College Board makes CSS Profile free to more students, plans shorter version

Students with family incomes of up to $100,000 now can complete and submit the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile at no cost, effectively doubling the number of students with free access to the financial aid form. A product of the College Board, the CSS Profile is used by approximately 300 colleges, universities, and organizations to allocate institutional aid. More than 400,000 students use the CSS Profile each year to unlock more than $9 billion toward their education.

In addition to the fee waiver, the College Board announced several efforts to simplify the form. “We’re always looking to streamline the way we serve a wide group of students,” Gail Holt, Amherst College’s dean of financial aid and a departing member of the College Board’s CSS/Financial Assistance Assembly Council, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “We know that the application fee is one of many costs that families worry about, especially at the lowest income levels.”

Removing financial barriers

The College Board announced the CSS Profile fee waiver expansion in late September. Previously, students from a family of four could qualify to submit the CSS Profile at no cost if they had a family income of up to $45,000, or if they met certain other criteria. Without a fee waiver, students pay $25 to submit the CSS Profile to one institution, and $16 for each subsequent college.

Related: Financial aid form unlocks crucial assistance but creates hurdles, too >

The CSS Profile also will now alert students of their fee waiver eligibility earlier in the process, according to the Chronicle. Until this year, students needed to complete their entire CSS Profile in order to learn whether they would receive a waiver. This year’s form, however, generates a notification after just a few initial questions, alerting students who fall below the $100,000 income threshold that they can submit the CSS Profile for free.

In a statement, College Board CEO David Coleman noted that “in the wake of the pandemic, there has been a troubling decline in the number of students applying for financial aid,” saying that the organization felt that “it’s crucial that we reach students early and let them know help is available.”

Related: FAFSA: Completions decline, verification temporarily relaxed >

Plans to simplify, shorten

The College Board also said it is working to simplify the CSS Profile where possible. The form requires more detail than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—asking, for instance, about home equity and changes in families’ financial circumstances over time—in hopes of helping colleges and universities better understand the nuances of families’ financial situations in order to deliver the right aid package.

While the CSS Profile already includes some “skip logic” allowing students to bypass inapplicable questions, the College Board plans to enhance those dynamic features in the form for the 2022-23 academic year.

It also is collaborating with CSS Profile colleges to create “a lighter, shorter version” of the form that institutions could use when they need more information than the FAFSA provides but less than the complete CSS Profile. College Board officials say the streamlined form could be available as soon as next fall.

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