December 28, 2016

Tackling the CSS Profile Application

Filling out the CSS Profile financial aid application is like bathing a porcupine: it will be painful and filled with sticking points but it’s a dirty job that has to be done.

If your student wants to go to any one of almost 300 colleges and universities that require the CSS Profile, you need to power through this form. It may take two hours or more. It will require you to dig up a bunch of financial records, estimate your future income and demand much more than the FAFSA, but it’s the only way to get aid to these schools.

Is It Too Much?

Learn how to survive the CSS Application.

Do you think College Board has a right to ask so many questions? Be prepared to present information about your spending habits, when you bought your cars and your expectations for next year.

If you feel like this form doesn’t trust you, it’s because others have taken advantage of the system. Many previous applicants have pulled tricks to hide their income and resources in order to get maximum aid. This means the dishonest and deceptive get a larger share of federal and privately donated funds.

People change names on bank accounts and delay major purchases until just before completing aid paperwork. They get dodgy and defensive about certain financial topics.

Financial aid officers have seen all the games and know the warning signs. That’s why the CSS is so complex. It seeks to draw a wide financial picture of your family in order to distribute aid most appropriately.

You do want your tax money going to the proper place, right? What if you donated to a college scholarship? Would you want that money to go to the most deserving student or the most deceitful?

Common Mistakes

Here are some of the issues you may run into:

Taxes Aren’t Done

The CSS Profile may be due as early as November 1 for Early Action applicants. This requires you to estimate your yearly income and taxes. It’s a tricky task for business owners or those paid on commission. Do you best and be pessimistic, but not deceptive. Update the forms as soon as you have the real numbers.

Split Parents

If the student does not live with both parents or the parents are not married, how do you file? Start with the “custodial parent,” which is whomever the student lives with most of the time. Include income from parents with partial custody and custodial step-parents. If your student has no contact with a non-custodial parent, you may apply for a waiver.

Siblings’ Assets

Yes, CSS asks about everybody. If an account is listed in a parent’s name with a sibling as a beneficiary, the account should be listed only under the parent’s assets.

Rental Property vs. Small Business

You should not list a small business with fewer than 100 employees. To the CSS form, rental property is not a small business, so you must include values of rental property.

The Fees

Like anything the College Board touches, from the SAT to AP courses, expenses add up. The CSS Profile costs $9 initially then $16 for each school you apply to. Spending money to get need-based financial aid is an unfortunate necessity.

Fortunately, the College Board does offer up to waive the fee for up to eight applications. If you are not eligible for this program, you can still ask individual schools if they will waive the fee.

Some will do it instantly. Others will give you a waiver code. Some will refuse, but it never hurts to ask.

Tips & Tricks

Be Honest

You may feel a bit bothered and indignant by the invasive CSS Profile application, but if you were deciding how to allocate money to individual students, would you value integrity and transparency? Remember, not only is the school deciding how to help you pay tuition but whether to offer admission at all.

Honesty is a big part of the decision. Cheating in class, falsifying records and fudging financial information are all huge black marks. Approach this process with nothing to hide and you’ll get all the financial aid your student deserves.

Be Prepared

Have all your financial documents ready and set aside a two-hour time slot to focus on completing the application. Having all of your documents ready will make the process much easier and possible to complete in one sitting. You’ll need:

  • College Board account
  • Your most recent federal tax return
  • W-2 forms for the past two years
  • Records of any untaxed income in the past two years
  • Bank statements
  • Mortgage information
  • Records of savings, stocks, and bonds

Which parent?

If you are separated or divorced, the parent who is considered the custodial parent (the one the student has lived with the most in the past year) is responsible for providing the financial documents and answering the questions. This is the same standard as the FAFSA. If the student has lived with each parent an equal amount of time, the custodial parent can be considered the parent who lends the most financial support.

Don’t forget to resubmit

Just like the FAFSA, the CSS Profile needs to be renewed every year to make sure your student’s financial aid remains intact. Thankfullly, once you’ve filled it out once some of your information will auto-fill making next year’s process easier.

Has your child chosen a college that is a good financial fit for them? Find out with College Factual’s free matching tools.


Forbes: The Five Questions Tripping Parents Up on College Aid Forms

Khan Academy: CSS Profile Walkthrough

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