This is a segment of Bautis Financial’s college planning series, which includes webinars, podcast episodes, blog posts and downloadables to aid college-bound students and families in the admissions process. Visit our college planning hub for more valuable resources.
When most people think of applying for financial aid, they think of the 5 letter acronym FAFSA. This stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and prospective college students are required to fill it out in order to be eligible for Federal Aid, including grants, work study and low interest loans from the US Department of Education. Submitting the FAFSA is also important because most colleges and universities use the application to determine which students will get financial aid. While most schools use the FAFSA, there are about 400 schools that require a different application: The CSS Profile.
CSS Profile is short for College Scholarship Service Profile, and it’s an online application created and maintained by the United States-based College Board that allows students to apply for non-federal financial aid. It is important to understand that some schools will require this application when applying for aid. The best way to determine which schools do is to check the particular college’s information online. For a full list of the schools that require the CSS profile, visit The College Board’s Website.
An important difference between the CSS Profile and FAFSA to note is some schools that use the CSS Profile may also require divorced or separated parents to complete separate applications. The FAFSA will only ever require an application from the “primary” or “custodial” parent, not both.
Like the FAFSA, the CSS Profile ultimately determines what a family is expected to pay for one year of college. The biggest factor that affects the results of both applications is the applicant’s household income. Beyond that, schools consider many different factors.
Although many of the differences in the formulas are not completely known, here are a few material differences we do know.
The FAFSA does not ask for the home equity of the student’s primary home, it only asks for home equity of any secondary homes. However, the CSS Profile will consider the equity of a primary home up to a certain amount.
Both applications will ask for the applying student’s income, but the CSS Profile will expect the student to pay a small portion of the tuition, regardless of whether they have any income. Although the minimum the CSS Profile expects a student to pay is small (~$1800), it will sometimes show a difference in the results between FAFSA and the CSS Profile.
Amount of Household Students in College
The FAFSA is considerably more generous to families that have more than one student in college at the same time.
Where the two are most alike is their consideration of savings. Both will not take into account the retirement assets the family has saved. This includes 401(k)’s, Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and any ERISA-qualified savings plan.
When it comes to non-qualified investments (non-retirement assets) like 529’s and individual brokerage accounts, both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile will use about the same multiple when considering what a family can pay. The FAFSA will multiply non-retirement assets by 5.64% and the CSS Profile will multiply by 5% to raise the expectation.
For a full breakdown of everything parents and students need to consider when applying for financial aid, watch the webinar replay “An Inside Look at Qualifying for Financial Aid”.
Begin your journey of mastering the college admissions process with Bautis Financial. Whether you’re a parent or guardian, student or school counselor, book a free consultation to discuss how our financial advisors can be a college planning resource.