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4 min read

Common Questions About the CSS Profile and IDOC

Common Questions About the CSS Profile and IDOC

The CSS Profile is a standardized financial form that is required at over 400 colleges and universities across the country—and a little less than one-fourth of them also require IDOCS. For high-performing students applying early decision to colleges that meet full need, November application deadlines are creeping up. Plus, the CSS Profile and IDOC are requirements that many first generation students aren't familiar with, so, let's review!

What is the CSS Profile?

The CSS Profile is an online form that collects in-depth financial information in order to help you qualify for financial aid. While the FAFSA is the standard form for federal financial aid, the CSS Profile is used by many schools that award their own institutional aid. So, completing the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA will help the schools determine your eligibility for institutional aid. 


What questions are asked by the CSS Profile?

In addition to tax results, the CSS Profile asks more questions than the FAFSA in order to gain a better sense of your family's financial situation.

For example, they will ask questions about your family's home. A family who rents or is in housing transition will put a 0 for the answer. It will also ask you to estimate the future income of your family.

Lastly, one of the most notable differentiators is that the CSS may require income from your Non-Custodial Parent (a biological parent you mostly haven't lived with in the past year; the FAFSA doesn't require it). If your parent is remarried, their spouse's income will also be included.

Check out our full comparison of the FAFSA and CSS Profile for even more details.


What if I am not in contact with my non-custodial parent?

If you're not in touch with your non-custodial parent, fill out the Non-Custodial Waiver form included in the CSS Profile application. A non-family member such as counselor, teacher, or social worker will also need to write a letter confirming the information is correct.


Can I explain my unique financial situation?

YES! It can be very time consuming filling out the CSS Profile; however, it will give you the opportunity to explain if your family is taking care of an elderly family member, high cost of child care, medical bills, extended family members in the home, loss of employment, divorce, death, or a family member who is on disability.


What if my family doesn't have any investments?

The CSS Profile asks for information about any investments. If your family doesn't have any, simply answer 0 for any of those questions. Do not leave these questions blank. 


Why must I fill this out at the same time as applying early decision?

If you are accepted early decision during mid-December, the results of your CSS Profile will allow the college to give you a financial aid package. You'll have a few days to determine if your family can afford the aid package. If your family cannot afford the offer, you (the student) can deny the ED acceptance. If you accept the offer, you must call or email all other colleges you applied to and notify them of your accepted ED offer.


Is the CSS Profile free to complete?

No it is not. According to the College Board, the cost is $25 to fill out the form and $16 per college application.

You may qualify for a fee waiver if one of the following sounds like you (also according to College Board):

  • "Family adjusted gross income is up to $100,000
  • The student qualified for an SAT fee waiver
  • The student is an orphan or ward of the court under the age of 24"

Fee waivers are calculated based on your answers to the CSS Profile and will be determined at the end of the application. If you don't automatically qualify, you can contact the college directly and request a fee waiver based on financial hardship.


How do I complete the CSS Profile?

If you've taken an AP, PSAT or SAT test via the College Board, you already have an account. If not, you'll need to create a College Board account. Once you have the account, go here to fill out the CSS Profile.

Be sure to give yourself plenty of time. You'll need to submit the form no later than the application deadline.


What is the deadline to complete the CSS Profile?

Just as the FAFSA typically is (read how the new FAFSA is different), the CSS Profile becomes available for completion on October 1st every year. You should be sure to complete it 2 weeks before your earliest application deadline. So, if you're applying for early admission, your deadline is much earlier than your friends who may be applying regular decision. 

You don't have to complete the CSS Profile all at once. You can complete sections and save your progress as you go. Be sure to check each school's website for deadlines, as they may vary by school.


How is the CSS Profile data used?

As already mentioned, the CSS Profile is used differently than the FAFSA in order to help institutions determine how much aid they might award you as a student. For a more detailed understanding, check out this financial aid webinar recap.


An Overview of IDOC

IDOC stands for Institutional Documentation Service, and is a third service that can assist with financial aid documentation. Similarly to the CSS Profile, the IDOC is also administered by the College Board. As opposed to the CSS Profile and the FAFSA which send a report of your information to colleges, IDOC allows you to submit those documents directly via a secure portal. 

If the IDOC is required, you'll be notified via your College Board account as to which documents need uploading. Each college decides which forms they need from you. The service allows you to scan and upload the required documents directly to your college. Students can check here for CSS Profile, IDOCS, and Non Custodial Parent Information requirements for each of their college choices. 

First generation students should work closely with their counselor to assist in this process.  Bring a list of what is required for each college and have the counselor scan the documents the way the college requests. It's not unusual for the college to ask for more information down the road, so be sure to watch the your College Board account and emails closely.


You can handle this!

Completing the CSS Profile—or any financial aid form—can be intimidating at first, but it's also pretty straightforward once you dive in. Take your time reading through the questions, and be sure to ask for help from teachers, counselors, and mentors when needed. The CSS Profile is especially valuable for students that are low-income, first generation, and high-achieving. 

The results paint a much clearer picture of your financial situation and results in a better financial aid package for you! Plan ahead and give your counselor time to assist you in scanning the documents for upload into your IDOC account.

This is one deadline you definitely don’t want to miss.

This article was originally published on October 20, 2020. It was updated on October 11, 2023 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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