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How To Get Help Filling Out Your CSS Profile

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Applying to college is exciting, but it’s also up there among some of the most stressful things you’ll ever do. Part of the reason for that is the confusing process of applying for financial aid

If you’re like almost three-quarters of applicants recently surveyed by Citizens Bank, applying for financial aid is even more stressful than applying to colleges! So, if you’re at your wit’s end about the aid process, you’re not alone. That same survey also revealed that over half of applicants do not even fully understand the student loan process

For many, a big stumbling block seems to be filling out the CSS Profile.

At least that’s been my experience over the years working with parents of college-age kids. The CSS Profile is just not a simple tool to use, which is why we’ve always had lots of demand for services that assist parents with filling out this particularly complex application. 

Unfortunately, that’s about to change. I’ll explain it below. But if you’re here for help with completing your CSS Profile, this is the place to start. We have many CSS profile tips and tricks for you!

Below, find answers to your Frequently Asked Questions on filling out CSS Profiles, followed by CSS profile tips and tricks… essentially everything you need to know in order to finally get started on completing your CSS Profile.

CSS Profile FAQ’s (and CSS Profile Tips and Tricks!)

1. What is the purpose of the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile was created by the College Board on behalf of our highly selective colleges and universities with the intention of creating a fairer method of determining a family’s demonstrated financial need.  They called it the Institutional Methodology to distinguish it from the Federal Methodology which continues to be used by most other schools.

2. How can I find out if my selected colleges are using the institutional methodology?

Here is one of the CSS profile tips and tricks that you need! A full list of the CSS Profile Schools is updated by the College Board each year. You can safely assume that if your selected colleges are not on this list, they are very likely to use the Federal Methodology.

3. Why is all this so confusing?

Not long after the creation of the Institutional Methodology, each school began making its own determination on what is considered to be a “fair” method for the assessment of student/parent income and assets. 

For example, some schools using the Institutional Methodology assess home equity without any limitation on the amount, while others limit the assessment to a multiple of the family’s adjusted gross income.  Still, others do not assess it at all. It’s important to keep up with new CSS profile tips and tricks! 

4. Do schools ever change the way they assess aid eligibility?

Yes! What makes things even more confusing is the fact that schools may even change their assessment method each year! That makes it very difficult to get useful information on how each one will treat your home equity. This is also a major reason why the net-cost calculators of the highly selective schools are not helpful or accurate.

All of this makes it almost impossible for a family to estimate their college costs.

To try and alleviate some of the confusion, a group of college administrators put their heads together to try to come up with a solution.

5. What is the Consensus Methodology?

In an effort to end all the confusion and to address the inconsistency in the system, a group of two dozen highly selective colleges got together in the mid-90s. Their goal was to create another methodology that would be consistent from college to college.  They appropriately called it the Consensus Methodology

This effort, unfortunately, has also unraveled as different schools have also each gone their own way in how they assess different asset classes.

The result? Added confusion for parents who are trying to estimate their net-cost for their children’s’ education.  

6. Am I the only one confused by all this?

Absolutely not! Parents and students are still totally confused. To give you an idea of the massive confusion that has been created around the financial aid application process, follow this link. It takes you to a 2007 dialogue among parents on the College Confidential forum. It should be pretty clear to you after skimming the thread for just a moment, just how confused people really are. 

Even after attempts to simplify things, parents are still baffled about how colleges using the Institutional or Consensus Methodology are likely to calculate their need-based financial aid.    

Limitations on CSS Profile Assistance

Continued confusion makes it hard for me to admit this but our hands are tied. Though My College Planning Team will continue to provide clients with college reports on schools using the CSS Profile, we cannot assure clients on their accuracy except to say that they will usually present a worst-case scenario in their EFC calculation. 

This is due to the variations in the methodology used by each school and — even worse — the differences in how they may choose to treat each individual family’s income and assets. 

Unfortunately, because of the problems just stated, our legal advisors have advised us to no longer assist clients with the completion of their CSS Profile. This is not a scenario we wanted to see unfold but as I said earlier, our hands are tied.

But the last thing I want is to leave you hanging without any recourse for getting help. What we can still do is refer people to the tutorials offered by the College Board and other sources. I’ll list what I have found to be the best sources for help with their CSS Profiles at the end in the resources section. 

But before you go, please know that we’re still here for every parent who needs assistance with the college planning process. We’ll work with you to find the best solutions whatever your circumstances may be. Schedule a consultation and find out what we can do for you.

We hope you found these CSS profile tips and tricks helpful! Listed below are some more helpful resources. 

Helpful Resources

CSS Profile-2019/20

Basic Instructions/Deadlines

CSS Profile: Everything You Need to Know in 2019-20


Tips for completing the CSS ProfileTM

CollegeBoard Tutorials

Matt Grzetich received his BA in Organizational and Corporate Communications from Northern Illinois University. He has over 10 years of experience in Assisting families to understand the enrollment and financial aid process within Higher Education. His most recent experience has been Managing the Student Finance Operations team for a large proprietary University and specializes in: FAFSA, the appeals process, reviewing award letters and Title IV Funding options. Matt is passionate about helping families understand the financial aid process and navigate the most cost-efficient options to pay for college. He is also the father of two small children and volunteers his time within the school district.

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