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CSS Profile vs. FAFSA: What’s the Difference?

While the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, helps you secure valuable federal and state support to pay for school, close to 400 private schools and scholarship programs require both the FAFSA and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile form. Many questions are the same on both forms, but the CSS Profile requires more detailed information and weighs your assets and income differently than the FAFSA. This allows financial aid counselors at institutions that use the CSS Profile greater freedom to grant aid based on a student's particular circumstances.

The purpose of the CSS Profile

The CSS Profile is distributed by the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement Program. The CSS Profile is used by private colleges and universities to determine your eligibility for non-government financial aid, such as grants, loans, and scholarships. The College Board lists all schools and scholarship programs that require the CSS Profile.

Similarities between the FAFSA and CSS Profile

In considering the CSS Profile vs. FAFSA, there are a few similarities. Both are online applications that can be filed as early as Oct. 1. On both the FAFSA and CSS Profile, you must list the schools you're interested in applying to. Both forms ask for financial information and use that to determine your need for financial aid.

How the CSS Profile is different

The CSS Profile differs from the FAFSA in three ways.

  • Cost. The CSS Profile costs $25 to file with one school, and $16 to file with any additional schools. The fee can be waived for U.S. resident undergraduates with family incomes up to $100k. You can also qualify if you're an orphan or ward of the court under age 24, or if you qualified for SAT fee waivers. You'll find out if you're eligible for CSS Profile fee waivers as part of the online payment process once you complete the CSS Profile application.
  • More detailed financial information. The CSS Profile asks for more detailed financial information, including financial information from non-custodial parents, the net worth of small family businesses, home equity, non-qualified annuities, and medical expenses, among other things. In addition, student income and assets are weighted higher on the CSS Profile than on FAFSA.
  • Different ways of determining financial need. The information on the CSS Profile is used to calculate need and estimated ability to contribute to tuition costs based on a formula called Institutional Methodology. The information on the FAFSA is used to calculate need using a different formula known as Federal Methodology.

The CSS Profile formula gives financial aid counselors greater freedom to grant aid based on a student's specific circumstances.

See also: How Does FAFSA Work?

Before you start the FAFSA or CSS Profile

Ready to get started with your CSS Profile and/or the FAFSA? Before you do, get your free guide to learn the 17 things you should do before you start the process.

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