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You Should Absolutely Create a CSS Profile—and Here’s Why

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

It’s no secret that college is expensive, and future college students should do everything they can to offset costs. Creating a CSS Profile through the CollegeBoard can help you qualify for scholarships and/or financial aid from states and institutions. 

In fact, CSS Profile gives access to more than $9 billion for thousands of college students annually. That’s a lot of tuition money, and you don’t want to miss out!

Here’s everything you need to know about what a CSS Profile is, plus why and how to create yours. 

What is a CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is an online application that gathers information used by nearly 400 scholarship programs and colleges to determine non-federal aid. Non-federal aid means money that comes from states and schools, not from the federal government. (To qualify for federal aid, you must complete a FAFSA form.)

You may complete the CSS Profile as early as Oct. 1 and no later than two weeks before the earliest deadline specified by your college choices. It costs $25 for the application and one report to a school, then $16 for each college you add. Fee waivers are available for low-income families. Like the FAFSA, you must continue submitting the CSS Profile each year to continue qualifying for aid. 

Why should I create a CSS Profile?

You should create a CSS Profile to potentially increase the amount of scholarship and aid money you receive for college. Anything you can do to save money and decrease student debt is worth doing! Additionally, the CSS Profile provides a more complete picture of your family’s finances than the FAFSA. It allows you to explain any specific circumstances your family is experiencing.

The CSS Profile provides a more complete picture of your family’s finances than the FAFSA.

However, keep in mind that while every school uses the FAFSA, only certain schools use CSS Profile. You’ll find a list of the schools that use the CSS Profile here. Schools like Harvard, Yale, Cal Tech, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and MIT use CSS Profile as part of their financial aid process. If you’re considering attending any of the schools on this list, it’s worthwhile to create a profile. 

How do I create a CSS Profile?

You can create and submit your application on cssprofile.org. Use your CollegeBoard email and password to sign in, or create a new account. On the “Welcome to CSS Profile” page, select “Begin New Profile.”

Once you’re signed in, use the left-side navigation to move through the application. Sections listed in the navigation include:

  • Getting Started
  • Parent Information
  • Academic Information
  • Housing Information
  • Household Summary
  • Student Income
  • Student Military Income
  • Student Assets
  • Student Expenses
  • Special Circumstances
  • Supplemental Questions

Each field or question with a red star is required information. As you complete each section, a check mark will appear to help you track your progress. You don’t need to complete the application in one sitting. You can save your information and return to it at any time. 

Once all your information is complete, you should double check your application for accuracy. Then, you check a box to certify that all information is true and complete to the best of your knowledge. You must submit the application by midnight Eastern Time of your earliest priority filing date.

CSS Profile reports are sent to colleges immediately after payment is received.

Reports are sent to colleges immediately after payment is received. You can use the CSS Profile Dashboard to keep track of your application status, deadlines, and any next steps if the college requests additional info. You can also easily add more colleges from the dashboard by clicking “Add a College or Program.”

If you run into trouble, CSS Profile provides helpful tutorials and frequently asked questions to guide you through the process.

What do I need to complete a CSS Profile?

To complete your CSS Profile, you will need:

  • Your contact and citizenship information, including Social Security number
  • Names of your colleges, your housing plans, and when you plan to apply (e.g., Early Decision or Regular Decision)
  • Tax returns (All financial information is needed for both your parents and you, if applicable.)
  • W-2 forms
  • Other records of current year income
  • Records of untaxed income and benefits
  • Records of assets and bank statements 
  • Names of siblings and what grade they’re in

Currently, the CSS Profile also includes new questions about how COVID-19 impacted your family and family income. Then, you will supply information about any extenuating circumstances that affect your family financially, including eldercare, natural disasters, or exceptional medical expenses. You will be asked to report how much money your family spends on these circumstances annually.

What mistakes should I avoid when creating my CSS Profile?

According to the CollegeBoard, the most common mistakes include entering information incorrectly or misreading questions.

For example, make sure you understand whether each question is asking about you or about your parents. Parents sometimes answer questions for themselves when the question is really about the student, throwing off the application and eligibility for aid.

Before you submit your application, both you and your parents should double check it carefully. Make sure everything is spelled correctly, that your information is accurate, and that the right person has answered each question. Any mistakes on the application could cost you money toward your education. 

Final Thoughts: How and Why to Create a CSS Profile

Creating a CSS Profile can help you qualify for scholarship and aid money beyond what you’re awarded via the FAFSA.

The CSS Profile paints a fuller financial picture, including additional dependents and any extenuating circumstances that impact your family’s finances. About 400 colleges accept the CSS Profile, so make sure it’s required or accepted by schools you’re applying to before paying to complete it.

Final tip: Don’t skip the CSS Profile if your schools ask for it. You could miss out on more money for your education!

The application isn’t overly complicated, but it does ask a lot of questions. Make sure you and your parents come prepared with W-2s, bank statements, tax forms, and any other information about income and assets. Then, give the application a thorough review before submitting it. And be sure to submit it by midnight EST of your earliest priority filing date!

You may grow tired of filling out forms and applications during college application season, but don’t skip the CSS Profile if your schools ask for it. The more scholarships and aid you can get, the better! 

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.

https://www.transizion.com