Applying to college is exciting but it’s also up there among some of the most stressful things you’ll ever do. Part of the reason for that is the confusing process of applying for financial aid.
If you’re like almost three-quarters of applicants recently surveyed by Citizens Bank, applying for financial aid is even more stressful than applying to colleges! So if you’re at your wits end about the aid process, you’re not alone. That same survey also revealed that over half of applicants do not even fully understand the student loan process.
For many, a big stumbling block seems to be filling out the CSS Profile.
At least that’s been my experience over the years working with parents of college-age kids. The CSS Profile is just not a simple tool to use, which is why we’ve always had lots of demand for services that assist parents with filling out this particularly complex application.
Unfortunately, that’s about to change. I’ll explain below. But if you’re here for help with completing your CSS Profile, this is the place to start.
Below, find answers to your Frequently Asked Questions on filling out CSS Profiles, followed by a few tips… essentially everything you need to know in order to finally get started on completing your CSS Profile.
CSS Profile FAQ’s
1. What is the purpose of the CSS Profile?
The CSS Profile was created by the College Board on behalf of our elite colleges and universities with the intention of creating a fairer method of determining a family’s demonstrated financial need. They called it the Institutional Methodology to distinguish it from the Federal Methodology which continues to be used by most other schools.
2. How can I find out if my selected colleges are using the institutional methodology?
A full list of the CSS Profile Schools is updated by the College Board each year. You can safely assume that if your selected colleges are not on this list, they are very likely using the Federal Methodology.
3. Why is all this so confusing?
Not long after the creation of the Institutional Methodology, each school began making its own determination on what it considered to be a “fair” method for the assessment of student/parent income and assets.
For example, some schools using the Institutional Methodology assess home equity without any limitation on the amount, while others limit the assessment to a multiple of the family’s adjusted gross income. Still others do not assess it at all.
4. Do schools ever change the way they assess aid eligibility?
Yes! What makes things even more confusing is the fact that schools may even change their assessment method each year! That makes it very difficult to get useful information on how each one will treat your home equity. This is also a major reason why the net-cost calculators of the elite schools are not helpful or accurate.
All of this makes it almost impossible for a family to estimate their college costs.
To try and alleviate some of the confusion, a group of college administrators put their heads together to try come up with a solution.
5. What is the Consensus Methodology?
In an effort to end the all the confusion and to address the inconsistency in the system, a group of two dozen elite colleges got together in the mid 90s. Their goal was to create another methodology that would be consistent from college to college. They appropriately called it the Consensus Methodology.
This effort, unfortunately, has also unraveled as different schools have also each gone their own way in how they assess different asset classes.
The result? Added confusion for parents who are trying to estimate their net-cost for their children’s’ education.
6. Am I the only one confused by all this?
Absolutely not! Parents and students are still totally confused. To give you an idea of the massive confusion that has been created around the financial aid application process, follow this link. It takes you to a 2007 dialogue among parents on the College Confidential forum. It should be pretty clear to you after skimming the thread for a just a moment, just how confused people really are.
Even after attempts to simplify things, parents are still baffled about how colleges using the Institutionalor Consensus Methodology are likely to calculate their need-based financial aid.
Limitations on CSS Profile Assistance
Continued confusion makes it hard for me to admit this but our hands are tied. Though My College Planning Team will continue to provide clients with college reports on schools using the CSS Profile, we cannot assure clients on their accuracy except to say that they will usually present a worst-case scenario in their EFC calculation.
This is due to the variations in the methodology used by each school and — even worse — the differences in how they may choose to treat each individual family’s income and assets.
Unfortunately, because of the problems just stated, our legal advisors have advised us to no longer assist clients with the completion of their CSS Profile. This is not a scenario we wanted to see unfold but as I said earlier, our hands are tied.
But the last thing I want is to leave you hanging without any recourse for getting help. What we can still do is refer people to the tutorials offered by the College Board and other sources. I’ll list what I have found to be the best sources for help with their CSS Profiles at the end in the resources section.
But before you go, please know that we’re still here for every parent who needs assistance with the college planning process. We’ll work with you to find the best solutions whatever your circumstances may be. Schedule a consultation and find out what we can do for you.