HomeArticlesFinancial Aid: The FAFSA vs The CSS Profile

Dear Estelle. Recently I spoke with a friend who said we had to file two financial aid forms, the FAFSA and a Profile for our son, a senior at Smoky Hill High School These past few months have been stressful without having to fill out multiple financial aid forms. The cost of college is daunting and will take a big cut out of our savings. We are planning to do the FAFSA because our accountant recommended it but why concern ourselves with the PROFILE? Anne S., Parent, Smoky Hill High School

Federal and state governments and the colleges themselves dole out significant sums of money annually to reduce the cost of attending college and make it more affordable. Maybe you don’t have to fill out the CSS Profile if your son is not planning to attend one of the mostly selective colleges. I’m pleased you are already planning to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) To receive aid it is the necessary form that is required by almost every college in the United States and utilizes detailed information about your family’s financial situation.

The CSS PROFILE, an institutional form, required by more than 600 selective private colleges, including the Ivies, requests different types of  financial information than the FAFSA. Whereas FAFSA is tied mostly to federal funds the PROFILE determines eligibility for private institutional grants, scholarships and loans that come directly from the colleges. It uses a different financial analysis to determine the families EFC (expected financial contribution). It has been available since early October and should be submitted concurrently if students are apply Early Decision or Early Action to those colleges requiring it. The PROFILE looks at assets like home equity. It is available on the College Board website and includes information concerning issues such as custodial and non custodial parents. The FAFSA goes officially online January 1 and can be sent to all the colleges where your student is applying. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal student loans, grant money and even some scholarships. It requires less financial information than the PROFILE and uses information from your 2014 income tax. Making minor errors, missing deadlines and filing late (after March) can result in loss of available funds.Since most CSS PROFILE schools also require the FAFSA, it is a good strategy to fill out the PROFILE October -December and submit the FAFSA early in January.

Why Submit the FAFSA?

Some families figure that their incomes or savings are too high and they will not be eligible for any aid. So what’s the point in applying if you’re not eligible?

  • Job situations change. There’s job loss and sometimes health reasons that can drain a family’s savings.
  • Family situations change that reduce the amount of money available for education.
  • If you don’t fill out the FAFSA as a freshman, you may not be able to file it later on as circumstances change. Some colleges specifically indicate this.
  • If your family’s situation suddenly changes and it’s imperative to have your financials reviewed—–It’s important to have a FAFSA on file.
  • Many merit scholarships require submission of the FAFSA. Even if you don’t qualify for financial aid you may qualify through academic achievement.
  • Many student loans require completion of a FAFSA.

Financial planners often consider completing the FAFSA as an insurance policy just in case a family’s situation changes. Certainly not what we anticipate but occasionally bad things happen.

A reminder: Complete the CSS Profile if your student has applied Early Action or Early Decision to the over 600 selective, mostly private schools that require it or plans to apply regular decision to any of these colleges. The PROFILE can be found on the College Board web page and comes with good instructions.

Complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you’re eligible for aid. If you have more than one child in college you may be eligible. It can be found online at fafsa.ed.gov. It may look complex but comes with a good tutorial. Have your 2014 income taxes available.

GOOD LUCK! As your child is experiencing the rigor and demands of completing all his college applications you have to feel comfortable knowing you can finance it. Also, I am available for consultation on any issues regarding college planning. Let me know if I can be of assistance to your family.

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