Profile as a parent (for example, as a noncustodial parent), you still need to create and use a student account. You just need to create a student account using the parent’s information.”

Be aware, says Lee, that you must create your own unique username and password, enter your own household financials, and include your spouse if you’ve remarried.

Filling out this paperwork involves entering a lot of important information that must be double-checked. It’s a good idea to sit side-by-side with your child and fill out the information together so you can both confirm the details.

How to Fill Out Required Student Information

Similar to the FAFSA application, the CSS profile requires detailed background information on the student. This in-depth profile requires more personal details, so make sure you and your child are on the same page when assessing this information.

Here’s what you will be asked:

  • Student’s first name, last name, email address, phone number, date of birth, marital status, as well as optional information such as their preferred name, and College Board Financial Aid ID number.
  • The country where the student lives, and their citizenship status.
  • If the student has any legal dependents, whether they are currently or ever have been a ward of the court or in foster care, whether they are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, if they are an emancipated minor, or if they are currently or at risk of being homeless.
  • Parental information, including biological, adoptive, step-parents, or legal guardians.
  • Household’s marital status. The Non-Custodial parent will receive an email invitation from the College Board to create their own account.
  • The high school your student currently attends. Students who attended a private high school must include how much their parents paid in the 2022-2023 year, and any scholarship money they received.

Entering the Required Parent Information

In order to complete the CSS profile, you’ll need to begin filling out the parental background information for both parents.

In the case of a divorce or separation, some colleges require that the entire profile be filled out with both biological parents’ information. Participating schools list the specific requirements for each school. If you’re not in contact with a noncustodial parent, CSS offers an option to submit a waiver request.

Here’s what parents will be asked:

  • Date of birth, social security number, email address, daytime phone number, state of residence, with an option to list their highest level of education completed.
  • The option to list your employment status (employed by others, self-employed, unemployed, or retired), if you are a dislocated worker, your occupation/profession, your current employer and number of years employed. The only information you MUST enter is if you were, or are currently a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Entering Parental Tax Returns and Financial Information

Tax returns and parental information, such as benefits and income, must be included to complete the CSS profile. The CSS profile does not have an option to copy and paste or insert a copy of your tax returns, so you must enter the value of each section manually. Keep all of your documentation handy in order to double check the values. You’ll need to know/list:

  • Any retirement plans and the total current value of those plans.
  • Your tax returns from the past two years, and you must indicate the specific schedule of those forms.
  • Your total income from the past two tax years.
  • The amount you contributed to a deferred pension and retirement savings plans, your flexible spending amount for medical and dependent expenses, and your health savings account.
  • Social Security benefits, any alimony you received, income from other members of the household, other living allowances (such as the amount received as a member of the military, clergy, or other profession), and any money you paid or gave on behalf of your child.
  • Untaxed income, such as worker’s compensation, untaxed military service benefits, black lung benefits, refugee assistance, untaxed portion of railroad retirement benefits, and any other untaxed benefits.
  • Expected income, taxable income, and benefits for this year. You will be asked whether this was drastically changed as a result of changes in employment.
  • Any benefits that you or your dependents received.
  • Housing details, including your monthly household payments, your home purchases per year, your home purchase price, the current market value, and the total amount owed on your home.
  • Assets, including investments and their current market value, the current amount in cash, savings, checking, and deposit accounts, any real estate you own, and any businesses or farms you own.
  • Additional expenses that you have, including Medicaid or dental expenses not covered by insurance, alimony, or payments on college loan debt.
  • Dependents in your household.

Student Income

Your child is also required to list their personal financial data for the CSS profile. A student will need their last income tax returns, as well as any W-2 forms, in order to complete this section.  For students who didn’t file a tax return, they will list the income they made from work. Also:

  • You’ll need to estimate your child’s expected earnings, taxed income, and benefits.  You will have to fill out the estimated amount that your child receives from parents, scholarships, employers, and relatives.
  • Although most students don’t have assets or investments, you’ll need to include the value of any stocks and stock options, uniform gifts to minors, certificates of deposits, non-qualified annuities, commodities, precious & strategic metals, and installments and land sale contracts.
  • In the special circumstances segment, you can list any special circumstances that affected your family, such as changes in employment, or the COVID-19 pandemic. This is sent to ALL colleges your child applies to, and any information they’d like to share with a specific university should be sent to that school’s financial aid office.

Submitting Your CSS Profile

Costs to Submit and School Follow-Up Questions

Unlike FAFSA, the CSS profile is sent only to the schools you specify. Review the list of participating schools, and discuss with your child which schools they want to send it to. The cost is $25 for the first school and an extra $16 for each additional school. In some instances the cost is waived.

Once you’ve selected the schools you’d like to receive the CSS Profile, your child will be asked to answer supplemental questions required by the individual school. These questions may include:

  • Class year. If this is their first, they will select that they are freshman.
  • Their housing plans, and if they are choosing any early decision, early action, or regular decision plans.
  • The courses or majors they’re interested in.

If any sections are left blank or any required documents aren’t attached, you will not be able to proceed until those areas are corrected.

Unlike FAFSA, the CSS profile doesn’t allow you to change things after you submit, so be extremely diligent in double checking all of your answers, making sure your credit card information is correct, and the correct schools to send it to are listed.

Be aware, it may take 5-7 days for the College Board to disperse this information. You can login anytime to the College Board to check the status of the application and receive any student portal links.

While the CSS process is more in-depth than FAFSA, it can provide more specific information that allows students and colleges to assess their financial situation.

The College Board features its own tutorial that walks you through the process.

And you can watch the video below for more details and background tips on filling out the CSS.


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