CSS Profile vs. FAFSA: Key Differences
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
When applying for financial aid, one of the most important steps you’ll take is completing the correct documentation. But it can be confusing to know the difference between the FAFSA and the CSS Profile and when you need to use each one. To help you get some clarity, this post breaks down the differences between the FAFSA and CSS Profile.
The CSS Profile
The CSS Profile is used to award institutional aid. This means aid that comes from the college itself. The CSS Profile is administered by the College Board, the same company that administers the SAT and AP exams.
Where to Submit the CSS Profile
You can submit the CSS Profile on the CSS Profile section of the College Board website. You’ll need a College Board account to submit the CSS Profile, so if you took an AP exam or the SAT, you can use those same login credentials. Otherwise, you’ll need to create an account.
The CSS Profile opens on October 1st. The College Board recommends double checking which of your schools have the earliest priority filing date and submitting it no later than 2 weeks before that deadline. In general, most schools want your financial aid forms submitted around the same time as your application deadline.
The cost to submit the CSS Profile is $25 for the first application and $16 for each application after. If you qualify for an SAT waiver, you will also qualify for a CSS Profile fee waiver. This is why it’s essential to use the same login information as you used for the SAT.
To be eligible for the SAT fee waiver, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- enrolled in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRPL)
- take part in a federal, state, or local program aiding students from low-income families
- receive public assistance
- live in federally subsidized housing or a foster home or are homeless
- are a ward of the state or an orphan
- have an annual family income below the USDA Income Eligibility Guidelines
To complete the CSS Profile, you’ll need some basic financial information: recently completed tax returns, W-2 forms and other records of current year income, records of untaxed income and benefits, assets and bank statements.
Which Schools Require the CSS Profile
Over 400 schools require the CSS Profile, including top colleges and the Ivy League. So if you’re applying to a top school, chances are you’ll have to complete one. Some of these schools include:
|American University||Fairfield University||
Santa Clara University
|Amherst College||Fordham University||Scripps College|
|Bard College||Franklin and Marshall College | F&M||
|Bates College||Furman University||Smith College|
|Baylor University||George Washington University | GW||
Southern Methodist University | SMU
|Bennington College||Georgetown University||
St. Anselm College
|Bentley University||Gettysburg College||
St. Edward’s University
|Berklee College of Music | Berklee||Grinnell College||St. Olaf College|
|Boston College | BC||Hamilton College||
|Boston University | BU||Hampshire College||
|Bowdoin College||Harvard University||
Stevens Institute of Technology
|Brandeis University||Harvey Mudd College | HMC||
|Brown University||Haverford College||
|Bryn Mawr College||Hobart and William Smith Colleges | HWS||
|Bucknell University||Ithaca College||
Texas Christian University | TCU
|California Institute of Technology | Caltech||Johns Hopkins University | JHU||Trinity College|
|Carleton College||Kenyon College||Trinity University|
|Carnegie Mellon University | CMU||Lafayette College||Tufts University|
|Case Western Reserve University||Lawrence University||
|Catholic University of America | CUA||Lehigh University||
Union College (New York)
|Claremont McKenna College | CMC||Loyola University Maryland||
University of Chicago
|Clark University||Macalester College||
University of Denver
|Colby College||Massachusetts Institute of Technology | MIT||
University of Miami
|Colgate University||Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute||
University of Michigan
|College of the Holy Cross | Holy Cross||Mount Holyoke College||
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill | UNC
|College of William & Mary | William & Mary||Muhlenberg College||
University of Notre Dame
|College of Wooster||New York University | NYU||
University of Pennsylvania | UPenn
|Colorado College||Northeastern University||
University of Richmond
|Columbia University||Northwestern University||
University of Rochester
|Connecticut College||Oberlin College||
University of San Francisco | USF
|Cornell University||Occidental College||
University of Southern California | USC
|Dartmouth College||Pitzer College||
University of Virginia | UVA
|Davidson College||Pomona College||
|Denison University||Principia College||Vassar College|
|DePauw University||Providence College||
|Dickinson College||Reed College||
Wake Forest University
|Drexel University||Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | RPI||
Washington and Lee University
|Duke University||Rhode Island School of Design | RISD||
|Elon University||Rhodes College||
Wheaton College (Massachusetts)
|Emerson College||Rice University||
|Emory University||Sacred Heart University | SHU||
Worcester Polytechnic Institute | WPI
Unlike the CSS Profile, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is used to calculate your need-based financial aid, such as federal grants and loans. You’ll be required to fill out the FAFSA if you’re a student applying for financial aid to one or more colleges in the United States.
Where to Submit the FAFSA
The FAFSA should be submitted online on the FAFSA website. You’ll need to create a unique identifying password, or FSA ID. You’ll use the FSA ID to login to your account and fill out the FAFSA, as well as a legally binding signature once you complete the application. Because the FSA ID is unique to you, your parents will also need to create FSA IDs to sign your application.
If you plan to attend college for the 2021-2022 school year, the federal deadline for submitting the FAFSA is June 30, 2021. If you need to correct or update your FAFSA, those corrections must be submitted by September 11, 2021. Keep in mind that many colleges have their own FAFSA deadlines, so be sure to check with the schools you’re applying to.
As the name indicates, the FAFSA is free to submit and there is no cost.
You’ll need to gather both your financial documents and your parents to complete the FAFSA. This includes information such as tax documents, W-2 forms, and records of your current savings or investments. Even if your income is below the taxable level, you should still have some kind of documentation of that income.
Which Schools Require the FAFSA
If you’re applying for federal aid, every school you apply to will require the FAFSA.
Do You Need to Submit Both?
It depends on the schools you’re applying to. If applying for aid, every school will require the FAFSA. However, not every school requires the CSS Profile. Check out the school’s website and application requirements or call the admissions office to confirm whether or not the school requires the CSS profile.
The good news is that the majority of the documentation needed to complete the FAFSA and the CSS Profile is the same, so once you complete the FAFSA, completing the CSS Profile should feel a little more straightforward.
How Much Can You Expect to Pay for College?
The price you’ll pay after financial aid depends on a variety of factors, such as the cost of the school, your family’s income, assets, and more. Don’t be scared away by high sticker prices, as many expensive private schools offer generous aid. In fact, for some families, private schools may be cheaper than in-state public universities after financial aid.
If you want an estimated cost, you can use each school’s net price calculator, or sign up for a free CollegeVine account to get access to our cost calculator and chancing engine. These tools will estimate your costs for hundreds of schools in the U.S., and also let you know your personal chances of acceptance.