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CSS Profile vs. FAFSA: What You Need to Know
If you are applying for financial aid, you may have to fill out both the CSS Profile and the FAFSA. Both collect information about your financial situation to help determine your eligibility for financial aid, but there are some key differences when looking at the CSS Profile vs. FAFSA.
Any students looking to receive federal financial aid will have to fill out the FAFSA. Many colleges may also require the CSS Profile to determine eligibility for state and institutional aid. Here are the differences between the CSS Profile and the FAFSA. We’ll go over the differences in the information they collect, what they are used for, and how their results may differ.
What is the CSS Profile?
The CSS Profile is a private form administered by the College Board. The CSS Profile offers opportunities for families to describe any unique circumstances that may affect their ability to pay for college.
What is the FAFSA?
The FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form that needs to be completed in order to obtain financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college. The FAFSA asks for information about you and your family’s finances.
What information do they collect?
The FAFSA asks for information on your household’s assets and income level. It also collects information about other dependents in the household and basic demographic information about you and your family. It uses this information to calculate your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC.
The CSS Profile collects similar information to the FAFSA, but its questions are more in-depth. If your family owns a business, you’ll have to submit financial documentation about the business. Other financial strains, such as medical expenses, are also taken into account.
See also: How to renew your FAFSA
What are the deadlines?
The CSS Profile and the FAFSA usually open on October 1 for the following school year. * The deadline for the FAFSA is June 30 of the school year for which you are applying, although you may have to submit earlier depending on your state of residence. The CSS Profile deadline varies based on the school you are applying to. Some schools have deadlines as early as December!
*Note: The 2024 FAFSA will not open until sometime in December 2023 due to revisions to the application
What types of aid do they qualify you for?
The FAFSA is how all students apply for federal financial aid. This includes the Pell Grant, work study, and government loans. Schools that only require the FAFSA also use it to determine your eligibility for state and institutional need-based aid.
In addition to the FAFSA, many schools and states require the CSS Profile. If your school or state is one of these, the CSS Profile will determine your eligibility for state and institutional aid. If your school requires the CSS Profile, make sure to fill out the FAFSA as well in order to qualify for federal aid.
Don’t miss: When is this year’s FAFSA deadline?
What is the cost?
The FAFSA is completely free, no matter how many schools you send it to. This means that you have nothing to lose by filling it out; anyone who could use help paying for college should submit a FAFSA to see what they qualify for.
On the other hand, the CSS Profile costs $25 for the first school you send it to, and $16 for each additional school. If you are having trouble paying these fees, check out the fee waivers available through the College Board. Try not to let the cost deter you from submitting a CSS Profile! That $25 can earn you a huge amount in financial aid.
Related: How to add more schools to the FAFSA
Who is eligible to apply?
Any student who is a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen will qualify for some federal student aid, even if that only means federal loans through the FAFSA. The CSS Profile is available to citizens as well as international student applicants.
Will they yield different results?
The CSS Profile and FAFSA typically end up with a similar picture of your household’s financial situation. However, there are a few situations where they might yield dramatically different results:
If your parents are divorced, the CSS Profile takes into account both of their incomes whereas the FAFSA only examines the finances of one parent. So, if your non-custodial parent makes more money than your custodial parent, you will probably receive more financial aid from schools that don’t require the CSS Profile.
If your parents own a business or their pay is structured unconventionally, the CSS Profile will likely get a more in-depth perspective on the situation. The FAFSA takes into account fewer types of assets than the CSS Profile.
CSS Profile vs FAFSA chart
|Cost||$25 for the application and one report to a school.$16for each additional report||Free|
|Administrator||College Board||US Department of Education|
|Type of aid||Institutional||Federal|
|Number of questions||About 300||About 100|
|Schools accepted||Over 400 college, universities and scholarship programs||Any college or university that grants federal financial aid|
|How to apply||Online||Online, mobile or by mail|
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Frequently asked questions about the CSS Profile vs. the FAFSA
Do colleges require both the CSS Profile and FAFSA?
What financial information is required for the CSS Profile and FAFSA?
What is the main difference in the purpose of the CSS Profile and FAFSA?
Do I need to fill out the CSS Profile every year?
Can I apply for scholarships separately from the CSS Profile and FAFSA?