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 http://www.profileonline.collegeboard.com/. 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.