Oct 1, 2010

The Secret Life of the CSS PROFILE—the Less Familiar Financial Aid Form

October 1st marks the official launch date for the 2011-12 College Scholarship Service (CSS) Financial Aid PROFILE. The less familiar financial aid form, the CSS PROFILE is an online application that collects information used by a relatively small number of colleges and scholarships to award institutional aid.

Over the next few months, the word will go out that every college-bound senior and his or her family should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for federal financial aid. The online FAFSA form will become available on January 1st at midnight and should be completed as close to the start of the New Year as possible.

The CSS PROFILE requires an entirely separate filing and evaluation process. For those needing to submit the additional form, it amounts to another wall to scale in the process of securing sufficient funds for college. And it can be a headache.

While the FAFSA is a free service brought to you by your federal government, the CSS PROFILE is a program administered by the College Board and involves a fee. Unlike the FAFSA, which uses the same application for everyone, the PROFILE is specifically tailored to meet the needs of individual colleges. Extra questions may appear on a student’s form depending on the colleges listed when registering for the PROFILE.

It’s not all bad news. There are some tradeoffs in the data collected by the PROFILE. While taking into account all the sources of income and assets used by the FAFSA, the PROFILE asks for some additional information such as home equity, the income/assets of a noncustodial parent, or the cash value of insurance plans. On the other side of the ledger, the PROFILE takes into consideration expenses such as medical, dental, or private school tuition.

But then there’s the fee. The cost for submitting an initial application and sending one college or program report is now $25. Additional reports are $16 each. These charges are subject to change each year, and they don't tend to go down.

For very low-income students, fee waivers for up to six colleges or scholarship programs are available and granted automatically based on information entered on the PROFILE application. International students are not eligible for fee waivers.

The PROFILE may be filed any time after October 1st, and colleges typically want to have the paperwork completed at least two weeks before posted “priority” filing deadlines. Because these can come surprisingly early in the New Year, the PROFILE is usually completed with estimated numbers. Applicants definitely need to pay attention to deadlines.

For example, Johns Hopkins wants a completed PROFILE by November 15th for Early Decision candidates; Georgetown requests that all financial aid applications (including the FAFSA) be completed by February 1st; and American asks that all materials be submitted in advance of March 1st.

The College Board directs all questions to Customer Support, which may be reached at 305-829-9793 or by emailing help@cssprofile.org. You might notice there is no “toll-free” number. Unfortunately, most everything about this program costs.

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