Filing for Financial Aid

If you have applied for a college and were accepted, you might be wondering, now how do I pay for the next few years of my education. If you are like most students, you need help in the form of financial aid awards and loans to attend school. In order to receive help in these different forms of financial aid, there are two applications that schools require for students and their families to complete prior to attending school the following year. Schools require students to fill out the FAFSA (The Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which schools use to determine your eligibility for federal aid, including federal grants, work-study and loans. As the name implies, the application is free; you will just need a few documents to complete it. Don’t delay though, since high school seniors can begin submitting FAFSA applications on October 1. Another form used to determine financial aid eligibility is called the CSS profile. This application was created by the makers of the SAT and while not all colleges require it, around 400 colleges do, so it’s important to find out the requirements of your school.

Which application do you use?

While all schools require the FAFSA for any student in need of financial aid, the CSS profile is only required by about 400 colleges and is administered by the college board.

Key differences

While the FAFSA is the same application for all students, the CSS profile can vary depending on the school. The CSS profile typically requires more information than the FAFSA and weighs the family’s income and assets differently than the FASFA.

In instances of divorce and separation, the CSS profile typically asks for the noncustodial parent’s financial information, unlike the FASFA.

The CSS profile includes the value of small businesses and non qualified annuities and home equity, but the FAFSA excludes this information. Because of these factors being included in the CSS profile, it might make sense for families to use equity to pay down larger interest loans or credit cards, which will reduce the amount of equity they list.

The FAFSA includes gifts made by parents or grandparents that help with college costs as assets, while the CSS profile includes this money as income.

Schools that use the CSS profile also ask for information about expenses during the school year, including estimated academic year income, medical expenses, school tuition or any other factors that could affect your ability to pay. The FAFSA is more straight forward and doesn’t include these additional factors; including these factors gives financial aid counselors the ability to consider a student’s circumstances when determining aid based on the CSS profile. The extra information required by the CSS profile is only there to help financial aid officers understand your family’s abIlity to pay for education, not to hurt your chances at financial aid. Since the FASFA aid calculation is more straight forward, it won’t necessarily produce a more generous financial aid package. Because of the differences between the two, you may receive very different levels of aid from different schools.

The major difference between the two is that the FAFSA is for federal aid while the CSS profile is for determining non-government financial aid. The CSS profile is there to provide students with financial aid packages to make attendance possible. The CSS profile gives financial aid counselors more freedom in determining a student’s aid based on their circumstances, whereas the FAFSA contains the same questions and formula for all students. Not having a straight forward formula means that you may receive more money from the CSS profile, if there are contributing factors that the FAFSA doesn’t consider.

The FAFSA form is free for all students, but the CSS profile requires a filing fee of $25 for the first application and $16 for any additional. In some instances, schools will waive this fee for students based on eligibility. Because of its in-depth questions, the CSS profile can sometimes take much longer to fill out, but it increases your chances of receiving financial aid that you may never have received from the FAFSA.

When applying for financial aid, it’s important to know what applications your college requires. While the FAFSA must be filled out if you need any form of financial aid, the CSS may or may not be required by your school. If it is required, remember that the extra time and more in-depth questions needed on the CSS profile can help positively impact your reward level, since financial aid counselors have more freedom to consider your financial aid situation.

If you need help filing for financial aid, Optimum Ed can help. Give us a call at 800-457-1364 or Email Us.

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