CSS/ Financial Aid PROFILE

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is the College Board’s financial aid application that 229 mostly private colleges and universities use for their undergraduate admissions. The following state institutions also require families to submit the PROFILE:

  • College of William and Mary
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville

Here is the list of all the schools and scholarship programs that require a PROFILE submission:

CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE schools


Many families wonder why they have to go through the hassle of completing the PROFILE when they’ve already submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It’s a good question and here is the answer:

All PROFILE schools use the FAFSA to determine which of their applicants will qualify for federal and/or state financial aid.

Most public and private colleges and universities also rely upon the FAFSA to determine who is eligible for their own need-based financial aid. The PROFILE schools, however, want to dig deeper than the FAFSA allows when assessing who qualifies for money from their own financial-aid kitties. These schools insist on a more thorough assessment of the financial wherewithal of their applicants.

The FAFSA, for instance, doesn’t ask applicants if they own a primary home. The PROFILE does. The FAFSA doesn’t care about assets in a family business that employs less than 100 full-time employees. The PROFILE does. The FAFSA doesn’t inquire about assets and income from the noncustodial parent in cases of divorce and separation, but the PROFILE schools often do.

Customizing the PROFILE

Schools that use the PROFILE can customize this aid application in endless ways. In fact, the schools can choose from hundreds of supplemental questions and how they treat the answers can differ significantly. For instance, some schools consider home equity, others don’t while still others link home equity to income. The latter policy is supposed to help families who are house rich and cash poor.

What can be irritating about the PROFILE is that some of its formula is secret. The College Board doesn’t feel compelled to share its entire formula.

The College Board, however, releases a lengthy publication every year that tries to anticipate many questions that parents would have about the application. I would urge you to take a look at this 55-page PDF, which is the most recent one available:

PROFILE 2017-2018 FAQs and Glossary

Different EFCs

Because of many optional PROFILE questions, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that this application generates for individual schools can vary significantly for a family. A family’s EFC alerts a school’s financial aid office to how much financial assistance a student needs.

Important: Because the PROFILE aid results can be different, it’s essential that parents use net price calculators to identify whether schools may be good financial fits or not.

You will learn more about how the PROFILE and FAFSA treat assets for financial-aid purposes in the lesson entitled, Investments and Financial Aid.

PROFILE Nuts & Bolts

Just like the FAFSA, the PROFILE’s release date for the 2018-2019 school year will be October 1, 2017.

Just like the FAFSA, the PROFILE now uses two-year-old IRS tax returns rather than the most current tax returns. Read the FAFSA Basics lesson for more information on this big development.

Important: Ask the schools where your child is applying when their financial aid deadlines are because you absolutely don’t want to miss a deadline. You may forfeit your chances for financial aid if you do so. Failing to file your aid applications on time can jeopardize your financial aid award.

You will need to register on the College Board website to access and complete the application.  Your child already has an account if he or she has taken the SAT.

The College Board estimates that it will take between 45 minutes and two hours to complete the PROFILE.

Before beginning, you should download and use the pre-application worksheet and instructions.

You can also print out your actual aid application after you have registered for the PROFILE and answered some preliminary questions including the schools that your child intends to apply to. By doing so, the PROFILE can load the correct questions onto your customized application.

Here are the documents you will need to complete the PROFILE for the 2018-2019 school year:

  • 2016 federal income tax return(s)
  • W-2 forms and other records of money earned in 2016
  • Records of untaxed income and benefits for 2016
  • Current bank statements
  • Current mortgage information
  • Records of savings, stocks, bonds, trusts, and other investments
  • The noncustodial parent’s email address, if applicable

Getting Help With the PROFILE

If you need clarification on application questions there are several ways to find help within the application itself or from the College Board.

For specific application questions use the question-mark help icon or use the help code next to the question itself. You can also use a search help feature that’s located at the top part of the screen. In addition, you can find answers from the PROFILE Application Help Desk.

If you require further assistance, here is how you can contact the College Board’s customer service department:

PROFILE Fee and Fee Waivers

While the FAFSA is free, the PROFILE costs $25 for the initial application and college report and all additional reports are $16 each.

The College Board grants fee waivers automatically based on information that the family includes on the PROFILE. The waiver covers the application fee and the reporting fees for up to eight colleges or scholarship programs.

Applicants who are orphans or wards of the court under the age of 24 are automatically eligible for fee waivers. Eligibility for a family of three is usually household income of $35,000 or less and $27,000 or less for a two-person household. For a four-person household, a family typically won’t be eligible for the fee waiver if assets exceeds $30,000 and home equity exceeds $100,000.

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  1. Hi Lynn,

    Is there a huge downside to not filling out the CSS profile on the first day it’s available (Oct 1)? We are moving and if we haven’t moved into our house by then, I would rather wait to fill out the css profile so we don’t have to claim the downpayment we have saved as an asset on the Profile asset portion (and it would be counted as home equity instead). Thanks!

    1. Post

      Hi Sophia,

      There is no reason you can’t wait until you buy your house. Some PROFILE schools will assess the full value of your home equity and others won’t. Of course, schools that only use the FAFSA will not look at your home equity at all.

      Lynn O

  2. Hi Lynn,

    One of my students has a sister at Bowdoin College where she received a tiny amount of merit aid. The EFC was determined to be $51,000 and Bowdoin COA is $65,000 but the family was told they didn’t qualify for financial aid. Wouldn’t the $14,000 gap entitle them to financial aid? Now the second child is going to Landmark. Will the EFC remain the same, so the family will be expected to pay a total of $51,000 split between the two schools?

    1. Hi Melissa,

      I am puzzled by the Bowdoin situation. Bowdoin says it meets 100% of a student’s financial need. How did the family obtain the $51,000 EFC? Was it on the financial aid letter or did they request the letter from Bowdoin? If it was obtained either way, I am assuming the family appealed the award. What did the school say when the appeal, assuming it was, was made.

      Bowdoin provides a tiny number of $1,000 scholarships, but assuming that she got one, she would still need more assistance according to the EFC she provided. One thing that the family should explore is how their home equity was assessed by Bowdoin. The latest info on Bowdoin that I have – and it’s 2013 – is that Bowdoin assesses home equity at 1.8 times income. Please read the the home equity lessons to learn more about how this factors into aid calculations and see the spreadsheet on how some PROFILE schools say they assess home equity.

      With PROFILE schools, the family’s EFC for each child would drop by 40%. With two in school, Bowdoin should increase its aid package considerably, but Landmark is a stingy school and I would not expect anything approaching a commensurate package from Landmark. The family should use Landmark’s net price calculator.

      Lynn O.

  3. Hi Lynn,
    Our daughter will be a senior next year. She is interested in schools that use the profile vs FAFSA. Our income has decreased since 2015 due to retirement. Our income is now limited to pension payments or money drawn from our 401K. Both the pension payment and monies from 401K would be included in taxable income. However, I also have a Roth IRA and I’m thinking that if I draw from that it would not appear as income since it isn’t taxable.

    Is that correct? Or do you report non taxable income as well?

    Second question, her sister who is an adult receives SSI payments. Do we need to report these payments on the FAFSA or Profile? I receive the payments in her name on her behalf.

    1. Hi Noreen,

      You should not report the SSI payments on your daughter’s financial aid applications.

      Unfortunately, when you withdraw money from a Roth IRA, it is considered income for financial aid purposes.

      Lynn O.

  4. Hi, Lynn! I understand that starting with the 2017-2018 school year the Profile will also be using prior prior year tax returns (like for the FAFSA). My question is about assets. If, for example, you file the Profile on or about October 1, 2016, would you use assets for both parents and student as of the date you file in 2016, or do you use 2015 assets? I think the same question would apply to the FAFSA in terms of the date for reporting of assets (savings, etc.) rather than income. Thanks!

    1. Hi Karen,

      Excellent question! With both the PROFILE and the FAFSA, you will be using current assets. You will use the value of your nonretirement assets as of the day or the day before you file either of these financial aid documents.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  5. Hi Lynn,

    I am working with a student with a working class mother (making $25K per year) and a wealthy father (very high income and other assets, trusts). The parents have been divorced for several years. The student is almost 50:50 between both households so she can essentially “pick” which one to list on her FAFSA. She is a sophomore now and my understanding is that the 2016 calendar year will be used for her financial aid freshman year (2018-2019).

    Am I right to assume that if she lists her mother as primary (and spend more than 50% time there this year), she should be focusing on FAFSA only schools? That will make her eligible for federal, state and institutional aid, as well as potentially some merit scholarships? Or would FAFSA schools somehow also ask about her father’s information even though they are legally divorced?

    And then if there are some CSS Profile schools she falls in love with, she should expect a pretty significant price difference due to her father’s information being included?

    I’d love any other advice you have for this situation. The parents have a friendly relationship and the father is ready to step up to pay for most of the college education, but obviously the lower cost the better.

    Thank you,

    1. HI Heather,

      If the student is going to apply to FAFSA-only schools then it would make sense for the mother to be the custodial parent.

      Many PROFILE schools do require the noncustodial parent to file the Noncustodial PROFILE. You can see which schools do and don’t require this form via this PROFILE link: https://profileonline.collegeboard.org/prf/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet.srv

      Some schools that don’t require the extra PROFILE form may have their own supplemental form that asks about the finances of the other parent. I do know of one PROFILE school (U. of Chicago) that says it requires the noncustodial PROFILE form, but it will allow just the custodial parent to share financial information if he/she files directly with the school using it’s own financial aid application. I don’t know if other schools do this too. I was surprised to hear about the U of Chicago position from a mom who did this during the last admission cycle.

      You should assume that most PROFILE schools will require the financial information of the dad, which would significantly boost the EFC.

      Lynn O.

  6. Lynn
    Does the profile have to be filled out to qualify for merit aid? I don’t think we would qualify for any need based aid but are hoping to get some merit.

    Mary Lu

    1. Hi Mary Lu,

      It’s not common, but some schools do require filing for financial to qualify for merit aid. Schools that fit into that category include the state universities in Georgia. To play it safe, I’d contact the schools on your child’s list and ask.

      Lynn O.

  7. Lynn,

    I am also not seeing the excel spreadshhet regarding how various colleges each handle home equity. Where can I find this? Perhaps I am not seeing it because I am using an iPad?

    1. Hi Maya,

      Thanks for letting me know you couldn’t find the Excel spreadsheet! I think I must have inadvertently eliminated it when I was editing the lesson. You will find it in the lesson now. You can also find it in the Bonus Material module.

      Lynn O.

  8. Lynn,

    Does the PROFILE work in the same way as the FAFSA in that all schools are able to see the other ones that we are submitting a PROFILE to? Is there a way around this (like you had mentioned for the FAFSA – submitting for A & then resubmitting for B after deleting A)?

  9. FYI–My daughter just received a letter of acceptance from Willamette University that included $28,000 of merit aid. Not bad for a Methodist school. And I should mention that my other daughter received a similar sized merit package from Univ. of Redlands two years ago.

    1. Congratulations Jeffrey! Is that scholarship from Willamette four years or is it for one? I didn’t even know Willamette was Methodist. I suspect it’s in name only.

      Lynn O.

  10. Thank you for your article and be willing to offer this critique. I, too, am disturbed by this trend in Catholic High Ed. I believe they have become victims of their own success. Unfortunately, this success can lead to an emphasis on institutional advancement and self-preservation at the expense of Catholic mission and values. Not too dissimilar to the situation of today’s Vatican. Let’s hope that Pope Francis renewed focus on mission and core values will be felt in the admin offices of Catholic colleges and universities.

    1. Hi Jeffrey,

      I totally agree with you. And the thought did occur to me that it would be nice if Pope Francis took at look at what’s going on with Catholic higher education in this country. I realize his reform plate is very, very full!

      Lynn O.

  11. Hi Lynn,

    I have heard that some schools require the FAFSA even to be considered for merit aid (so they can confirm that you would not be eligible for any need based aid before they offer you merit $). Are there schools that require the Profile for that same reason? My family would definitely not qualify for need based aid with our first child and most likely not even when our second child is in school at the same time.

    We may however be interested in federal loans that would require filing the FAFSA, so we are likely to submit that. I’m hoping to avoid submitting the Profile if there is not a requirement to do so or a benefit.

    1. HI Kirsten,

      I don’t know of any school that would require parents to file the PROFILE. I wouldn’t worry about this one.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  12. Lynn

    I was also wondering if it is recommended to file the FAFSA and the CSS Profile forms if my daughter is unlikely to qualify for need-based aid. Our EFC based on two kids in college will be around $37,000 to $40,000 per child. My daughter is applying to higher priced private schools (Whitman, Santa Clara, etc.) She is an excellent student with high GPA in IB Classes and a 28 ACT score.

    Jeffrey S. Petrillo
    Phone: (503) 804-7246, Fax: (503) 389-1075
    E-mail: jeffpetrillo@gmail.com

    1. Hi Jeff,

      I believe people should apply for financial aid if there is any chance of getting help. If you won’t qualify for aid, there is no harm in applying. With a high EFC, your daughter would more than likely only be looking for merit aid. But if she didn’t apply, she definitely would get not need-based aid.

      Whether she receives any need-based aid would depend on the EFC each institution generates for your family and also how generous the school is with need-based aid. Santa Clara is a stingy school with need-based aid and merit scholarships. Whitman has puny merit scholarships, but is better with need-based aid. Schools that are popular and highly ranked are going to be much stingier with merit scholarships.

      FYI, I mentioned Santa Clara U. in my blog post this week. Here it is: https://www.thecollegesolution.com/stingy-catholic-universities/

      I hope that helps.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy