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  • Writer's pictureJeff Boron

What's the difference between a CSS Profile and the FAFSA?

Updated: Apr 30




We help students and families of Western New York navigate the pathway from kid to college student. One of the most vital services we provide is assistance with the new treacherous FAFSA forms along with the CSS Profile. Today we'd like to focus on the differences of each, so you can better understand why they are both important.


Both the FAFSA and CSS Profile provide financial aid for students to attend college. Understanding the role that each plays in the college planning process is vital to minimizing the cost of your college bill.


What is the CSS Profile?

Roughly 400 colleges, universities, and scholarships require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. The CSS Profile is an application created by the College Board. The College Board also is responsible for the SAT and AP courses. Private colleges and universities use the CSS Profile to dictate what types of non-federal grants, loans, and scholarships a student is eligible for. Want to Know if Your School Choice requires you to fill out the CSS? See all schools and scholarship programs here!

Schools that require the CSS Profile will also require the FAFSA, the main difference is that FAFSA provides financial aid from the federal government, whereas the CSS Profile is used by these colleges to give out grants, scholarships, and loans directly. This includes more than $9 billion for thousands of students nationwide.


CSS Profile Looks Deeper at Financial Standing than FAFSA

Another key difference between CSS and FAFSA is that the CSS will take a deeper look at the financial situation of candidates. Here are a few things that CSS will review that FAFSA won't:

  • Equity in the family home

  • Trust funds

  • Medical Spending Accounts

  • Siblings' assets held in parent's names

  • Siblings' K-12 Private School Tuition

  • Total Retirement Savings

  • Non-Retirement Annuities


FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, so as it describes, it is free. The CSS Profile on the other hand does cost money. It's $25.00 for the first college and $16.00 for each additional college you're applying to.


CSS Profile has a different way of determining financial aid

FAFSA will use what is known as "Federal Methodology," which is one way to calculate student need. CSS Profile will use the information you provide and input it into a formula called "Institutional Methodology." Want to learn more? Give us a call to have us help you out with your financial aid forms! We hope this helps you to better understand the difference between FAFSA and the CSS Profile! If you're feeling a bit intimidated by the whole college financial aid process, don't feel alone! There are plenty of WNY students and parents who are in the same boat and choose to work with our certified college planning experts to help them through the process. We are specialists in the industry and can help you ensure your forms are filled out properly and you get the best price possible for your kid's college experience. Let's talk!




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