6 Qualities of the CSS Profile – The Other College Financial Aid Form

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The Collegeboard's CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile) is a secondary financial aid form required by 300 to 400 colleges, universities, and scholarship programs. And it is a doozy. Where as the FAFSA asks for approximately 150 pieces of financial and demographic information, the Profile can ask for over 300 different pieces of information. Here are six characteristics of the Profile of which you need to be aware.

1. Earlier filing – Unlike the FAFSA form which can not be filed until January of the student's senior year in high school, the Profile can be filed as early as the beginning of October. This can put a lot of pressure on families to gather their financial information much earlier. In anticipation of filing the Profile, gather up the important financial information now and set it aside in a convenient place. You will need your 2008 IRS tax return, current cash and investment balances, your mortgage information, and estimated income and financial data for 2009 and 2010.

2. Fewer schools – The FAFSA form is required by every college across the country (over 3,800) if you want the money. The Profile, however, is only required by about 300 to 400 schools and scholarship programs. These schools will typically be the Ivy League, the near Ivies, the most selective private colleges, and a very small handful of very selective state schools. For those schools that do want the Profile, you will typically file the form months ahead of filing the FAFSA for the same school. You can tell if a school requires the Profile by checking the school's financial aid website, or by checking the list at CollegeBoard.com.

3. Cost – The FAFSA form does not cost anything to file as is is a service of the federal government. The Profile on the other hand is administered by the Collegeboard, a private, non-profit company. The Collegeboard charges $ 25 to register for the Profile which includes your first college submission. For each additional college to which you want to submit the information, the Collegeboard charges you $ 16.

4. More Information – The FAFSA form asks for about 150 pieces of information. The Profile can ask for over 300 different pieces of information. As compared to the FAFSA, the Profile will ask for much more detailed information regarding: your retirement assets, businesses, farms, and real estate. The Profile will often ask for you to compile a family budget. Unlike the FAFSA that asks for only one year's tax and income information, the Profile asks for three years of information: the last completed tax year; estimations for the current year; and projections for the following year. If the parents are divorced or separated, the Profile will often ask for detailed financial information on the non-custodial parent; whereas the FAFSA only cares about the custodial parent's information. The Profile can even go so far as to ask what kind of car you drive. I assume they are tyring to find some kind of disconnect if you drive a $ 100,000 Mercedes but only make $ 30,000 a year.

5. Changing your Profile – Before submitting the Profile, you can make changes as many times as needed to the online form (at Collegeboard.com). However, after submitting the Profile, you can no longer make any changes to the form. This is in contrast to the FAFSA which can be changed after submission at any time. In order to correct or update any information on the Profile after submission, you have to print out a paper copy of the Profile, indicate the changes on the form, and then deliver that form to each college who received the Profile. You can however add additional colleges after submission via Collegeboard's online form.

6. IDOC – The Instituational Documentation Service (IDOC) is the Collegeboard's verification system for information submitted on the Profile. For a school that uses the FAFSA only, verification is conducted by sending documents (tax returns, W-2's, etc) to each individual school. For schools that use the profile, those forms are sent one time to IDOC, and then IDOC distributes the needed information to the schools. This is probably the one and only aspect of the CSS Profile process that is simpler than the FAFSA.

To file the CSS Profile, visit CollegeBoard.com.

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