Getting accepted to college can seem like the biggest challenge facing students. However, for many parents the real struggle lies in paying for that education.

Most people have heard of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA profiles are used by colleges and the government to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. While 13 million students benefit from this program, many students still find themselves unable to afford their degrees.

How can that be? FAFSA uses your tax information to determine aid, so shouldn’t it be accurate?

It’s important to recognize that FAFSA does not consider every factor that may limit a family’s ability to pay for college; it only looks at total taxable income and assets. A parent being self-employed or owning property may inflate a family’s income on paper, when in reality their expenses may be so high they are just scraping by.

So what can students do if they know their FAFSA awards are going to be low? Fill out the CSS profile, of course!

The College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile for short) is an extension of the Common App overseen by the College Board, and is used to help students apply for non-federal financial aid. Approximately 400 colleges and universities now use this system, with aid totaling over $9 billion!

The CSS profile uses roughly the same information as FAFSA. Which may lead to the question: won’t that result in the same amount of aid? Not necessarily.

FAFSA has very strict guidelines on how aid can be awarded. With the CSS profile, colleges have much more autonomy regarding where aid is spent. This means that you can appeal to your school on a much more personalized basis, which may result in a larger award.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t an either/or situation. You can apply for both! Almost every student will fill out FAFSA (even those who do not wish to obtain financial aid) as part of their school’s registration process, whereas the CSS profile is optional.

It is possible that even with both these sources of aid, affording college may still be a struggle. But fear not! There are countless private scholarship opportunities out there. It may sound cheesy, but when it comes to financial aid, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Make sure you speak up about your concerns, your needs, and your individual situation, and don’t let finances stop you from getting an education!

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