Some colleges require FAFSA and/or CSS Profile completion to get any aid including merit scholarships.
Tips for getting the aid you deserve!
What is the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid comes available each year on October 1st for those who will be in college in the next academic year. To take advantage of federal student loans which are available to all students regardless of income and/or to qualify for income-based grants, completion of the FAFSA is required. Keep reading before you dismiss filing as you could miss out on free merit aid, if you don't submit!
Tips for Completing the FAFSA:
- Both the parent and student need an FSA ID in advance of starting the FAFSA. Get yours here. Parents use the same FSA ID for all children attending college.
- Don’t complete it in the first week it is open while the system experiences high volume, fixes in coding and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is offline. For most people, the Data Retrieval will easily import your necessary IRS tax return information and will verify your data.
- We suggest completing by November 1st as college and state deadlines vary greatly; some colleges begin handing out money as early as November!
- Complete it regardless of your income.
- Some colleges require FAFSA completion before they’ll give out merit scholarships – check with each school. For example, this year (and others) Purdue University requires submission of FAFSA for departmental merit scholarships.
- Situations change. If there is a future change in income due to job loss, divorce or even death (unfortunately, LEAP has seen this with clients many times) it will save a lot of time during a stressful situation as you add in the appeal for more aid based on your change in circumstances.
- For two-household families, the parent where the students spends >50% of his or her time is the parent who completes the FAFSA. The other parents’ household income is not included.
- Step-parent income is included if the parent filing is remarried.
Is the CSS Profile Required?
LEAP welcomes the return of our friend and guest blogger, Beatrice Schultz with Westface College Planning. She’s an expert on planning how to pay for college and getting a great return on your investment.
While not as commonly used as the FAFSA, for those colleges that do use it, completing the CSS Profile is a requirement to qualify for any non-federal financial aid, and who doesn’t want some extra money toward their college fund?
It is very likely that one or more colleges in your personal top 10 list will need the CSS Profile as well as the FAFSA in order to be considered for all available financial aid.
Be prepared: Colleges that request the CSS Profile include those from one end of the spectrum to the other, from the well-known (Santa Clara University), lesser-known (Whitmore College), large (Boston University), to small (Pomona) private colleges; even a few public colleges (University of Michigan) opt for the CSS Profile.
How is the CSS Profile Different than the FAFSA?
1) Unlike the FAFSA which is spearheaded by the federal government, the CSS Profile is administered by the CollegeBoard (our friends who own the SAT).
2) While the FAFSA is FREE, the CSS Profile requires a cost for submission ($25 for the first college and $16 for each additional college).
3) The CSS Profile is available 10/1 each year, just like the FAFSA. Some colleges have deadlines as early as November 1 for Early Action and Early Decision applications.
4) Every college requires your submission of the FAFSA for consideration of any government financial aid. Colleges that ask for the CSS Profile require it to determine your eligibility for various non-government avenues of financial aid.
5) Are you part of a two household family? Unlike the FAFSA, the CSS Profile has many colleges requesting that the Noncustodial Profile be separately completed. For those colleges, an Expected Family Contribution will be calculated for both households.
6) Colleges that call for the CSS Profile also will likely request copies of tax returns, W2s, plus supplemental forms for every business and farm. Make sure you know the requirements for every college. It’s important!
Is it worth the time and effort to file for financial aid?
YES! Many students who do not qualify for government need-based aid do qualify for college-specific financial aid. You may be one of them! These institutional funds are specifically targeted for those students who have income and assets that are too high to qualify for government funds.
Check the list of colleges that use the CSS Profile and check the financial aid web page for EVERY college on your list. Discover which explicitly requires the CSS Profile and Non-Custodial CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA. Confirm the related deadlines and submit the application before the cut-off date.
Applying for both the FAFSA and CSS Profile (where requested) guarantees your maximum potential amount of gift aid for college funding from sources other than student loans! Remember, you have to apply to even be considered.