Most parents are aware of the FAFSA, a federal form families file if interested in receiving need based and some types of merit based college financial aid and scholarships. The less well known form, required by some colleges, is the CSS Profile.
The CSS Profile is a College Board product for which parents must pay a fee for each college to which the report will be sent by College Board. The CSS Profile tends to be required by colleges that are more selective. It takes about an hour to complete the CSS Profile while the FAFSA takes less about 20 minutes.
Parents should file the CSS Profile (when required) about the same time they file the FAFSA. Parents have the added step with the CSS Profile of sending complete tax returns and sometimes other forms to each college requiring the CSS Profile. Some ask parents to upload tax documents to the financial aid page of their website, others ask parents to use the idoc function on the College Board website while others request that parents fax or mail their tax returns. It is best NOT to try to send tax information as an email attachment. Many college financial aid offices will not accept any documents through email attachements to protect student data.