Differences Between the FAFSA and PROFILE Forms

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The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE (CSS PROFILE) are the main financial aid application forms. Each form uses a different needs analysis formula. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) uses the Federal Methodology (FM) for determining financial need, while the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE uses an Institutional Methodology (IM). The details of the institutional methodology may vary from college to college.

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE asks significantly more questions than the FAFSA. The questions on the PROFILE form are also more detailed and specific.

Key differences between methodologies are summarized in this table:

Financial Aid Formula Components FM (FAFSA) IM (CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE)
Net Worth of Family Home Ignored Capped, usually at 2-3 times income
Simplified Needs Test Yes No
Net Worth of Small Family Businesses Ignored Counted
Number of Years of Income One Three
Minimum Student Contribution or Summer Work Expectation No Yes
Paper Losses (Depreciation, capital losses, business/farm losses, NOL carry-forwards) Counted Ignored
Non-Custodial Parent Income/Assets Ignored Counted
Number of Children in College Equal split of parent contribution Smaller reduction in parent contribution
Assets Owned by a Sibling Ignored Counted, if sibling is under age 19 and not yet in college
Allowance for College Savings None Subtracted from assets
Allowance for Emergency Reserve None Subtracted from assets
Start of Application Season January 1 October 1
Adjustment for Regional Cost of Living Differences No Yes
Assessment of Student Assets 20% 25%

The adjustments to the parent contribution based on the number of children in college at the same time are summarized in the next table. The calculated parent contribution is multiplied by the percentages listed in this table.

Number in College FM (FAFSA) IM (CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE)
1 100% 100%
2 50% 60%
3 33% 45%
4 25% 35%

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE also offers families the opportunity to provide a narrative to describe any extenuating circumstances that may impact their ability to contribute to college expenses. The FAFSA suggests families seek a professional judgment review from their college’s financial aid administrator.

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