Still Dragging your feet on the FAFSA and CSS Profiles?
You may want to start marching.

Did you know that the average cost of a college education in the United States has tripled over the last two decades, nearing $36,000 PER YEAR at the present moment? That includes an average of $25,615 for in-state public institutions and a whopping $53,949 for private schools. 

While we can’t stop the increasing cost of an education, there’s still time to get ahead of the game by completing your FAFSA and CSS Profiles ASAP.  We cannot emphasize enough how important this is, but we’re going to try.


What it is:

FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Who uses it:

The federal government, states, and colleges/universities – both public and private.

Who should fill it out:

Anyone who may need to supplement the cost of college.

Even if you are a full-pay student family, it is generally recommended to apply.

What types of funding:

Grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans.

(Check out this blog post to understand the different types of aid you’ll see in your financial aid letter!) 

Why it's important to fill it out early:

  • Funds do run out, particularly for grants and merit aid. Those who apply early (between October and December) get 2x the grants of those who wait! You don’t have to pay back grants, so we like these odds.
  • The earlier you apply, the earlier you are able to see financial aid offers from colleges. That means you’ll be able to more accurately compare offers from colleges to which you’ve been accepted and make your decision earlier.
    • Say it comes down to Yale and Penn. On paper, they look to be about the same cost of attendance. With your financial aid offers in hand, you may find that one is substantially more affordable than the other.
    • Further, you may be able to utilize some other options:
      • Appeal: You can call or email the institution’s financial aid office directly and appeal for more aid or a specific kind of aid. They may be able to offer additional financial assistance based on your circumstances. This is especially pertinent if your family’s financial situation has changed since submitting the application (say, due to medical emergencies or losing a job)
      • Leverage: In fact, you may decide that Penn’s offer is much better, but you still want to go to Yale.  Yale allows you to “leverage” an offer, meaning that they allow you to show them that Penn offered you more money so that they have an opportunity to match or exceed the offer.

CSS Profile

What it is:

College Scholarship Service Profile, administered by the College Board

Who uses it:

These 400 schools.

(Note that contrary to popular definitions, the CSS Profile is NOT just for those applying to private colleges and universities. Several state schools use the CSS Profile as well!) 

Who should fill it out:

  • Anyone applying to one of these schools who wants to receive additional aid. 
  • International students. Although you are not eligible for FAFSA-based grants/aid, institutions sometimes provide aid for international students

What types of funding:

  • Beyond the aid that you can receive from the FAFSA, CSS institutions offer additional aid through this profile. 
  • Depending on the institution, this can include grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and loans.

Why it's important to fill out early:

  • Just like the FAFSA funds, institutional funds are limited and do run out. We recommend applying as soon as possible to make sure you are considered for aid.
  • Each school has its own priority filing date, and you should submit at least two weeks in advance. (You can check with specific institutions for their priority filing dates.) 

Other important details:

  • There are fees associated with the CSS Profile – $25 for the first school and $16 for each additional school. However, the fee is waived for certain applicants. 
  • This application is for institutional aid only. You need to submit this in addition to–not in lieu of–the FAFSA
  • This application is more detailed and nuanced than the FAFSA. For example, it takes both parental incomes into consideration, even if divorced. In these event of special circumstances, such as estrangement from one or both parents, you may need to reach out to your specific institution’s financial aid office to ask about exemptions and/or waivers. 

Final thoughts:

Go fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile today!  In addition, your state may offer specific funding and aid, such as Pennsylvania’s PHEAA, which includes more grants, scholarships, and low-cost options to pay for college

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