Navigating Your Way Through the FAFSA and the CSS Profile

For high school seniors seeking financial aid for college next year, the time is quickly approaching to fill out the 2021-2022 FAFSA and the 2021-2022 CSS Profile; both applications open on October 1, 2020. Families should complete the applications as early as possible to ensure that they meet all deadlines and that the schools still have financial aid available for their student. Families do not need to wait until a student has applied for admission or has been accepted. However, be sure to wait until after October 1st to complete the forms, because otherwise you are submitting for the wrong school year. Below are some steps to help guide you through the process before the application opens.

To get started, let’s talk about what the FAFSA is. Called FAFSA for short, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form used by most colleges that determines your eligibility for financial aid from federal, state, and college sources. The form specifically collects families’ financial and personal information. With this information, and using an algorithm, colleges are able to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). To reiterate, FAFSA is not a loan; it is the application to determine your eligibility to receive grants, loans, and/or work-study from the federal or state government as well as the individual colleges to which you apply. While FAFSA collects financial and personal information from both the parents and the student, it is important that the student fills this out and creates a profile under their name and email address.  Below are tips about how to apply, where to apply, and what is needed:

  • To apply for FAFSA, access this link where you can create your Federal Student Aid ID. This will start the process to create an account with FAFSA.
  • Wondering if you are “qualified” for FAFSA? FAFSA is the application to see if you are qualified. So, if uncertain, by all means apply! This is a process; the information provided on the application will determine if you are eligible for assistance or not.
  • Seniors applying to colleges for the 2021-2022 academic year will need their family’s 2019 tax returns to complete the form.
  • For a more detailed breakdown of the process, access this official link of the Federal Student Aid. The Student Aid website contains the step-by-step process and a list of the required documents needed while applying.

Moreover, as important as it is to fill out the FAFSA, it’s just as important to fill out the CSS Profile for certain universities (usually the private universities). The College Scholarship Service Profile, also known as the CSS Profile, is an application through which universities determine how much non-federal financial aid you may need. To clarify, while the FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal or state grants, loans, and other governmental support, the CSS Profile is an application that determines your eligibility for institutional aid (that is, financial aid from the specific college/s to which you apply). The CSS Profile application opens on October 1, 2020 as well. Ideally it should be submitted no later than two weeks before the priority filing date specified by your college.  To find your college’s FAFSA and CSS Profile deadlines, visit their financial aid website.

  • Before applying, check with your college’s information to determine whether they require the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile Homepage also provides a link to a list of participating colleges.
  • Access and sign-in to the CSS Profile here.
  • The process to complete this application–after you have created an account and signed in–requires your federal tax returns and other financial information.
  • You can find further information about the CSS Profile here, with the 2021-2022 CSS Profile Student Guide.

Some colleges require the FAFSA – and maybe the CSS Profile, too – to be considered for merit aid. If a student seeks merit aid, we highly recommend completing the FAFSA. Even if you don’t think you are eligible for financial aid, it doesn’t hurt to complete the FAFSA or CSS Profile. Taking this extra step may also be helpful should your family experience a financial change—such as a job loss—during the school year. For even more information, the Common Application has a tab labeled “Financial Aid Resources” that provides helpful tips in both English and Spanish.

Mark your calendars for October 1, 2020, to start filling out both of these applications. Good luck!

For questions about the FAFSA or the CSS Profile, please call or email us at International College Counselors: [email protected] or 1-954-414-9986.

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