financial aid application process

describe the imageSo you just clicked the “submit” button on your child’s FAFSA, and maybe you’re thinking, “Phew!  Glad to be done applying for financial aid!”  Well, take a deep breath, Moms and Dads, because you may not be done with financial aid applications yet.  Many schools (about 300 of the close to 4,000 colleges in the US, almost all of them private) require an additional financial aid application called the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.  Why the extra form?  The PROFILE allows colleges to collect more information than the FAFSA so that they can conduct a rigorous analysis some colleges believe provides a more realistic measure of a family’s ability to pay.  There are many differences between the FAFSA and the PROFILE, below are some of the most important ones for students and their families.

FAFSA Financial Aid Application vs. PROFILE Financial Aid Application 

  1. Application Cost:  Filing the FAFSA is free, but the PROFILE isn’t — it costs $25 to submit to one school, and $16 for each additional school to whom you have to send information.  PROFILE fee waivers, however, are available to low income families.
  2. Financial Aid Application Timing:  Though the FAFSA cannot be completed until January 1st of each year, the PROFILE becomes available earlier — in October.  If your child applies Early Action or Early Decision to any college, the school might request the PROFILE be completed by November so that they can provide a tentative financial aid offer with an early admission decision.
  3. Income:  Colleges using the PROFILE often expect families to contribute a smaller percentage of their income toward college than do colleges using just the FAFSA.  The PROFILE formula gives greater allowances against parental income to cover taxes, basic living and employment expenses, education expenses, and medical/dental expenses, though it also “adds back” tax breaks like depreciation that don’t really impact a family’s cash flow.  The PROFILE formula also allows for geographical cost-of-living differences that are ignored by the FAFSA.  Large families with many allowances, or families from high cost zip codes, therefore, may see a lower Expected Family Contribution (EFC) at schools using the PROFILE.
  4. Assets:  Families with assets, however, may have a different experience, as the PROFILE collects more information about the family’s assets and may treat those assets differently. The PROFILE requests information about a family’s home equity and the assets of a student’s siblings, as well as any small family-owned businesses, whereas these assets are excluded from calculations at FAFSA-only schools.  The PROFILE, however, allows colleges to select different treatments for family assets that can actually reduce their impact in the financial aid formula.
  5. Family:  PROFILE colleges also take a more all-encompassing view of a student’s family than do FAFSA-only schools.  The FAFSA only considers the finances of the custodial parent(s), defined as the parent (and opposite-gender second parent/stepparent, if applicable) with whom the student lives the majority of the time.  Schools that require the PROFILE, however, usually request the financial information of both the custodial and noncustodial (or same-gender second parent), as well as any stepparents, so that the entire family’s financial circumstances can be considered when making financial aid decisions.  If noncustodial parent information is unavailable, this PROFILE requirement may be waived on a case-by-case basis by individual colleges.

As always, pay close attention to the financial aid application requirements of each school, and, if you need to submit both the FAFSA and PROFILE, you may want to complete the PROFILE first, as it contains every question asked on the FAFSA and allows you to print a summary of responses that can be easily transcribed onto the FAFSA.  You can then finally breathe that sigh of relief!

And, don’t forget – you can always ask for more money!



Written by Shannon Vasconcelos
Shannon Vasconcelos is a college finance expert at College Coach. Before joining College Coach, she was a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Tufts University and Boston University. Visit our website to learn more about Shannon Vasconcelos.