Need to submit financial aid applications this year? Don’t feel intimidated. Though you’ll need to answer several questions about your finances, the forms provide clear guidance on where to find those numbers, and you’ll be able to get yourself through the process fairly quickly. You will, however, have to be prepared with some documents. We’ve listed the forms and information that you’ll need below. The FAFSA and the CSS Profile, your main applications for financial aid, become available on October 1st, so make sure you’re ready by around that time to start the process.

THE 2020-21 FAFSA

Every student interested in financial aid will need to submit the FAFSA, which can be completed at fafsa.gov. Here’s what you’ll need to fill out the form:

  • An FSA ID (basically a username and password) for the student and one parent. You can get one at ed.gov.
  • The student’s driver’s license (if there is one)
  • A list of colleges where the student is applying
  • The following documents for the student (if they exist) and the parent(s). You’ll need information for both parents if the parents are married or live together; you’ll only need it for one parent (the parent the student lives with the most) for divorced or separated parents.
    • Social Security number
    • 2018 W-2 form(s)
    • 2018 untaxed income records
    • Current bank statements
    • Current business and investment records (not including your retirement)
    • Current real estate records (not including your primary home)
  • The FAFSA will also ask about student and parent 2018 income, and reference your 2018 federal income tax returns. However, the form uses something called the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which allows you to pull your tax data into the FAFSA. That means you won’t need to reference your tax returns to answer any questions. Most families are eligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, but we recommend you having your 2018 federal tax returns on hand just in case you can’t.

The 2020-21 CSS Profile

Roughly 250 colleges, universities, and scholarship agencies use the CSS Profile, and you can find out which ones require it by checking each college’s financial aid webpage. You’ll need to submit the CSS Profile to these schools in addition to submitting the FAFSA. You can complete the Profile at cssprofile.org.

To complete the CSS Profile, you’ll need the same documents that we listed above for the FAFSA, with the following differences:

  • The CSS Profile doesn’t use the FSA ID. Instead, the parent can create his or her own College Board username and password, or you can use the student’s College Board username and password (which was likely set up when the student took the SAT).
  • The CSS Profile does not ask for the student’s driver’s license.
  • The CSS Profile doesn’t use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, so you’ll definitely need your 2018 federal income tax returns (for the parent(s) and the student, if the student filed taxes) for several questions. Don’t worry, the form will direct you to the appropriate lines and boxes to grab the numbers you need.
  • You’ll need to report information (purchase year, purchase price, current value, and current debt) about all of your real estate, including your primary home.
  • The CSS Profile will also ask for:
    • The value of your retirement accounts
    • Significant paid medical expense
    • The amount you paid in private K-12 school tuition
    • Any current education loan payments
  • Finally, the CSS Profile will ask for information about all parents. If the student’s parents are divorced or separated, the parent with whom the student lives the most will complete the CSS Profile, just like the FAFSA. But many schools also require the other parent to submit his or her own CSS Profile, with all the same information. This is a major difference from the FAFSA, and something significant to note.

As you complete your financial aid applications, contact us with any questions. You can find us at collegeplanning@mefa.org and (800) 449-MEFA (6332). And for a complete overview of the financial aid applications, watch our webinars, Understanding the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.