What Should Be on Your College Search Spreadsheet?

College spreadsheet

What Should Be on Your College Search Spreadsheet?

College spreadsheet

Organizing a list of colleges can seem like a daunting task—and in reality, it oftentimes is. From the dozens of pieces of mail sent to students’ homes to the thousands of emails they receive online, there’s so much information out there that trying to keep it all together in your head is impossible.

As a solution, many students and parents find themselves making college search spreadsheets as a way to help keep track of the schools they’re looking at and what each of those schools has to offer. There are many things that go into a college spreadsheet, and there are many questions worth asking before you begin.

How should I make a spreadsheet? What should be on that spreadsheet? What information would be useful for us to know about each college my student is looking at? Who else will see this spreadsheet? And most importantly, where can we find any of this information?

Where Should I Make the Spreadsheet: Google Sheets, Excel, or Something Else?

The first step to creating a college spreadsheet is deciding on which platform you want to create it in.

In my experience, there are three main programs you can use to create your spreadsheet, each with its own pros and cons

Google Sheets

Pros:

  • Collaborative
  • Accessible from any device
  • Lots of online support

Cons:

  • More limited functionality
  • Internet required

Excel

Pros:

  • Industry-standard
  • Lots of features
  • Lots of online support

Cons:

  • No collaborative features
  • Can be complicated to use

Airtable

Pros:

  • Extreme ease of use
  • Fantastic organization options
  • Features allow for super simple sorting and filtering

Cons:

  • Less than ideal collaborative option
  • Some features stuck behind a paywall
  • May be unfamiliar at first

While all three services are fully capable of being used to organize your college list, unless you’re directly sharing it with a college counselor, I would recommend using Airtable.

What Do I Include in a College Spreadsheet Template?

After choosing the platform your spreadsheet will be on, the next step is to take whatever list of colleges you have and import it into the spreadsheet. In the adjacent cells, begin adding general information such as links to the schools’ websites or locations. Additionally, create a cell to input any notes you have about specific colleges.

For each family, there will be unique things they want to list about each school; however, there are a few things a thorough college spreadsheet should have:

  • SAT/ACT Test Optional Policy
  • Average Test Scores
  • Average GPA
  • Cost of Attendance
  • Average Need-Based Aid 
  • Acceptance Rate
  • Average Merit Award for Freshman Without Financial Need
  • 4 Year Graduation Rate

If you want to be more advanced, examples of additional data to include are:

  • Number of Undergraduate Students
  • If Early Decision Is an Option and What the Early Decision Rate Is
  • If Early Action Is an Option and What the Early Action Rate Is
  • College Major Your Student Is Interested In
  • If the CSS Profile Form Is Required
  • Percent of Students Who Graduate With Debt and How Much Is Their Debt
  • Size of the College Endowment
  • Percentage of Freshman Without Need Receiving Merit Aid
  • Percent of Need Met

If you want to include some “softer” pieces of data, you might add:

  • Quality of Food
  • Housing Requirements and/or Guarantees
  • Greek Life
  • Clubs
  • Study Abroad Programs

By the end of your college search, you should have a much clearer idea of which schools you would like to apply to, but be sure to consider how many schools you should really apply to.

Where Can I Find This Data?

Choosing what information you want to know about each college is simple, but going out and collecting that data is a whole different story.

You want the information you gather to be both accurate and up to date, since it will be influencing one of the most important decisions of your student’s future and family’s financial life.

There are four main ways to go about filling out your spreadsheet.

Using Google

The most straightforward way to fill out your spreadsheet columns is to take each piece of information, enter it into Google, and then add the name of the school you’re looking for. For example, if I needed the admissions rate at Harvard, I would simply type in “Harvard Admissions Rate” into my search bar and copy the top result over.

While this method seems easy enough on the surface, it can get quite tedious when forced to keep going back and forth between your spreadsheet and Google, clinking through links, waiting for webpages to load, and then finding the data on that page. This may be the most time-consuming method of the four options. Additionally, some information may be difficult to locate as it’s often buried deep within a college’s website.

The Common Data Set

Another potential option is to use the Common Data Set (CDS), a database of information pooled together by data providers in the higher education community and publishers such as the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report.

To use the Common Data Set, go to Google and enter the school of your choice followed by ‘Common Data Set.’ Click on the first link associated with the school’s official website. 

For example, I searched ‘Harvard Common Data Set’, and clicked the top result. What comes up is typically a PDF filled with small font and at least 30 pages of information. The next step would be to sift through each page until you find the specific piece of information you’re looking for.

The upside to using the CDS is having all the information for one college in one spot. But you’re still forced to repeat the process for every college and, most importantly, decipher the language and formatting used in the CDS, which can be quite confusing as it’s meant mostly for publishers and online databases, not individual students.

IPEDS

Similar to the Common Data Set, the IPEDS, or Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, is a website run by the National Center for Education Statistics. The website has many different options for helping you navigate your college search, but the one that pertains to a college spreadsheet is their ‘Search for a College’ option.

This feature allows you to type in the name of the school you’re looking at and find a list of multiple drop-downs that each feature their own information unique to the school. There’s a lot of information presented, more than most people would ever need, and it can sometimes clog up the valuable information as none of the data is presented in the most straightforward way. Additionally, you’ll have to repeat this process for each college you want information for.

Road2College’s College Insights Tool

The final choice is available on the very website you’re currently visiting. Road2College’s College Insights Tool is an app that’s like a college spreadsheet already built for you.

Instead of having to search for each college on a separate webpage and look through pages of complex information, the College Insights Tool gives you access to important, easy-to-read information for multiple colleges at once. The information has already been compiled from IPEDS and the Common Data Set, presenting which data is most important for families to review in a clear, easy-to-use search tool. 

College Insights is also able to show you colleges similar to the ones you’re already looking at based on filters you apply. Once you have the colleges you want, just click the heart icon next to them, and they’re added to your personal list.

You can try it out for free here.

Why a College Search Spreadsheet Is Important

There are a lot of factors that go into your family’s decision about where your student will go to college. It’s an important emotional and financial decision.

When making this type of decision, data is important. It gives you the foundation to make solid comparisons of one school against another. Would you purchase a car by going to only one dealer and not look at the MSRP sticker on the car window? If not, then apply the same “shopping” philosophy to searching for colleges. 

Unfortunately, existing college search sites, and the colleges themselves, don’t make it easy to gather the information families need to compare colleges. So it’s up to you to do the leg work. But in the end, this type of work will be worth it.

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