Common Data Set: A Hidden Gem for Researching Colleges

Have you wished you had access to source information about colleges and universities – the type of data that goes into the U.S. News College rankings and the Fiske Guide to Colleges?   Well, now you do.
The Common Data Set is a favorite of many college consultants and independent educational advisors. The CDS is an incredibly helpful (and free) tool that few parents and students know about.
The Common Data Set (CDS) presents frequently requested institutional information for each participating college or university in a consistent format.   It summarizes characteristics of incoming students, demographic and high school preparation data, ACT and SAT statistics, and financial aid data.
The CDS is produced, and updated each year, by almost all U.S. colleges and universities.  It also contains a wealth of interesting information from an admissions perspective including what the institution values when evaluating applicants, the freshmen class profile, freshman retention rates and graduation rates.
The Common Data Set is based on a standard set of questions and data definitions developed in a collaborative effort among data providers for use in guidebooks, rankings, and other resources.  The Common Data Set includes standardized questions about a college’s academic offerings, enrollment, admission requirements, expenses, and freshman class profile.
Common Data Set Sections:

  • Section A  General Information
  • Section B  Enrollment and Persistence
  • Section C  First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission
  • Section D  Transfer Admission
  • Section E  Academic Offerings and Policies
  • Section F  Student Life
  • Section G  Annual Expenses
  • Section H  Financial Aid
  • Section I  Instructional Faculty and Class Size
  • Section J  Degrees Conferred

The Common Data Set is generally not readily available on the school’s admission web site.  The best way to find a school’s CDS is to Google the term “Common Data Set” along with the name of the school (e.g. Common Data Set Indiana University)