Ask Cappex: How Does the CSS PROFILE Work?
Our college expert Mark Kantrowitz answers your questions about college and financial aid.
Q: How does the CSS PROFILE work and how is it different from the FAFSA?
A: The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is a financial aid application form used by about 200 colleges and universities for awarding their own financial aid funds. The PROFILE form is developed by the College Board’s College Scholarship Service (CSS).
Colleges that use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form must still use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for federal and state aid.
The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE attempts to prevent wealthy students from looking poor by asking more questions than the FAFSA.
Both forms estimate a family’s ability to pay, called the expected family contribution (EFC), by assessing a portion of discretionary income. Discretionary income is what is left from total income after mandatory expenses are subtracted. Mandatory expenses include allowances for taxes as well as a minimal allowance for living expenses.
The EFC calculated by the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form is usually higher than the EFC calculated by the FAFSA, leading to less eligibility for need-based aid.