Think that applying for financial aid begins and ends with the FAFSA? Not so fast! Find out about the CSS PROFILE and other financial aid forms that colleges might require.
Some Colleges Use Two Different Financial Aid Applications
One source of financial aid paperwork stems from the fact that there are two methods for calculating aid. If you are applying to highly selective schools, be prepared to encounter both methods.
The Federal Methodology. Most colleges calculate aid using only the information derived from a student's FAFSA. This is called the Federal Methodology (FM). All colleges must use the FM to allocate federal and state aid. Most colleges also use the FM to award "institutional aid," which comes from the college's own resources.
The Institutional Methodology. Some colleges (mostly highly selective private colleges) want a more complete idea of a family's financial circumstances in order to allocate institutional aid. These colleges use a different method to calculate financial need called the Institutional Methodology (IM), meaning the institution (the college) uses its own formulas to award aid that comes from its own resources.
The PROFILE Goes Further Than the FAFSA
The College Board's CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is the aid application most colleges use to collect information for their IM calculations. Colleges can add their own questions to the PROFILE, so it may differ from college to college. For example, Harvard's PROFILE asks almost 30 additional questions.
The PROFILE comes with three parts:
- The PROFILE application. The main application asks for more financial information about students and parents than the FAFSA. For example, it asks about medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance; the current value of the parents' home; trust funds for the student and siblings; the tuition parents may have paid for younger dependents' education before college; the amount a divorced parent will contribute; and any explanations of special circumstances that have a bearing on the family's ability to pay for college.
- The Noncustodial Parent's Statement. Some colleges require financial information from a divorced or separated parent with whom the student does not live. This parent, called a "noncustodial parent," is asked to complete a two-page form and return it to the college with the relevant tax returns. If the student is unable to get the noncustodial parent to complete the form, an adult who knows the student, such as a school counselor, clergy, or principal, can write a letter explaining the situation. Each college has its own policy about providing a waiver for the noncustodial parent contribution. Most are quite strict.
- The Business/Farm Supplement. This form asks about any businesses or farms owned by the student or parents. It helps determine the current and long-term profits (or losses) from such properties.
The cost to file the 2013–2014 PROFILE and any accompanying forms is $25 for the initial college plus $16 for each additional college or scholarship program selected. (Fee waivers are available.) File online at collegeboard.com.
Other Aid Forms and Applications
After you've completed the FAFSA and PROFILE, chances are you're still not finished! Other financial aid paperwork will probably be required.
The college's own financial aid forms. Some colleges have forms that inquire about the student's major, expected date of graduation, and other school-specific questions. A college may use a form to request the parents' permission to release the information to other relevant agencies. Separate financial aid applications for out-of-state and international students are common.
Tax returns and W-2 forms. You are not required to send tax forms with the FAFSA or PROFILE. However, some colleges may request these forms later.
State financial aid paperwork. Some states have separate aid applications or supplemental forms. In California, for instance, candidates for Cal Grants must return GPA verification forms.
College admission applications. The college's regular admission application can be an important part of the financial aid procedure. Many applications ask whether the student will be applying for financial aid, so the college can send the student the relevant forms. Some admission forms even serve as the school's scholarship application or as a supplement to it.
College scholarship applications. Some colleges consider every student for scholarships based on the admissions application. Others have separate scholarship applications in addition to the college admissions application. The financial aid section of the college's website should have the details.
Tips for Dealing with Paperwork
Apply on time. Deadlines for these forms are set by the college and are usually between January and March. They may not be the same as the FAFSA deadline. Put these dates on your college planning calendar and check them often.
Keep copies. Financial aid documents take time to prepare, and they inevitably ask similar questions. Keeping copies of completed forms and submitted documents—and any paperwork used to prepare them—will save you a lot of time.
It's worth it. It's easy to get discouraged by all this paperwork. But it's not as daunting as it looks—and the payoff can make it all worthwhile.
Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.