Students for whom financial aid is a priority will in many cases be better served by focusing on schools that use the FAFSA and not the CSS Profile. Likewise, a student whose first choice school uses the Profile and is out of reach financially would be well-served in the financial aid appeals process to find a competitive school that uses the FAFSA.

It’s a common misperception that all private schools require the Profile. In fact only about 200 of the more than 1,700 private nonprofit colleges do, and the College Board publishes the list of participating schools here. That leaves more than 1,500 private schools that use the FAFSA to choose from.

FAFSA schools that meet financial need will cost less than comparable Profile schools based primarily on the following factors, not all of which will apply in every situation:

  • Home ownership. Even when the value of home equity is capped, it generally adds a lot to the formula. (Note that a number of Profile schools have stopped including home equity in their formulas.)
  • Divorce. The FAFSA only counts the custodial parent’s income and assets, whereas the Profile requires both to report.
  • Non-parent-owned 529s. The Profile requires the student to report all 529s for which they are the beneficiary, not just those owned by the custodial parent.

So, what’s a student to do? If you’re applying to a Profile school, find a comparable school that uses the FAFSA and also apply to it. Search tools like Collegedata can help you identify similar schools based on the criteria that matter most to you– size, location, etc. If nothing else, looking for schools that only use the FAFSA could give you some additional choices that might cost less– especially if one of the latter two circumstances above applies to you. Even better, if you get accepted to both you may have some leverage to negotiate your aid offer with your top choice, more expensive school if you get a better financial aid offer from the other school.