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Financial Aid Primer: #6. FAFSA and CSS Profile – The Basics

I’ve talked about the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and PROFILE in some earlier communications.  To remind you, the FAFSA is the front door to financial aid, and if you don’t file it, you can’t be considered for any kind of need-based aid.  Depending upon the school, you also may not be considered for any merit aid, either.  So, be sure you walk through that financial aid front door!  Most families do.

The FAFSA

What will the FAFSA process look like?  Remember that the FAFSA process determines your eligibility for federal financial aid, and in some cases institutional aid, too.

  1. Gather Financial Aid Information About Schools of Interest:  No later than the fall of your child’s senior year in high school, determine what the deadlines and relevant forms are for the schools to which your child will be applying.  Some schools will require only the FAFSA, while others will also have you fill out PROFILE.  Still others will use their own proprietary forms in addition to the FAFSA.  Financial aid application requirements can generally be found on schools’ websites.  Be sure to check each school individually for its requirements.
  1. Apply for a FAFSA PIN:  A PIN is required before you can submit the FAFSA. You can get this PIN by going to www.pin.ed.gov.
  1. Fill Out and Submit the FAFSA: This can be done either on-line or as a hard copy.  To fill one out on-line go to:  www.fafsa.govThe FAFSA becomes available in January of your child’s senior year.  Fill it out as soon as you possibly can and well in advance of schools’ deadlines.

In addition to some other basic information, the FAFSA will require you to supply the two most recent years of tax information.  Since you will be filling it out in January (hopefully), this means that you will have to project your tax filing for the most recently concluded year.

If you visit www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov , you will be able to get an early estimate of your Expected Family Contribution based on the information that you will input into the FAFSA form.  Note that this tool will not tell you with certainty what your EFC will be, but it can give you a good ballpark number.

  1. Receive Your SAR:  Several days after you submit your FAFSA (if you are filing on-line), you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR).  In the SAR will be the government’s determination of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This is a very important number since it will determine your need and eligibility for aid.

CSS PROFILE

What will the PROFILE process look like?  The PROFILE establishes whether a student qualifies for additional aid from a college itself that is above and beyond what the federal government will provide.  The form is available on-line from The College Board.  PROFILE asks for similar types of information as the FAFSA, however, in far greater detail.  Schools that use PROFILE will calculate a new, and most likely different, EFC than what the federal government has calculated on the FAFSA.  They will then use this new EFC to award their institutional aid.  To submit a PROFILE, you can visit profileonline.collegeboard.com. 

  1. Establish if Schools of Interest Require the PROFILE and What Deadlines Are: The PROFILE is used by only 10% of all colleges in the U.S., so investigate whether any of your child’s schools use this form.
  1.  Do the PROFILE Pre-Application Worksheet:  Because of the more complex nature of the PROFILE, The College Board provides you with a worksheet that can be printed from their website which enables you to gather and put down on paper all of your information prior to your attempting to put it into the actual PROFILE form.
  1. Fill Out and Submit the PROFILE: The PROFILE form generally becomes available in October of your child’s senior year.  Note that this is several months earlier than the FAFSA. To submit a PROFILE, you can visit www.profileonline.collegeboard.com.
  1. Receive Your PROFILE Acknowledgement:  Immediately after you have submitted your form, you will receive an acknowledgement which contains a list of the schools that will be getting the information as well as a summary of the information that you input into the form.

Be Aware!!!  Schools deplete their financial aid over time!

  • Be Precise:  Fill out your financial aid forms as correctly as possible! Carefully review your SAR and your PROFILE acknowledgement for errors.  Mistakes in your forms can delay the process significantly and make you lose out on financial aid dollars.
  • Be Quick:  Complete your financial aid forms as early as you can.  Students who apply immediately have a better chance of getting aid.

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Advisor, Westfield, NJ

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