Show Me The Money: Filling Out the FAFSA and the CSS Profile

College is expensive. But there are also many ways to defray the cost. From financial aid, to outside scholarships, opportunities are out there to lower the cost to families. Two of the most important resources in accessing financial aid are the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile). While the FAFSA is an application for federal student aid, the CSS Profile is an application for nonfederal aid (outside scholarships and scholarship programs). 

Completing the FAFSA involves several steps: 

  • Getting a FAFSA ID: go to the FAFSA website ( and register for an ID. 
  • Gathering the documents: to complete the FAFSA you will need you Social Security number, you parents’ Social Security numbers, drivers license information, and Federal tax forms and information. Be sure to have these documents at the ready to be sure that the process goes quickly. 
  • Providing basic information: be sure that when you fill out the FAFSA, your name matches the name on your Social Security card. You cannot put your preferred name here.
  • Listing the colleges: have your college list already prepared by this point in order to streamline the process. You can list up to 10 schools on your FAFSA. 
  • Providing financial information: you will need to use income records for the year prior to the academic year that you are applying for. If, for example, you are filling out the 2015-2016 FAFSA, you will use your tax information from 2014. 
  • Sign and submit: before you submit, make sure that, to the best of your knowledge, the data you entered is correct and accurate. 

For more information on filling out the FAFSA, see:

CSS Profile: 

  • Note that International students have special instructions! 
  • Register and complete the profile. 
  • It will require much of the same information as the FAFSA does. 
  • If you don’t have the information for the current year, it is okay to estimate. 
  • Information you will need: tax records for the year your are applying (if completed, or estimates); tax records for the previous year, W-2 forms, current bank and mortgage statements, records of stocks, savings, bonds, and any other investments. 

For more information on filling out the CSS Profile, see:

This page is also available in: Spanish