What is the Common Data Set?
Have you ever wondered where all the information comes from when you research and compare colleges to each other? Or how rankings, like the U.S. News & World Report feature, are done?
The information for these rankings and research pieces comes from something called the Common Data Set (CDS.) It’s a data collection process that captures some information that isn’t available from the other major college resource, the government’s Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data Set (IPEDS).
Here’s what the Common Data Set includes, and what you can learn from the research.
How the Common Data Set Began
A group of publishers, including Peterson’s, the College Board, and U.S. News & World report, decided there was a need to provide accurate and timely data to families researching schools. It reduces the workload on college administrators as well, by providing centralized information that everyone can access.
The group sends out the same core questions to every school, allowing accurate comparison between institutions. You can see the 2017-2018 CDS survey here.
The complete list of all responses is not available to the public, but many colleges publish their results on their school website.
What You Can Uncover in the Common Data Set
There’s a lot you can learn from looking at a school’s CDS results.
How Your Student Stacks Up
For prospective applicants, families can discover the importance of factors such as class rank, GPA, and extracurriculars. You can also find a profile of the current freshman class, including SAT/ACT scores, rank, and GPA.
This can help you understand if your student will be a good fit at that school, and how likely they might be to receive aid.
Financial Award Information
Within the pages of the College Data Set for each school, you can uncover the average financial aid awards and what percentage of those are loans vs. grants.
Other financial award information available includes:
- Percentage of financial need met
- Average institutional need-based scholarship or grant
- Average need-based loan
- Average non-need-based scholarships or grants for affluent students, who don’t require need-based financial aid
- The number of students who receive need-based or merit aid
- Aid to foreign students
This can be very helpful as you work to uncover what schools are the most generous. When combined with the information about how your student compares to the current incoming class, you can have an idea what you might receive.
Finally, you might enjoy discovering what student life options are available at different schools, and what living expenses you can expect. In sections F and G, at the end of the CDS, this information will be shared.
You can discover the percentage of students in Greek life, the activities offered, and what types of housing are available at the school. You also get a breakdown of fees, room, and board.
The Common Data Set Can Help You Choose a School
Publications like U.S. News & World Report do their large rankings based on the CDS, along with proprietary data gained from their own surveys.
Of course, they may not interpret things the way you do, but it gives you a good start. If you’ve already narrowed down your student’s choices, though, comparing the CDS from each of those schools can be informative.
Simply Google “CDS” or “common data set” and the school name to find the data. Not all schools publish the CDS, but a vast majority do.
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