Oct 1, 2014

The 2015-16 Financial Aid Season Officially Kicks-Off with the CSS PROFILE

Indiana University

It’s the “other” financial aid application.  And most families who are new to the process have no clue that the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Financial Aid PROFILE is required by well over 200 colleges for scholarship consideration in addition to the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

But they soon learn!

For families with students applying to the handful of colleges requiring two financial aid applications, October 1 marks the official launch date for the 2015-16 CSS PROFILE—yet another in the series of applications and forms necessary in the ever-more-challenging college admissions process.

As the less familiar financial aid form, the CSS PROFILE is an online application that collects information used by a number of colleges, graduate schools and independent scholarship programs to award nonfederal student aid funds.

Locally, the CSS PROFILE is used by American University, Catholic University, the College of William & Mary, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins, Loyola of Maryland, the University of Richmond, St. John's College, the University of Virginia, and Washington and Lee University.

Over the next few months, every college-bound senior and his or her family will be urged to complete the FAFSA 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.

But 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—an expensive one at that.

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.

And 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 eight 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 today (October 1), 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 application process, 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; William & Mary requires the CSS Profile for early decision candidates by December 13 and regular decision by March 1; and American has set separate deadlines for Early Decision I (November 22) and Early Decision II (January 15) in addition to the deadline for regular decision candidates (February 15).

The College Board directs all questions to Customer Support, which may be reached at 305-829-9793 or by emailing help@cssprofile.org. Note that there is no “toll-free” number. Not surprisingly, most everything about this program costs.

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