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What is the CSS profile?

interstride logo by Interstride
October 6, 2023

As an international student applying for financial aid in the US, colleges and universities will likely ask you to complete a CSS Profile (College Scholarship Service Profile). The CSS Profile, created by the College Board who produces the PSAT and SAT, is a tool that can help you paint your financial picture, and open the door for potential financial assistance from colleges and universities.

The CSS Profile is for non-federal aid, meaning that any financial assistance that comes from completing the profile, will be directly from colleges, universities, and sometimes scholarship programs. For schools that are not need-blind, information you submit through this form may be taken into account when schools are reviewing your application.

Domestic and international graduate and undergraduate students can all complete the CSS profile, though not all schools will require it.

What is the CSS profile?

The CSS Profile is an online financial aid application used by US colleges and universities to evaluate a graduate or undergraduate student’s need for institutional financial assistance. Colleges and universities use the CSS Profile to learn more about a student’s family financial situation, to calculate the financial requirement of a student’s family, and award aid to students equitably. While not all schools in the US accept the CSS Profile, over 400 colleges and universities use the CSS Profile to award over $9 billion in institutional aid.

Whereas the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is catered to US citizens and residents, and the ISFAA (International Student Financial Aid Application) to international students, the CSS Profile is designed for both domestic and international students. The CSS Profile helps colleges and universities in the US understand your financial need, while taking your international status into account.

Interstride Tip: Domestic students will apply for financial aid using the FAFSA. As an international student, you must apply for financial aid individually through each school or scholarship program, using the CSS Profile, ISFAA, or both. Review each school’s website for information about how to apply for financial aid as an international student.

What’s included in the CSS profile?

The CSS Profile makes applying for financial aid as an international student as simple as possible. The application is tailored to each student’s family and their financial needs, and will only ask the questions your school needs answers to in order to determine aid eligibility. Additionally, the CSS Profile allows you to complete parts of it in your home currency for ease of application. There are a handful of sections to the CSS Profile, including:

  • College and Programs: In this section, you’ll indicate which schools and universities you are interested in. These schools will receive the information you fill out in the profile.
  • Personal Information: This section will ask for your home address, language spoken, if you have any pseudonyms, and any other demographic information.
  • Family Information: Family information will ask for information about your parents, family members, and who lives in your household.
  • Financial Information: This is where you will report your personal income if any, the income of your family, or any foreign assets you have access to. The CSS Profile will require financial information from both parents, and their spouses if applicable.
  • Special Circumstances: In this section, you will include any unique situations you have experienced, or are currently experiencing. You should note any financial hardships you or your family may have experienced, and be prepared to provide documentation if necessary.
Interstride Tip: The cost to complete the CSS profile is fairly reasonable, at $25 for your first school, and $16 for any additional school. There are no fee waivers available for international students in completing the CSS Profile. 

How to apply

In order to apply for aid through CSS Profile, there are a handful of steps you should follow.

Step 1: Make an account on the College Board website. If you have taken the SAT’s or PSAT’s, or if you are a graduate student who completed the CSS profile already as an undergraduate, you may already have an existing account. You’ll also want to make sure you start an application for the correct academic year.

Step 2: Gather your documents. The CSS Profile will ask for financial information from your parents, and if applicable, you as well. You and your parents should be prepared to need:

  • Your most recently completed tax returns, aka how much you and/or your parents earned in your home country the previous year.
  • Passport and visa information.
  • Records of you and your parents’ income in the current year.
  • Any records of untaxed income and benefits for the current and previous tax year.
  • Bank statements for all active accounts.
  • Any records of savings, bonds, etc.

Step 3: Indicate which colleges and universities will receive your completed profile. There are no limits to the number of schools you can select. If you can’t find your college or university, it may be because your school does not accept the CSS Profile. Make sure to review your school’s financial aid policies, as some have their own portal or prefer the ISFAA.

Step 4: Complete all sections of the CSS Profile, submit, and pay the fee. The CSS Profile does not offer fee waivers unfortunately. To complete the CSS Profile and submit to one school, you’ll pay $25. Any additional school you’ll pay $16. You will complete the CSS Profile every year that you want financial assistance.

Insterstide Tip: Have a conversation with your parents early on about finances and the CSS profile. You may need to guide them through the form, especially if they are not comfortable with English, or are not familiar with the US higher education system. You’ll also want to make sure your financial documents can be translated to English language and currency.

Final thoughts

Completing the CSS Profile can be a way for undergraduate and graduate international students to access certain institutional grants and scholarships that they may be eligible for based on financial circumstances. However, it’s worth noting that not all students will see financial assistance from the CSS Profile. Regardless, you should always complete the CSS Profile each year as this helps your school get to know the financial makeup of students, and see if you have become eligible for additional financial assistance.

Insterstide Tip: In addition to the assistance offered through the CollegeBoard, they also have put together a helpful step-by-step training on “Completing the CSS Profile as an International Student.