Financial aid form confusion could add to college costs

by Katherine DeMarco
In order to receive federal financial aid for college tuition, students must fill out the Free Application Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA). But many college websites have led students to believe that they must also submit the CSS PROFILE, a form from the College Board. In fact, only the FAFSA is necessary for federal grants, scholarships and loans.
This was the topic of a letter sent by Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, which was released to the public on Feb. 3. In Cummings’s letter, he states that more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide either require forms other the FAFSA, or fail to make clear to applicants that the FAFSA is the only required form.
   The College Board’s CSS PROFILE is an online application for college aid that some colleges use to award need-based and merit scholarships. The profile costs $25 to send to a single college or organization, and $16 for each additional one. Students must create a College Board account in order to complete the form. The College Board is a  not-for-profit organization that is not connected to the federal government or its financial aid programs.
Typically, the FAFSA form cannot be completed until early January. Because the CSS PROFILE can be filed in the fall, several universities will ask for the form for  early action or early decision deadlines.
Many colleges suggest that students use the FAFSA to apply for federal aid, and require that students complete a CSS PROFILE to receive financial aid and merit scholarships from the institution itself.
Virtually all universities have deadlines for financial aid applications and will not accept any more applications once the deadline passes.
Most public universities require only the FAFSA form, including most public  institutions within New Jersey and neighboring states. Students should check the websites of individual colleges to find out which forms each institution requires.