Monday, December 21, 2009

CSS/PROFILE - The Other Financial Aid Form

In earlier postings on the financial aid application process I have mentioned that schools may require applicants to submit different or even more than one form, especially if the colleges are allocating both federal money and their own institutional funds. Virtually all colleges and universities use the FAFSA which my faithful readers know is required for all federal aid. However, there are roughly 300 private institutions that also have families complete a form called the CSS/PROFILE which they use to award their private grant money and scholarships. The PROFILE, as it is known in shorthand, is administered by the College Scholarship Service (CSS), the financial aid division of the College Board, and it is only accessible through the College Board website. One can find the form most directly by going to The College Board website is also the place to go to find the list of the colleges and universities that require the PROFILE. I would still advise families to visit the websites of each college to which your child is applying to check the form requirements and deadlines for submission.

In many respects, the FAFSA and PROFILE take similar approaches to the way they determine the Expected Family Contribution. Like the FAFSA, the PROFILE looks at both the student and parents’ income and assets. The good news is that much of the information that you gather to complete the FAFSA will also be necessary for the PROFILE. However, there are a few major differences in the type of information required and in the methodologies, both of which may have a material effect on the outcome.

Some of the key differences are:
- The FAFSA, which is referred to as the Federal Methodology or FM, asks the same questions of all applicants, regardless of the college. The PROFILE or Institutional Methodology (IM) questions may vary from school to school, as colleges have some discretion to tailor the form to their specific institutions. As long as college financial aid officers remain within their institutional policies, they have the flexibility to exercise their “Professional Judgment” as they see fit.
- In general, the PROFILE requires more information than the FAFSA, particularly in terms of assets and expenses. For example, the IM considers the equity in the family’s primary residence (though a handful of colleges have elected to exclude this from the calculation, Princeton among them).
- The FAFSA asks for income information for only the tax year prior to the year of enrollment (e.g., the 2009 tax return information for the 2010-2011 academic school year); the PROFILE requires 3 years of income disclosed: the two prior to the year of enrollment and a projection for the coming year.
- The PROFILE permits an allowance for secondary and elementary school tuition of siblings and also one for medical expenses. The FAFSA does not.
- With the Institutional Methodology students, regardless of income, are expected to contribute to the cost of their education, though it may be a nominal amount. The FM makes no such requirement.
- For students with divorced parents, the FAFSA never requires financial information of the non-custodial parent (the one with whom the student resides less than 50% of the time). However, if the custodial parent has remarried, the stepparent’s income is considered. Not so for the PROFILE: many schools that use the IM require financial information of both the custodial and the non-custodial parents. Check with the individual colleges to find out their requirements.
- The FAFSA, as its name implies (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is free while the PROFILE costs $5 to process plus $18 for each school.
- Lastly, the FAFSA does not become available online until January 1. The PROFILE is accessible in the fall of the year prior to matriculation. In other words, it is available NOW!

One last thought: Most colleges use these financial aid forms for awarding need based aid, not merit aid. There are exceptions, however. The best thing to do is to check with each school’s financial aid office to find out what is required to be eligible for both need and merit aid. As I have previously noted, the FAFSA must be completed for any students who wish to borrow under the Stafford loan program, regardless of need. And truly one last thing: financial aid deadlines at many schools follow close on the heels of college application due dates, so please look carefully at websites to make sure that these important deadlines are met.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Financial Aid Forms - What You Should Be Doing Now

It is mid-December and high school seniors are busy putting the final touches on college applications and essays. However, it may not yet be time to kick back and wait. Another deadline is lurking just around the corner and that is the due date for the submission of financial aid forms. The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the financial aid form used by all institutions to determine eligibility for federal funds, will become available online January 1 for the 2010-2011 academic year (go to ). Many colleges have set financial aid deadlines in February and March, and a few are even earlier! So planning ahead is important in order to get your forms filed in time.

Even if you believe you will not qualify for financial aid, it is a good idea to fill out the FAFSA. Any student hoping to borrow under the unsubsidized Stafford student loan program is required to submit the FAFSA. For these federally guaranteed loans interest accrues while the student is in school and financial need is not a factor for eligiblity.

So what should you be doing now, prior to actually filling out the financial aid form? Here are a few tips to help you get organized to make the filing process as simple as possible.
1) While people gripe about the burden of completing the FAFSA, gathering the necessary documents may in fact be the most tedious part of the process. Required documents include the student’s driver’s license (if any) and social security number, his or her 2009 W-2 forms and other records of money earned, the student’s 2009 federal tax return, the parents’ 2009 federal tax return (for dependent students), any untaxed income records (this includes child support), and current bank statements as well as investment and business or farm records.
2) Keep copies of these documents together with your completed financial aid forms; should your application be selected for verification (schools are required to verify, at a minimum, 1 in 3 financial aid applications), you will be asked to submit these to the college.
3) Obtain a FAFSA pin number by going to The student and one parent will each need to establish a pin number which is both your electronic signature and the number you will need to access your online FAFSA form.
4) Check the financial aid section of each college’s website to find out the forms required and the deadlines for submission. Keep in mind that the earlier you submit, the sooner you get into the financial aid queue.
5) You may find yourself working to meet early financial aid deadlines before you are able to file your 2009 federal tax returns. In this case you will have to estimate your adjusted gross income, federal taxes and non-taxable income in order to get your financial aid forms submitted in time. Many people estimate these numbers based on the prior year tax return, and then update the form with more accurate information once the return is filed. If you are certain that you will not qualify for financial aid, but are completing the FAFSA so that your child is eligible for Stafford student loans, you may hold off submitting it until after you have actually filed your 2009 tax return.

Completing the FAFSA is really not as painful a process as some would have you believe. Not only has the 2010-2011 form been simplified, with as many as 1/3rd fewer questions, but the directions are generally clear and simple. Families are directed to the relevant lines on their tax returns for many of the required answers, taking away much of the guesswork. Remember that need-based financial aid is awarded annually. This means that all necessary financial aid forms must be completed each year that the student is in school.

Stay tuned for upcoming information on the CSS/Profile, the financial aid form that many private colleges use for allocation of their institutional funds.