Talking Brass Tacks on Financial Aid: CSS Profile

If the FASFA is the minimally invasive “cool aunt” of financial aid, the CSS Profile is the nosey mother, interested in knowing everything about a household’s financial state. Three hundred schools currently use the CSS Profile as a supplement to the FASFA, but over three-thousand colleges that use the FASFA alone, so some students won’t fill out the CSS at all. For all other students, especially those applying to private colleges that grant large need-based aid grants, the CSS will be an essential part of the financial aid process. The CSS profile is considerably more thorough than the FASFA, evaluating more aspects of a household’s income and expenditures, such as retirement accounts, outstanding debts, and business expenditures. Despite financial probing that could appear to negatively impact higher income families, the CSS is actually an excellent tool for higher income families. The CSS allows for colleges to use institutional methodology instead of federal methodology to determine need, meaning at some schools income levels that receive no federal assistance might qualify for institutional aid. The best way to ensure that the CSS benefits more than harms financial offers is to evaluate how to use the profile’s details to your advantage. Simple moves such as shifting assets from accounts held in a student’s name to accounts held in a parent’s name and not overpricing assets owned can increase aid offers. The CSS is not meant to harm and provides as a way for institutions to give access to need-based scholarship funds outside of the limitations of federal need. The CSS has a per school fee that must be paid in order to submit the profile, but fee waivers for needy applicants can be easily obtained from the College Board.

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