Your CSS Profile Questions Answered

Your CSS Profile Questions Answered

Realizing that you need to submit the CSS Profile along with the FAFSA for your student’s financial aid application can be a bit intimidating. Fortunately, although the CSS is long and detailed, it’s also pretty straightforward.

Many CSS Profile questions can be answered by hovering over the question mark near each question. This gives further explanation and helps you understand what’s being asked for.

However, other questions need more detail. Here are some common CSS Profile questions and their answers!


Which Colleges Are CSS Profile Schools?

The CSS is an additional standardized financial aid form that is required by about 400 schools. They ask for the CSS form because they feel that the FAFSA doesn’t give them enough information to make nuanced aid decisions.

The FAFSA is the standard for federal financial aid. However, schools that award their own aid often need more information in order to make decisions about how to hand out that money. As a result, the CSS form is required by those schools.

The good news is that it’s only one form! Each school could require it’s own financial aid questionnaire, which would be incredibly time-consuming. Instead, the CSS Profile can be done once and shared with multiple schools as needed.


How Much Does The CSS Profile Cost?

The FAFSA is free, but the CSS Profile costs $25 to submit and $16 for each additional school you send it to. Based on the financial information you provide, your fee may be waived. You can also contact specific schools and ask for a fee waiver code.


What Does The CSS Profile Ask For?

The CSS collects more data so that schools can compare students’ financial situations more accurately.

The CSS profile questions ask for the following details:

  • Names, ages, and demographics of those in household.
  • Prior-prior year income and current asset values for both parents and the student. You’ll also be asked to estimate future years’ income to make sure that your prior-prior year income is representative of your true financial situation.
  • Financial income on both households if parents are separated, not just the custodial household. Schools want to take into account if a non-custodial parent has significant financial resources.
  • Home equity. This is the data point that causes the most anxiety, but keep in mind that only a small percentage of your assets are applied toward your ability to pay for school. The need formulas are more income-driven than asset-driven.
  • Business value and Retirement Value. Both of these should be noted as of the date you’re filling out the form. Both are part of your asset calculation.
  • Other resources available to pay for college. Be honest but don’t wildly over- or under-estimate. Consider outside scholarships, military benefits, etc.
  • Extenuating circumstances. You will be asked about elder care obligations, financial needs for other children in home and more.
  • Explanatory comments. This section can be one of the most important on the CSS form. It allows you to share more of your story and give some context to the financial information you’ve provided.


What’s The Deadline For The CSS Profile?

The CSS form is available on October 1st of each year, and should be completed at least two weeks before the earliest school deadline to ensure you have time.

The good news is that you can save your progress and come back to it. You don’t have to complete the entire CSS profile at one time.

Each the website for each school your student is applying to for their specific CSS Profile deadline. It may vary school to school.

If your student is applying early admissions, deadlines for the CSS Profile are likely to be much earlier than if your student were applying regular decision. Help your student be on top of financial aid deadlines, along with other dates for college admissions. 


How is CSS Profile Data Used?

Each school has their own calculations when it comes to determining the expected family contribution and financial need for each student. These calculations can be different from how the FAFSA calculates your EFC.

There will be variations in how the schools use home equity, private school expenses for younger siblings, multiple kids in college, and more. Once the calculation is completed, they will send you an award package based on the results.

Because different schools have different priorities, you can get very different offers even though you filled out the same CSS information for each school.


Common CSS Profile Mistakes 

How can you correct CSS Profile errors?

You can adjust and update the FAFSA online anytime. However, the CSS can only be submitted once. If there are errors or changes, you have to submit the update in writing to each school that your student applied to with the CSS Profile.

Here are common mistakes made when answering the CSS Profile questions:

  • Glaring conflicts with FAFSA. Schools get both the CSS and the FAFSA, and they will compare them and reconcile them. If there are significant differences, especially regarding the value of assets, the school will ask for clarification.
  • Don’t omit pre-tax retirement contributions. This counts as income! Skipping this number is a common reason the net price calculator results don’t match your award as well.
  • Give your best estimates for home value. You can use online tools or recent valuations. The goal is to not to be significantly off in either direction. Be reasonable – schools will notice if you report 0 appreciation over the last 20 years!
  • 529’s should always be listed as a parent investment if the parent owns it and the student is a beneficiary. All 529’s are parent investments, even those for siblings.
  • All real estate should be listed, whether it’s your primary residence or a rental property.
  • Any retirement accounts in a student’s name is reported as a student asset.

Make sure you monitor each school’s applicant portal to keep an eye out for additional documentation. This is true even if you submit the CSS through IDOC – the school’s application portal is more specific and always trumps IDOC’s requirements.


You Can Handle CSS Profile Questions!

As you fill out the CSS profile, take your time and be as accurate as possible. Read and follow directions carefully. The hover question marks can give you a lot of clarifying information, and you can also contact the College Board via chat, phone, or email.

However, if you still have CSS Profile questions, call the school!

Each school has its own process and procedure, so the answer you get from one school may not apply to all the CSS schools your student is applying to. Be sure to contact each one with your questions so you know for sure.

Many schools that require the CSS Profile for a freshman do not require you to fill it out again for sophomores and beyond, so don’t do it again if you don’t have to!

However, each individual student applying to a CSS school will need their own profile filled out, even if you filled it out last year or previously for an older student. Plus, your situation may have changed.


How We Can Help

We organized and recorded an online workshop with a financial aid officer from a college that requires the CSS Profile. If you need to fill out the CSS Profile, her review of the document and answers to questions is invaluable and is worth your time to review.

Get Answers To Your CSS Profile Questions

Interested in finding out more about schools that are generous with merit scholarships? We can help you find the all the schools that are likely to offer your student money! Check out our College Free Money Finder today!

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Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.
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