Are you feeling overwhelmed by the college application process? Do you need help keeping track of various colleges you’re interested in? A college spreadsheet might be the solution you’ve been seeking. This guide explores what you need to know about making, using, and organizing your college list through a well-structured spreadsheet.
What is a College Spreadsheet?
A college spreadsheet is a digital document created using software like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or similar applications. It serves as a centralized database for organizing information about the different colleges and universities you are considering.
What’s the Purpose of a College Spreadsheet?
Organizing a list of colleges can seem daunting — and in reality, it often is. Information floods into students’ mailboxes and inboxes, and keeping it all straight is a challenge. As a solution, many students and parents make college search spreadsheets listing colleges and what they offer. To get started, you’ll need to answer a few questions, such as:
- How should I make a spreadsheet?
- What should be on the spreadsheet?
- What information is most useful?
- Who else will see this spreadsheet?
- Where can I find data and other information for the sheet?
What Platform is Best for a College Spreadsheet?
The first step to creating a college spreadsheet is deciding which platform to use. Here are the three main programs you can use to create your spreadsheet, each with pros and cons.
- Accessible from any device
- Lots of online support
- More limited functionality
- Internet required
- Lots of features
- Lots of online support
- No collaborative features
- Can be complicated to use
- Extreme ease of use
- Fantastic organization options
- Features allow for super simple sorting and filtering
- 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, we suggest trying 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, add general information, such as links to the schools’ websites or locations. Also, create a cell to input notes 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
- 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 accurate and up to date, since it will influence one of the most important decisions of your student’s future and family’s financial life.
There are four main ways to fill out your spreadsheet.
1. 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 “Harvard Admissions Rate” into my search bar and copy the top result.
While this method seems easy enough on the surface, it can get tedious when forced to keep going back and forth between your spreadsheet and Google, clinking through links, waiting for web pages 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.
2. 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 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. It can be confusing as it’s mostly meant for publishers and online databases, not individual students.
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 unique information. There’s a lot of information presented, more than most people would ever need, and it can sometimes make it hard to find what you really need. Additionally, you’ll have to repeat this process for each college you want information for.
4. 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 searching for each college on a separate webpage and looking 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 can also show you colleges similar to the ones you’re already looking at based on the filters you apply. Once you have the colleges you want, add them to your personal list or lists.
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.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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