Researching Colleges With the Common Data Set

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At the beginning of yet another college admission season, I want to share one of my favorite tools that can help anyone research colleges and universities.  The tool is called the Common Data Set.

College and universities all over the country produce their own Common Data Set every year. The Common Data Set is a document about 32 pages long and within the pages you will find these sorts of statistics:

  • Average financial aid award.
  • Break down of loans versus grants in average financial aid package.
  • Percentage of financial need met for typical student.
  • Amount of merit money (if any) for affluent students who don’t qualify for need-based aid.
  • Number of students who receive merit money.
  • Academic profile of freshman class — including breakdown of GPA and SAT/ACT scores.
  • Criteria for admission
  • Undergraduate class sizes
  • Faculty/student ratio
  • Cost of institution

The Common Data Set is a uniform document so the format of the Common Data Set belonging to Harvard is exactly the same as UCLA’s, Lehigh, Notre Dame and every other four-year college or university. So when you’ve mastered one CDS, you’ve mastered them all.

The Common Data Set was dreamed up years ago as a way to satisfy collegiate publishers like US News & World Report, Peterson’s and the College Board, which have voracious appetites for higher-ed statistics.

The easiest way to find a particular Common Data Set is the Google the term and the name of the school. I just did that with the University of Virginia. Here is  UVA’s most recent Common Data Set.

Common Data Set Examples

Here are links to Common Data Sets at a handful of other institutions in different parts of the country:

I’ve been able to find the Common Data Set of most institutions through Google. Unfortunately, some schools, such as Washington University in St. Louis, decline to make their Common Data Set available to the public. I don’t understand why!

On my next post, I’ll show you some nifty ways to use the Common Data Set.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for Follow her on Twitter.

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One Response to “Researching Colleges With the Common Data Set”

  1. Elena says:

    This is really resourceful. I think one of the most important things about college planning is making sure the college is the best fit for you. Thanks for writing!

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