Financial Aid 101: CSS Profile vs. FAFSA

While all schools require the FAFSA for government-based college financial assistance, the College Board administers a similar program that some schools require known as the CSS PROFILE.

While all schools require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for government-based college financial assistance, the College Scholarship Service, a division of the College Board, administers a similar program that some schools (mostly private) require.

These forms allow schools to determine a student’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). This is the number used by the financial aid officer to help determine the types and amounts of aid to be awarded the student. In general, the EFC for an average family in our area will be 10% to 20% higher with the CSS Profile than with the FAFSA form.

Over 600 schools participate in the CSS Profile program. It helps schools determine the internal or other non-governmental aid (grants, scholarships and loans) offered to accepted students and was formerly known as the FAF.  It is designed to give colleges a more accurate look at a families' financial situation.


There are several differences in the two forms, one being the use of unique questions on the CSS PROFILE by each school. This leads to differences in the methodologies used to determine a student's financial need and estimated ability to contribute. Unlike the FAFSA, colleges that require the PROFILE have the option to add their own questions to the form. This, coupled with greater details in questioning (such as homeownership/equity and information of all parents and parental spouses) allows for greater professional judgment to be used by the financial aid officials when determining actual financial need, especially when due to certain or unusual circumstances.

Submission Dates

Another major difference between the two forms is submission. The FAFSA cannot be submitted until after January 1st, while the PROFILE can be completed in the fall. This helps schools determine financial aid eligibility for early applicants. When the FAFSA is filed later, adjustments may have to be made to the projected awards.

Other Differences

The PROFILE determines a minimum student contribution, while the FAFSA does not. The PROFILE also charges a fee for the general form and for each school. The FAFSA, as the name states, is free. There are many more questions on the PROFILE with over 300 questions, while the FAFSA has just over 100. This increases the chance for mistakes on that form, but both have their own list of common mistakes.  Complete the forms in phases and find help, where necessary. A mistake on these forms can literally cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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