The CSS Profile is an institutional aid application used by many selective private colleges and a few public universities.  You should think about this application as a supplemental application to the FAFSA.  For students eligible to apply for federal student aid, such as the Pell Grant and federal loans, the FAFSA is an absolute MUST.  You can only apply for federal student aid using the FAFSA.  But federal aid is often not enough to allow a student to pay for college, so institutional aid can be very important.  And the way to get access to that aid at some colleges is to file the CSS Profile.




    While there isn’t a good rule for which application to do first, you probably want to do the FAFSA, then complete your CSS Profile, but if your college advises otherwise, follow your college’s advice.


    While the CSS Profile is usually a supplement to the FAFSA, it may be the primary aid application for international students.  The CSS Profile serves students all over the globe and allows families to report their financial information in their home currency.  Unlike the FAFSA, a Social Security Number is not required in order to submit the CSS Profile.  This makes it possible for students who are not U.S. Citizens, regardless of where they live, to use the CSS Profile to apply for institutional financial aid.


    Why would a college require the CSS Profile?  Simply because the FAFSA does not ask enough questions.  The FAFSA is trying to understand who needs the Pell Grant; the CSS Profile is trying to help the institution understand who needs the college’s money.  To put this in perspective, the FAFSA is used to determine who gets a Pell Grant of up to $6,000.  Colleges that use the CSS Profile can easily award amounts of more than $60,000.   When looking to award that amount of money to a single student you want to make certain you understand the full financial picture of that student and their family. This requires a deeper dive into their finances, which the CSS Profile allows the college to do.


    Colleges want to have a much broader look at families so they can understand who really needs institutional aid and to award that aid in a fair and consistent manner.  And if the student’s parents are no longer together, that might mean collecting CSS Profiles from each of the student’s parents.


    And why should you complete a CSS Profile?  If you are going to one of the colleges that uses the CSS Profile, you should make certain that you do what is needed to open that door to the institution’s financial aid.  Simple as that!