CSS Profile Questions FAQ’s

The CSS Profile generates a number of questions from International parents.  It is a complex form.  People have complex financial and personal situations.  Fitting a complex situation into the CSS Profile “box” is sometimes difficult to do.

Best Practice Approach

In a recent webinar we presented a best practice approach for parents/advisors who are completing the CSS Profile as International applicants to US colleges/universities.  Use this approach gives you a manageable approach to filing the financial aid forms.

Hear the webinar:   Answers about the Financial Aid Application (The Profile) for International Students

The recommendations are:

Manage application deadlines
-Due dates vary
-Check college websites for deadlines
-File as early as possible

Take your time on the form
-Spend time reviewing the form
-Read the Information Icons available

Prepare a letter of special circumstances
– Have ready to send to colleges individually if needed
– Use letter to explain more fully economic /family circumstances

Estimate conservatively
-Colleges do want students, and will give benefit of the doubt if you put an incorrect answer on the form
-Have documentation to support your application in case of questions or verification

Recommended Approach

Overall, my recommendation is to plan to do the following:

  • Be truthful
  • Be consistent
  • Do your best
  • Be ready to document your position/situation
  • Don’t stress

If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to communicate with a college/institution your family’s situation is the best possible way.  Often there are no absolute right or wrong answers to the questions on the Profile (or the college application, for that matter).  Just do the best you can, and be able to explain or document your approach.

FAQ’s for International Students/Parents

Here are questions posed by parents/counselors at a recent webinar.

Further Questions?

You should contact the CollegeBoard directly with your question about the CSS Profile.  You can contact them online, by email, or by phone

Profile/Certificate of Finance

Q. How is the CSS Profile different from the Certificate of Finance required by some schools?

A. The Certificate of Finance is more connected to the VISA requirements of demonstrating financial ability to cover costs of studying in the US.  The Certificate of Finance is not used to determine financial need or award merit scholarships.

Q. Why doe colleges request students complete both: a Certificate of Finance and a CollegeBoard Profile?

A.  If a student has need, they cannot demonstrate they have the resources to pay for college.  It all depends on the college’s approach to awarding financial aid or merit aid to an International student. If there is need aid given, it can become part of the certificate of finance. And some governments will pay for a student’s education in a particular major at a US institution.  This would become part of the Certificate of Finance.

Q.When is the Certificate of Finance required? When college applications are filed? 

A. Colleges vary as to when the forms are required.  Some require it with applications, or later, or some when the student decides to enroll at the campus.

Completing the Profile Form

Q. My student has not taken the SAT. Where do I find his CollegeBoard financial aid ID?

A. When you create an account for your student to complete the Profile, you create a College Board ID that will be used for financial aid.

Q.  When filling out the form, how detailed should the numbers be? (Do I enter in cents or partial currency amounts)?

A.  Do not use cents or partial currency.  Round up or down to the nearest number.

Q. When filling out the form, should special characters be used (decimals, accents, commas, etc.)

A. Don’t use any special characters in the form. No decimals, round up to whole numbers.  Do not use accent marks or other types of characters.

Q. What if I don’t have an answer for the question? Do I leave the space blank?

A. If you don’t have an answer, enter a zero.  This shows you saw and answered the question.  A blank leaves open the question as to whether you skipped the question or not.

Q. Are the income figures requested net or gross?

A. Use gross income number.  Actual earnings by parents and students.  Deductions will be counted in the expense section, or you can outline them in the Special Circumstances section of the form.

Q. Can you skip sections of the Profile and come back to complete it later?

A. Yes, you can skip around the profile. If the form does not allow you to move forward, put in a place holder, and then be sure to come back and complete it later.

Q. Under ‘Parent Information’, should we include only one last name for each parent or two last names? Two last names appear in our passports/official id documents.

A. Your answers do not need to match your passports exactly.  Use what you are most comfortable with and what you customarily use in other documents, such as transcripts.

Supporting Document Requirements

Q. How do you upload special or additional documents? 

A. The CollegeBoard hosts a secure portal for uploading documents:  IDOCS. This gives you one place to put the information where it can be distributed to all colleges requesting the information.

Q. What type of documents are required by the college? Through IDOCS or other? 

A. Often tax returns, financial statements, verification of family size, home or business details, verification or explanation of family expenses, and many other documents can be requested by the colleges. Colleges need to have documentation to support their financial decisions.  Everything a family does should be supported by documentation as well.

Financial Aid

Q. Is there a cut off earning and assets figures above which there will be no financial aid to international students? 

A. Yes, colleges follow the same formula for International Students that they follow for domestic students. Cost of attendance – Estimated Financial Aid = Need (Or no need).  If the student does not show need, they will not be eligible for institutional need based aid either as a domestic or international candidate.

Q. Is there a cut off on earnings and asset numbers above which there will be no merit aid given to a student? 

A. Merit aid is offered based on other factors, all determined by the college.  There is no set cutoff for merit aid.

Q. Is there a cut off below which the colleges decide you can’t afford the college? 

A. Sometimes.  According to an International counselor, sometimes colleges will invite students to withdraw an admissions application because the college does not have enough money to offer the student.  In general, the certificate of finance can be part of the admissions process, and it would be taken into consideration in the admissions process.

Merit Aid

Q. How do you apply for merit awards? 

A. Many colleges use the profile as a form students complete to be considered for merit awards.  Some colleges use other determining factors, such as grades, test scores, essays, etc. to consider students for merit scholarships.  Your best bet is to check the college website for details on their approach to merit scholarships to International students.  Not all colleges offer merit or even financial aid to International students.

Other Uses of the Profile

Q. In what other ways can institutions use the information in the CSS Profile? 

A. They will often use it to identify potential donors to the college or institutions.  This is the case with the FAFSA as well.


Q. My daughter (son, parent, etc.) is awaiting a social security number. Do we need the social security number for the CSS Profile? 

A. Yes. With a social security number, your student should be eligible to apply as a US Citizen (be sure to check information on the Profile against the student’s status.)  Without the social security number, your student is applying as an International student.  DACA or undocumented students in the US have to apply on the Profile as International students.  Send a letter to the college requesting clear directions as to their preference as to how to handle their DACA or undocumented status.  Some states have additional forms students can complete.

Q. If I selected my local currency, do all answers have to be in this currency?

A. Yes, use the currency all your documents (taxes, income, assets) are in.  Stick to one currency.  The College Board will convert the currency to dollars.


Q. How should we handle reporting non-American/non-resident spouse income?

A. All parent income, regardless of citizenship, should be reported.


Q. I have assets (property) in the country I live in, but also in other countries that have a different currency from the country I live in. How do I report the value of the assets in other countries?

A. You can only report in one currency , the currency of the county you reside in. If you own assets in other countries or currencies, convert the value of those assets to the currency of the country you live in, and report the value in that currency.

Q. How do parents report home assets if they don’t own the property, but own only the home – i.e. we rent the property but own our home.

A. Only assets owned are reported.  Report the value of the home, but not the land.

Q. In our country, we don’t typically have retirement plans. What should we answer to the retirement question? 

A. Mark the option as “Other” and put in zero as the amount in the retirement program.

Expect to Pay

Q. If I state that we are planning on contributing an X amount of $$ for our son’s education, will the universities immediately expect us to pay this amount? 

A. I would recommend being very conservative in your estimate of what you can afford to pay. The colleges will assess the maximum, regardless of what you put on that answer.  It you enter a larger number, the college will be glad to use that number. Let the college tell you what they expect you to contribute.


Q. Does GuidedPath list early action/early decisions deadlines for the CSS/Profile? 

A. YES. If the college provides the information, it is displayed in the college deadlines pages of GuidedPath.

Q. Are the dates in GuidedPath accurate? 

A. The dates in GuidedPath for admissions and financial aid deadlines are provided by the colleges themselves.  The dates are accurate to the degree the college provided data is accurate on date of publication.

Q. What if dates change?

A. We know dates will change. Dates in GuidedPath can be updated in real time to keep them current. We will input dates we know have changed, but we also rely on our users to inform us of new dates/changes, so we can make the change in the system.



You should contact the CollegeBoard directly with your question about the CSS Profile.  You can contact them online, by email, or by phone