I recently filed the CSS Profile for a couple of highly competitive top-dollar universities on my daughter’s college application list. According to the Net Price Calculators at these schools, we would probably qualify for some institutional grant aid, even though we didn’t qualify for federal financial aid. The CSS Profile is primarily used by the most expensive schools that have large endowments to give families a financial incentive to send their child to the school. We are talking way above and beyond what the federal government would offer. At some of these schools, a family income of $200,000 will still give you a substantial enough amount of institutional aid to make filling out the CSS Profile worth the time and effort.
The CSS Profile is a “deep dive” into the financial situation of both the parents and the college-bound child. When you are done filling it out, you will feel very exposed. Almost the only thing it doesn’t ask about is how your monthly income is distributed. Schools can also tack on their own extra questions. One school wanted to know how much of my child’s total amount in investments came from money contributed by her parents and how much came from contributions from someone other than her parents. I’m not sure why that is important.
The CSS Profile deadlines at most schools are in February. In fact, February 1 is the most popular and the CSS Profile site warns you not to wait until too close to this date to file because the site may be overloaded and may not perform well. This early deadline means that you will most likely not be ready to file taxes, so many of the figures you need to provide will be “best guesses” based on what you had the year before and what you can manage to compile based on the records you have.
Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile is not free. There is a $9 filing fee and a charge of $16 per school. So the first school you send it to will cost $25 and any additional schools will cost $16 each.
If you are curious about how the extra information collected me impact your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), check out the Tuition Coach website. This is a very helpful site that I recently found. If you do a free registation on the site, you will be able to estimate both your FAFSA and CSS Profile EFCs. Depending on your unique family situation, your CSS EFC could be higher or lower than the FAFSA EFC. If it is lower, then you may get more financial aid from a school using the CSS Profile. Tuition Coach will also give you tips on how to decrease each component of your EFC and how to negotiate with a school’s financial aid office.
For me, the biggest takeaway out of the CSS Profile experience is that filing the Profile gives you a shot at institutional grant aid that may make an ivy-league or other top-tier school more affordable than other private schools or even state schools, if your child has what it takes to get admitted.