College Applications: The CSS Profile (a Necessary Torture)

Senior Fatima Farha on a wearing hijab.

Senior Fatima Farha on a wearing hijab.

By Fatima Farha

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Senior Fatima Farha on the CSS profile.

Senior Fatima Farha on the CSS profile.

When it comes to the college application process, there are so many aspects that it gets difficult to keep track of what we have to do and when we have to do it. There are the obvious applications, which include essays, and then we have to ask teachers for recommendations, and make sure all of this is done by specific deadlines. With such an array of things to get done, it seems ridiculous that there might be more. Unfortunately, the college application process does not just end with the click of the submit button on the Common App. There is also the looming College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile.

CSS is an essential application for financial aid given by the College Board. Since college is so ridiculously expensive, many families have difficulties paying for it. I can relate very well because I live in a family of five with only one breadwinner, and it is unrealistic for me to think that my parents can pay for my entire college tuition. Because of this, I had to fill out the CSS Profile so I could get some money with which I could pay for college.

It is torture. This extremely long application requires very close detail, and asks for all different types of financial information, starting with information from tax returns, W-2 forms, parents’ assets and expenses, and even the students assets and expenses. It took me six hours to finish, even with my dad’s help. You don’t really realize how difficult it will be until you start it, so here are five simple suggestions to help you get through it, and possibly do it quicker.

  1. Stay organized: Since you have to refer to so many legal documents for this application, it’s a good idea to gather them all beforehand and lay them out. Remember to take out the federal income tax returns and W-2 forms. Have a parent with you to help you keep everything tidy. You don’t want to lose anything or miss out on important information.
  2. Choose the right application: When you log on to the College Board website and go to the CSS profile page, you will see two options to “sign in” to. There is the fall 2014, spring 2015 option and the fall 2013, spring 2014 option. Choose the fall 2014, spring 2015! That is the one for us, the incoming freshman next fall. If you choose the other one, the schools will automatically assume you’re an incoming student for this upcoming spring, which isn’t what you want.
  3. Know which schools you have to send it to: While the CSS profile is important for financial aid, not all schools require it. Several schools only require the FAFSA form, which is a separate financial aid application issued by the government later in January. Make sure to know exactly which schools need it and when each of their deadlines are. Also, there is an application fee for every school you send it to, so you don’t want to be wasting money on schools that don’t even require it. Save every penny you can, you’ll need it!
  4. Consult the Help Guide: Before you begin the application, there will be a page in which the college board answers all of the frequently asked questions. Bookmark it. You might think you’ll know how to do all of it, but once you start you’ll find that there are many questions you don’t know how to answer. But this help guide will get you through it quicker.
  5. Review EVERYTHING before submitting it: Right before you click on the submit button, an entire page will show up of every section you filled out. Read it carefully and check every answer with a parent. This is tedious, but it will save you from a panic attack later if you realize you filled in something wrong. With the CSS profile, there is no going back. Once you submit, you can’t change anything except add more schools to send the application to. Try your best to make sure every single piece of information is accurate.

If you follow these five simple tips, you should be able to get through the CSS profile without suffering from extreme frustration or panic attacks. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of time. Do it on a weekend when you have nothing else going on because once you start it, it’s best to finish it on the same day and just get it over with. Just like other applications for college, the CSS profile is reviewed very closely, and it is significant. Once it’s over, you’ll feel a rushing sense of relief, and it’ll feel amazing. Just get to it as soon as possible, and finish it early so you can enjoy the rest of your senior year without having to worry about further work for college applications.