CSS Profile

The FAFSA vs. the CSS Profile

There are two financial aid forms that colleges use: the FAFSA & the CSS Profile.

What's the difference?

Cost: The FAFSA is free; the CSS Profile costs $25 to submit + $16 for each college. However it is free for students who took the SAT with a fee waiver or who qualify based on their income.

Which colleges use it?: All colleges require the FAFSA, only some, mainly private colleges use the CSS Profile.

Who are your parents: The FAFSA only asks for information for the parent(s) that you spend more time living with; the CSS Profile has a non-custodial Profile section that asks for information from your non-custodial parent.

Difficulty: Both ask for similar financial information, but the CSS Profile asks for more detailed information and usually takes longer to fill out.

Formula: The FAFSA & CSS Profile calculate your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) slightly differently. For example the CSS Profile collects information on the value of your family's home, the FAFSA only collects info on additional real estate owned, beyond that of the home where your family lives.


The CSS Profile is a bit more complex than the FAFSA since it requires more information from you and your family. It is also much more difficult to make corrections to the CSS Profile once it's submitted, so take your time to fill it out accurately.

Also take note of each college's CSS Profile Priority Deadline (especially if you are applying early) since colleges often have different deadlines. You'll complete the CSS Profile on the College Board website. Like the FAFSA, it opens on October 1st of each year, so here's how you can Get Started with the CSS Profile. For support:

  • Consult the CSS Profile Student Guide
  • Use the CSS Profile Tutorial for more detailed step-by-step instructions
  • If you have specific questions as you're completing the CSS Profile, use the CSS Profile Live Chat feature. This tool links you directly with CSS Profile support staff members who you can instantly message and receive a response! (Available 9am - 10pm ET, Monday-Friday)