Students who apply to a private college will need to complete two financial aid forms to qualify for financial aid and free scholarship money. In addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA), 90% of private colleges will require a family to fill out their own financial aid form or the College Board form which is called the CSS Profile form.
The Profile form asks over 250 financial questions, including tax information for the most recent two-year period. The basic difference between the two forms is that the Profile form asks questions regarding the value of your primary residence, and all mortgages and equity loans against it. In addition, you are not required to electronically sign it. There are many intrusive questions (a.k.a. nosy ones). For example, some schools will ask your religion, which in any other situation is illegal. But as the colleges have found, there is no harm in asking and the majority of parents will answer the questions, even though they are not legally required to do so.
The most glaring difference between the FAFSA and the Profile form is that a family does not receive a report stating their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as with the FAFSA form. More importantly, what happens after the form is completed? This is where it gets complicated. Every college in the country has a different financial aid policy, therefore making it next to impossible to compare and contrast “packages.” Some schools will only send the “aid package” and will not include the cost of attendance (the all in cost). Other schools will include the cost of attendance making it easier for parents to determine the families’ cost. It’s all very complicated and confusing. Unfortunately, there is no dictionary to make the translations from “government-ease” to the parents’ language. If a family does not like the aid package, they can appeal the financial aid decision to the Financial Aid office. Again, each school has their own policy on how to handle appeals. Our next blog will deal with appeals.
Please keep in mind that a Financial Aid office is there to take in money, not to give it out.