Tuesday, April 10, 2012

In which our heroine braves the FAFSA and CSS Profile

For those of you whose children are still young, and thus have yet to venture into the depths of college financial aid, I invite you to stand back in awe: I have survived. Again. I tell you this so that some day you, too, can carry on and conquer.

It is an ordeal. It is not as big an ordeal as it is the first year, when it has to be done by January 15 based on tax returns as yet unfiled, and sent to several colleges which each require their own set of documents and procedures. But if the bar is lowered for sophomore year and beyond, it's still set higher than you want to jump. Unless you do this sort of thing for a living. Which of course you can't, because the people who are subjected to these forms are people who need financial aid and thus don't have money to pay you.

My words of wisdom: allow plenty of time and take copious notes as you go. For when you take a break to get a Tylenol (the 'CSS' in the CSS Profile probably stands for Chronic Stress Syndrome) you will not remember what it was that you weren't sure you'd done correctly. Or you will later realize with glee that you had additional expenses you could input, but you will have forgotten where to add them. And still later you will remember to add in a child's savings account assets but will have lost track of which section it goes in. Rule of thumb: wherever it goes, it's not where you expect.

After days upon days of toting up numbers and retrieving financial records and reading help files, when you finally hit SUBMIT it is because you truly have submitted. You are done, in more ways than one. Oh, you are so done!

And then, only then, will you recall that you neglected to include an infinitesimally small 529 plan in your assets. You will stare stupidly at the computer wondering what you're supposed to do. And since there's no "I didn't mean it! I made a mistake!" button, you will write a note to the college financial aid office explaining that it's your child who's smart enough to attend their school, not you.

As a penance you will have to make copies, page by laborious page, on your lethargic 3-in-one printer of every document in your entire file cabinet. If you get the bright idea to save paper by doing two-sided copies, suppress it. If you're wise you'll label the piles so you know which is the original and which is the copy (okay, okay -- I'll do that next year). Or you'll go to Staples and copy the whole thing in bulk. But honestly, you have to do the copying regardless of whether or not you have earned your Proof of Boneheadedness certificate. Just make sure you have manila envelopes on hand so you don't have to go out and buy some on the way to the Post Office.

Hopefully some day, months later, your financial aid letter will arrive and you will have the pleasure of dividing the dollar amount of the award by the number of years hours that you spent working on the application. Then, only then, can you find consolation in how much you were paid for your efforts. Maybe.


  1. Sounds a lot like doing taxes. I'm starting to venture into these waters, but I'm not terribly optimistic about the numbers.

  2. When our last child graduated college I celebrated that I would no longer have to fill our those horrible FASFA forms or registration papers from the college. It was the most unpleasant part of the college experience! Good luck and I hope and pray that you get lots of financial aid! May the Lord bless and multiply it!

  3. First Daughter got a work/study job in Financial Aid office freshmen year. Ever since then, it's been a snap. Now we (hubby) file taxes. 1st D & Dad sit at computer and she tells him what to enter! Second Daughter is finishing freshmen year and 1st D & Dad have it down pat. This year it took less than 45 minutes to do both FAFSAs. Yea! My recommendation? Have your child get a work/study job in the Financial Aid office. It is invaluable ;-)

  4. It's never been a snap for me, but that could be because the css profile requires even more info than the fafsa. we have 3 kids who will be in college for 12 consecutive years. I'm in the midst of filling out my 6th css profile. it's especially fun when you realize halfway through that your daughter, who decided to do her taxes online with Turbo tax, has to amend her tax return because her scholarship is greater than tuition, so it counts as income. Throw in a complicated clergy tax return (also amended) and pass me the ibuprofen. I deeply appreciate the generous scholarships S1 and D1 have received from swarthmore and columbia, but I keep thinking there has to be an easier way to do this. Especially when you throw in a 25+ page IDOC which i had to fax multiple times last year . . .

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