What is it and how does it work?
CSS Profiles are similar to FAFSA forms in that they are forms you fill out in order to qualify for certain types of fianancial aid. The CSS Profile is administered by the College Scholarship division of the College Board. Your CSS Profile can be created either online or offline. The online form is the better way to go, because it has some built in error checking, which helps eliminate errors and speed processing. CSS Profiles are used by colleges, and universities to determine if you qualify for non-government based financial aid (such as grants, loans and scholarships).
The CSS Profile is more demanding than the FAFSA, as it evaluates more of your assets (such as if you own a house) in calculating an Effective Family Contribution (EFC). This means that is requires more information and is therefore harder to fill out. In addition, students are expected to make a minimum contribution (FAFSA does not require this) ranging from $900 for freshman to $1500 for seniors.
So far this sounds like more work for less money, but looks can be deceiving. CSS Profiles are required for certain types of non-government financial aid. These programs can be critical to filling out your complete financial aid package, so you may end up needing to fill out both forms. Financial aid can ultimately come from multiple sources. A CSS Profile costs $5, plus $17 for each school that requires your CSS Profile. An additional charge of $2 applies if you submit a paper CSS Profile.
CSS Profiles are designed for use in more discretionary college grants, loans, and scholarships. For that reason, the CSS Profile provides financial aid counselors more latitude in deciding how awards are made. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your particular circumstances. You can learn more about CSS profiles at the College Board website.