News: College Access & Success

9 Common CSS Profile Mistakes and How To Avoid Them

Wednesday, January 23, 2019  
Posted by: Jamese Carrell, Member Services Associate
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The CSS Profile is an institutional aid application used primarily by highly selective private and public colleges and universities to determine a student’s institutional aid eligibility. Approximately 400 higher education institutions and scholarship programs utilize the CSS Profile.

Students and families commonly make several mistakes on this form that can cause a delay in their application being processed and negatively impact a student’s ability to fund their college education.

In an Oct. 24 webinar hosted by NCAN, Susan McCrackin, senior director financial aid methodology enrollment at College Board, discussed what the CSS Profile is, why some colleges require it, how to correctly complete it, and when it should be submitted. More importantly, McCrackin identified common mistakes made on the CSS Profile application.

As your students are filling out college applications, you may work with some who need help completing their CSS Profile application. Here are nine common CSS Profile mistakes and how to help your students avoid them.

  1. Applying for the wrong academic year.

    Solution: Naturally, students and their families want to select the year that they are completing the form (2018-19). But like the FAFSA, the form is for the following academic year, 2019-20 (the year that the student will be a first-year student, or a freshman).

  2. Entering names or Social Security numbers incorrectly.

    Solution: Students should report their name as it appears on legal documents, and the same goes for their Social Security number. Be careful, as typos can easily occur in this section of the form and have major impacts.

  3. Entering the student’s date of birth incorrectly. Sounds silly, but this could happen!

    Solution: This is a great place to double-check that a sibling’s birthdate wasn’t entered, or even a parent’s.

  4. Answering questions about the student’s status incorrectly. This mistake typically happens when a parent is responding to questions on the form as himself or herself, as opposed to responding with the student’s information.

    Solution: Parents should carefully read and make sure they understand whether a question requires parent or student information.

  5. Reporting parents’ information on student questions and vice versa. This happens most when parents enter their income and assets under the student’s income and asset questions.

    Solution: Again, parents should carefully read and make sure they understand whether the question is asking for parent or student income. If parents enter their income and assets as their student’s, this will have major implications on what the institution believes that student’s financial need is.

  6. Not properly reporting the student’s parents. If the applicant incorrectly reports parents, as defined by the CSS Profile, the forms appears incomplete to the institution’s financial aid office. This can cause a delay in the CSS Profile being processed.

    Solution: Here students should report their biological and/or adopted parents. If those parents are separated/divorced, students should provide information on their parents' current spouse/partner.

  7. Selecting a graduate school instead of an undergraduate college and/or university.

    Solution: This another great opportunity to double-check that you’ve submitted the correct school type. In the school section, seniors should never select law, business, or medical graduate schools.

  8. Not utilizing the Special Circumstances section to tell a financial aid office about a family’s story.

    Solution: Tell the institution about any current significant financial strains. Being embarrassed to do so can impact a student’s financial need being met, and we don’t want that to happen.

  9. When parents are divorced or separated, both parents reporting that the student lives with them, or neither reporting that the student lives with them.

    Solution: Students need to start by reviewing this list of participating colleges and checking a specific college’s financial aid website. Some colleges will require information from both biological parents (your custodial parent and your noncustodial parent). Each parent will complete the application separately. Learn more by watching this video on "Completing the CSS Profile for the Noncustodial Household."

Now that we’ve reviewed common mistakes, you may be wondering when a student should complete the CSS Profile. The institution drives that deadline, so check the institution’s financial aid website. Another suggested tip here is for the student to set their personal deadline five days before the institution’s deadline. This will help them avoid potentially missing the deadline, which we don’t want to happen!

Applications like the CSS Profile can be intimidating for your students to fill out, but your guidance makes the process of filling out this form less stressful and more manageable.

Still have questions? Here are some additional CSS Profile resources from the College Board.

(Image via College Board)