FAFSA vs CSS Profile

Although this could be the most boring post you’ll read all month, I’m afraid it’s too important to ignore if you’re looking to qualify for scholarships or other financial aid from colleges in the next year or two.

I get questions several times a week about the process of applying for financial aid, whether a person can even qualify and so forth, so consider the following an abbreviated public service announcement to clear up some of the confusion.

Qualifying for money:  There are two categories of aid, need-based and merit aid.  Need-based aid is based on your financial resources — income, savings, etc. — that the Department of Education, via the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Financial Aid), determines you can use to pay for college.

Spoiler alert:  bureaucrats and formulas don’t always get it right! (Understatement of the year.)

The other most widely used financial aid application is the CSS Profile.  400+ colleges require it IN ADDITION — not in lieu of — the FAFSA.

The main difference between the two is that the CSS Profile is approximately twice as lengthly (and 10 times more complicated) than the FAFSA. It’s used by colleges that have their own resources (mostly private colleges and universities), that’s why it’s more complicated.

Deadlines for each college vary, there is no universal deadline to file.  Financial aid deadlines are DIFFERENT than deadlines for admission, fyi.

Merit aid is given out to deserving students for different, non-financial reasons.  The most common reasons are high GPA (unweighted) and high SAT or ACT scores.

But the plain truth is that merit is in the eye of the beholder.  Colleges award it for any reason they think important, reasons that may not seem “fair” to you or me.  Such as where the applicant lives, if he’s from an upper middle class, mass-affluent neighborhood, that will likely help the student get into that college AND get merit aid.

Not politically correct, but what do you expect from my emails?

Final comment about possibly the least discussed, and therefore most overlooked aspect of getting money for college:  the school’s generosity.  One family can look great on paper (meaning, low income, low savings) and clean up at one college, but get bupkis from another!

This result is not based on the family’s financial particulars, in this case, it’s all about the college, and possibly about how the kid stacked up compared to her competitors applying to the same college.

Oh, there’s so much more to discuss!  But I’m starting to put myself to sleep, so that’s probably a good indication that it’s time to sign off.

Tomorrow my plan is to announce a special, “back to school” promo for our financial aid consulting and forms preparation service and some limited, last-minute help with college applications and essays (first-come, first served), so keep your eyes peeled on your inbox 😉

Speak soon,

-Andy “I Can’t Believe I Wrote an Entire Post About the FAFSA” Lockwood

Leave a Comment