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College Board Simplifies CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Form

Mark Kantrowitz

March 10, 2010

College Board Simplifies CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Form

Heads up: This article is out of date! Find current financial aid information here.

While the US Department of Education is working on simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the College Board has already been taking similar steps toward simplifying the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form. The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form tries to calculate a more precise measurement of ability to pay. This necessarily involves asking more questions than on the FAFSA. However, some of the same techniques that are being used to simply the FAFSA are also effective for the PROFILE. In fact, skip logic is more effective in simplifying the adaptive version of the PROFILE for low-income students because of the greater initial complexity of the form.
According to Myra Smith, executive director for financial aid services at the College Board, "the PROFILE application has used processes very similar to the skip logic now in the FAFSA for the past 3 years." The registration section of the PROFILE application starts off with a set of basic questions that are used to provide the student with an application that is customized to their circumstances. The answers to these questions can trigger the inclusion or exclusion of other sections of the form. For example, if the family owns a home, there will be additional questions about home value, mortgage debt and loan payments. Otherwise there will be questions about monthly rent payments. If the family owns a business, the form adds questions about the business. The type of tax form filed will also affect the number of questions asked.
The number of questions on the application ranges from as few as 50 questions to as many as 130 questions. For families who receive SSI or TANF, most of the asset and income questions as well as many of the college-specific supplemental questions are eliminated. This yields a much simpler application. The PROFILE application also automates the fee waiver process for low-income students. Ms. Smith says "we support and are enthusiastic about the efforts of the Department to simplify the FAFSA as a step to reduce barriers for low-income students." The College Board's philosophy focuses on simplifying the PROFILE application for low-income students while retaining necessary detail for moderate and upper-income families, especially those with complicated financial situations. This permits the PROFILE to give college financial aid administrators enough information to determine relative financial strength for a diverse range of families for awarding the college's own financial aid funds. The College Board reviews the PROFILE application annually for additional ways to improve and simplify the form. This year they added the ability for international students to report figures in their own currency and merged some of the questions on a supplemental paper form for business owners into the online application.
Demonstration versions of the adaptive PROFILE form, including the simplest application form, can be found on the College Board's web site.

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