The Ultimate Guide to the FAFSA

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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:


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.


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.