7 Critical FAFSA & CSS Profile Mistake to Avoid

Completing the FAFSA or the CSS Profile isn’t as straightforward as we’d like it to be. There are a lot of parents and college-bound students who aren’t informed enough when completing these vital financial aid tools. These applications determine how much financial aid your child will be rewarded, and give your family a better understanding of what college might be the best choice for your student.

But why are they so complicated? Easy. The more families that are deterred or discouraged from completing them (or complete them improperly) the less money schools have to provide. This means more students taking out federal or private student loans, and graduating with an incomprehensible amount of debt all because of some mistakes made during the application.   

We won’t let you or your child become some of the many that make mistakes on the FAFSA or CSS profile. We’ll discuss why you’d fill out the CSS profile vs the FAFSA, and lay out 7 mistakes to avoid when applying for financial aid

CSS Profile vs FAFSA

We talk about this extensively in some of our other resources, but the basics are this: The FAFSA or federal methodology is what most schools use to determine a student’s financial aid award. Most likely, this will be the only application for student aid you and your child complete. 

If you select a school that uses the consensus methodology, you will need to complete the CSS profile. Typically, only extremely competitive schools from an admissions standpoint will have you complete the CSS profile. 

The CSS profile is usually more arduous and time consuming than the FAFSA. It evaluates different factors like home equity that the FAFSA does not calculate into a family’s Expected Financial Contribution (EFC).   

Unsure if a school on your child’s “to apply” list uses the consensus method? Check out the list here.

Although both the FAFSA and the CSS profile are key applications for financial aid, since they assess different values, they do have slightly different dos and don’ts. Continue reading to get our full list of the FAFSA and CSS profile mistakes to avoid. 


  1. Do NOT include retirement savings under parent and/or student assets/investments.
  2. Do NOT include home equity under parent savings/investments.
  3. Do NOT include business value (assuming it’s a family business) and you have LESS than 100 full-time employees.
  4. Do NOT include 529 accounts under student savings/investments. 529 accounts are OWNED BY THE PARENT and should be included under parent assets/investments.
  5. Do NOT miss an opportunity for the student to have a ‘work-study’ job on campus. Select ‘Yes.’ This does not obligate you to accept the job or guarantee you a position.
  6. Do NOT assume your Expected Family Contribution(EFC) is what you will actually be expected to pay at each college you are accepted.
  7. Do NOT miss any deadlines.

CSS Profile

  1. Do NOT feel obligated to answer any questions you are not required to answer.
  2. Do NOT overvalue your primary residence if you are a homeowner.
  3. Do NOT include 529 accounts under student savings/investments. 529 accounts are OWNED BY THE PARENT and should be included under parent assets/investments.
  4. Do NOT overstate how much you can pay for college each year. How you answer this question CANNOT help you, but it CAN hurt you.
  5. Do NOT overestimate future year income earnings.
  6. Do NOT make your appeal case in the SQ section. It is typically best to wait for your acceptance and award letter before presenting your appeal case.
  7. Do NOT miss any deadlines.

We know this is a lot of information we just threw your way. We encourage you to read this sheet a few times thoroughly to really absorb what’s expected and what to avoid. We also encourage you to have this sheet handy by either pulling up the article or printing it out to reference as you fill out the different applications. 

Making a mistake on the FAFSA or CSS profile could mean your student missing out on hundreds or even thousands of deserved financial aid. We hope this handy guide can help you avoid making any mistakes on either application, but remember, we are always here for the many questions we know you’ll have through this complex and exciting process.

Have more CSS profile questions? Read our CSS Profile Dos, Don’ts, and Updates

Have more FAFSA questions? Check out Quirks of the Financial Aid Application: Answers to Some Common FAFSA Questions or FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid


Ensure You’re Avoiding FAFSA or CSS Profile Mistakes

Are you left wishing there was one on one guidance for your specific needs and questions? Don’t know whether or not you need to fill out both the FAFSA and the CSS profile, let alone where to start on the applications? 

We’re here to help! We designed College Aid Pro because we heard families we worked with ask these same questions or we had them ourselves when our children went through the college and financial aid application process. Because it is just that: A process. And knowing the ins and outs can help your child graduate with significantly less or no debt just by making sure you’re filling everything out properly and on time. 

We offer one on one sessions from our team of experts and line-by-line FAFSA & CSS profile guidance so you’re never left in the dark while applying for financial aid. Sign up for MyCAP Valedictorian to unlock your 1-hour session with a CAP expert.

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