College Board Plans ‘Lighter, Shorter’ CSS Profile — Now Free for Families Earning Less Than $100,000

Families making up to $100,000 a year will no longer have to pay for the CSS Profile, an online form applicants must use to apply for institutional aid at scores of high-profile colleges. The College Board, which announced the change on Wednesday, also plans to create a “lighter, shorter” version of the lengthy application, which many college-access advocates have described as a barrier for low-income and first-generation applicants.

“Financial aid benefits millions of working families every year,” David Coleman, the College Board’s chief executive, said in a written statement, “and we need to make it easier to access those resources.”

The College Board, which owns the CSS Profile, has long provided fee waivers based on an applicant’s parental income and family size (previously, a family of four would qualify with an income of $45,000 or less). Orphans and wards of the court under 24, as well as students receiving SAT fee waivers, also qualify. Otherwise, an applicant must pay $25 to submit the CSS profile to one college, then $16 a pop for each additional one.

Granting a fee waiver to families earning less than $100,000, the College Board said, would double the number of students who don’t have to pay for the application, completed by more than 400,000 students a year. The form, which approximately 300 colleges, universities, and scholarship organizations use to allot about $9 billion a year to students with need, provides a full picture of an applicant’s financial situation and family background. It’s more detailed than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which families use to apply for government grants and loans.

As The Chronicle reported in a deep-dive article about the CSS Profile in February, completing the onerous form is a challenge for many applicants — especially those who happen to be poor. Cost is one obstacle; the form’s complexity is another. One college counselor told The Chronicle that she warns students about the form well in advance by telling them, “When you get to the CSS Profile, colleges are going to ask you to chop off your finger and mail it to them.”

The College Board says that it’s working with colleges on shorter, simpler version of the application. In an email to officials at colleges using the CSS Profile on Tuesday, David C. Meade Jr., the College Board’s vice president for financial-aid programs and services, said a less-detailed version of the application would be a “middle ground,” giving colleges more information than the FAFSA provides, but less than what the current version of the CSS Profile does. The College Board said the new version would be available as early as fall 2022.

The organization said it continues to bolster its technology to make the form easier to complete. The latest version includes enhanced skip logic and customer support for Spanish-speaking families, according to the College Board.

One change to the form: After answering a few key questions, applicants who are eligible for a fee waiver will see a message that says, “Based on information you have provided … you can submit this form for free.” Previously, students saw such a notification only after completing the form.

The College Board’s announcement comes as many colleges are preparing for changes to the FAFSA. Late last year, Congress approved long-awaited revisions to the formand federal aid methodology. As a result of those revisions, which will be phased in over several years, the federal form will be much shorter.

That presents a challenge for colleges. Though the pared-down application will make applying for federal aid less tedious and time-consuming for applicants, some financial-aid officials say it will also make their aid determinations more challenging.

“Many colleges will be looking for information that will no longer be on the FAFSA,” Michael J. Runiewicz, director of student financial services at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Chronicle earlier this year.

That, he suspected, would create more demand for the CSS Profile. And soon there will be a CSS Profile Lite.

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