How the FAFSA Differs from the CSS Profile

In our last article we provided you with information on the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid); a form which determines your eligibility for federal grants and loans as well as some grants and scholarships from the colleges themselves.

While nearly every college in the country will have you fill out the FAFSA, some will also require you to submit its counterpart: the CSS Profile.

Here’s a closer look at the CSS Profile – and how it differs from the FAFSA.

– Scott

FAFSA vs. The CSS Profile, Part II

The CSS Profile is the College Scholarship Service Profile, which is a service provided by the College Board.

Although it is less widely used, the CSS Profile may be just as important as the FAFSA in determining your child’s financial aid funding.

The CSS Profile is used by over 600 select colleges and universities across the country, most of which are private.

Most of the Ivy League schools and other similar colleges utilize the CSS Profile.

Whereas the FAFSA is connected to federal funds, the CSS Profile determines your eligibility for private institutional grants, scholarships, and loans that come directly from the college itself.

These funds usually involve quite a bit more money than the federal and state resources since private institutions typically have higher tuition fees than their public counterparts.

Because so much more money is on the table, the CSS is understandably more complex than the FAFSA.

Firstly, it will cost $9 to fill out the form and another $16 dollars for every college you wish to send it to (fees can be waived for low income families).

The form itself includes much more detail about your family’s finances as well. The CSS Profile will ask for more in depth information on other assets, such as your home equity, and it may also require you to submit copies of tax returns and paystubs.

The CSS Profile uses a different analysis equation to determine your expected family contribution (EFC), and it is not bound by the same federal laws as the FAFSA in what financial information can be examined.

Furthermore, the CSS Profile is available as early as October (as opposed to FAFSA’s January 1st availability) which means it can be used for Early Action and Early Decision financial aid packages.

Take note that this often means that the deadline for the CSS Profile will also be earlier than the FAFSA deadline, so check with each individual school about their CSS filing protocol.

Since most CSS Profile schools also require the FAFSA, it is a good strategy to fill out the CSS early (October-December) and then submit the FAFSA in early January.

No matter your financial situation, you should absolutely understand both these financial aid forms to see if and how your family may benefit.

To read Part 1 of our story, click here.

To your family’s college success,

Scott Weingold

Co-Founder, College Planning Network, LLC

College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of the College Planning Network, LLC

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.