College  |  September 18, 2023  |  Arianna Blakely

What's the difference between a CSS® Profile and the FAFSA®?

What you'll learn
  • What the CSS Profile® is
  • Key similarities and differences between the FAFSA® and the CSS Profile®

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA®, is the best way to get federal financial aid for school, but it’s not always the only application you should submit. Nearly 300 colleges, universities, and scholarships require the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile®footnote 1. Let’s lay out the similarities and differences between the two.

What is the CSS Profile®?

First things first, the CSS Profile® is an application created by the College Board. Familiar with the SAT® and Advanced Placement (AP®) classes? The College Board is responsible for those. The CSS Profile® is issued by private colleges and universities to figure out what kinds of non-federal grants, loans, and scholarships, you’re eligible for. The College Board has a list of all the schools and scholarship programs that require you to submit a CSS Profile®.

Similarities between the FAFSA® and CSS Profile®

The CSS Profile® and the FAFSA® have a few things in common:

  1. Both of them are online applications that you can submit as early as December for the 2024-25 academic year.
  2. You have to list the schools you’re interested in applying to on both of them.
  3. They both ask for you to share your financial information to determine your financial need.

How the CSS Profile® and the FAFSA® differ

The CSS Profile® has three key differences that separates it from the FAFSA®:

  1. It’s not free. To file with one school, the CSS Profile® costs $25. For any additional schools you apply to, you’ll have to pay $16 per school. The fees can be waived for undergraduate U.S. residents with family incomes up to $100k. You may also be able to have your fees waived if you’re an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24, or if you previously qualified for SAT fee waivers. Once you complete your CSS Profile® application, you’ll be able to find out if you’re eligible for a fee waiver.
  2. You have to share more detailed financial info. The CSS Profile® asks for more nitty-gritty details, like financial information from non-custodial parents, the net worth of small family businesses, home equity, non-qualified annuities, and medical expenses, among other things. Student income and assets are also weighted higher on the CSS Profile® than on FAFSA®. This way, financial aid counselors at schools that use the CSS Profile® have more freedom to give students aid based on specific circumstances.
  3. It has its own way of determining your aid. The CSS Profile® takes the information you provide and inputs it into a formula called Institutional Methodology to determine your financial need and your estimated ability to contribute to the cost of tuition. On the other hand, the FAFSA® uses the Federal Methodology formula to calculate student need.

Before you start the FAFSA® or CSS Profile®

Once you’re ready to start filling out your CSS Profile® or FAFSA®, check out our FAFSA® Guide and extra information.


footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.

footnote External links and third-party references are provided for informational purposes only. Sallie Mae cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided by any third parties and assumes no responsibility for any errors or omissions contained therein. Any copyrights, trademarks, and/or service marks used in these materials are the property of their respective owners.

footnote FAFSA® is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid.

footnote CSS Profile, SAT, Advanced Placement, and AP are trademarks registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, this website.

footnote 1. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/everything-you-need-to-know-to-complete-the-css-profile#:~:text=The%20CSS%20Profile%20is%20an,colleges,%20universities%20and%20scholarship%20organizations.