There is a range of factors you need to consider different colleges of your choice while getting started with the college application process. In the process, your list of colleges needs to be narrowed down depending on your research on factors like the size of the school, the cost of attendance, the competitiveness of the admissions process.
It takes a lot of effort to gather all these facts to a place. You can usually find such information upfront in the college websites and in other admission materials. But, the presentation of such information can vary among the thousands of colleges in the United States. A college may mention its total cost of attendance upfront in its site, however, there are chances that colleges may bury such data in a verbose document that is difficult to access.
This is the exact point where the concept of Common Data Set, or CDS, arises. CDS is a factsheet with the most important facts and figures about a college in a standardized accessible format. It allows you to easily look up certain pieces of information, helps you compare colleges on particular points, and even provides some detailed demographic breakdowns of admissions and enrollment statistics.
Even though you may not find everything you want to know about a college in its CDS, you can easily obtain basic facts and figures that can be helpful in initial research on colleges. Here is what CDS includes, doesn’t include, and how it can help you in your college research.
What is the Common Data Set?
The CDS is the project of Common Data Set Initiative, or CDI, which acts as a bridge between college representatives who provide data and the publishers who spread it. With guidance from the US Department of Education, these interested parties have come up with a standardized way for colleges to self-report data and ensure that publications are accurate and up-to-date.
The CDI stresses that the CDS is intended as “a set of standards and definitions of data items rather than a survey instrument or set of data represented in a database.” In other words, it’s not just about what data college reports, but also how they choose to report it. When all participating colleges report their data in the same way, it’s simpler for students to conduct research and compare those colleges as well as for those who are assisting them.
Oya School also has used the CDS as a guideline for creating more detailed and incorporate additional information and analysis for students applying to the US colleges and universities for undergraduate study.
The standard CDS format is divided into the following ten sections. We will brief you about what each section contains.
(a) General Information: The type of college—private or public, single-gender or co-ed, degrees offered, and so on—and the college’s contact information.
(b) Enrollment and Persistence: The number of students, broken down by various demographic categories, and how many of those students go on to complete their degrees.
(c) First-Time, First-Year (Freshman) Admission: Applicant and admissions statistics that cover how many people applied, were accepted, and enrolled, as well as basic facts about the school’s admissions procedures, requirements, and standards.
(d) Transfer Admission: Applicant and admissions statistics for students transferring to this college, including timing, requirements, and admissions rate.
(e) Academic Offerings and Policies: Very brief checklist of the school’s special academic programs (such as an honors program or study abroad) as well as academic breadth required for graduation.
(f) Student Life: Activity and housing options, as well as a breakdown of the student body by age, residency, and other factors.
(g) Annual Expenses: How much it costs to attend each year, including figures for tuition, room, and board, and required fees.
(h) Financial Aid: What types of aid are available, how much students receive, student loans and debt, and the requirements for applying for and receiving aid.
(i) Instructional Faculty and Class Size: The number of instructors (full- and part-time) and their characteristics, the size of the average class, and the overall ratio of students to faculty members.
(j) Disciplinary Areas of Degrees Conferred: The most popular areas of study or majors, based on how many students end up graduating in each one.
As you consider these categories, keep in mind that not every college chooses (or is able) to answer every question in the CDS. Specific publishers or survey providers can also choose to add or customize questions when creating their own data-gathering tools.
If you look at the standard CDS format, you’ll see that the answers they’re seeking are mostly very brief—often only numbers or checked-off.
What’s not included in the Common Data Set?
How descriptive the CDS be, there are chances that you may not find all the information you need for your college research in it. One thing is sure that you are going to refer to the CDS or analysis derived from it time and again throughout the application process. There are many factors regarding colleges which you will have to research in ways other than using CDS if you are really serious about applying and attending a college in the US.
If you go through a sample of CDS thoroughly, you can notice that the information there are quantitative rather than qualitative. When you’re looking for specific numbers, facts, and figures about topics such as enrollment, acceptance rates, or cost, the CDS gives you that information directly. It gives a quick picture rather than a detail or a description. You will find information as they are given by the colleges rather than the following interpretation that is important in understanding what the data really mean.
The CDS is just like a table that lacks a personal interpretation which is important for understanding the information. Personal perspectives and interpretation can reveal the qualitative aspects of a college which can be useful for you in deciding whether the school is the right fit for you.
There are many qualitative aspects of a college you need to consider, like the campus culture, philosophy of education, among others. You will need to do a little more digging in order to get such information. Taking the opinions of people you trust is also important in understanding a college you are interested in. We have compiled methods for you to go beyond the CDS in understanding colleges qualitatively.
Things You Could Do
Visit the campus in person. Take tours, attend information sessions, and talk to representatives if college is approachable for you. Don’t forget to leave time to just walk around the campus, taking it all in and considering whether you could see yourself as a student there.
Check out online options from your admissions office. There is a trend of providing an online virtual tour of colleges these days. Such tours can be helpful for students who cannot visit the college in person. You can also learn about the experiences of students in the college blogs. Oya School has a special section ‘Share Your Experience’ where you can learn about experiences of alumni, current students, and teachers of many colleges in the US.
Talk with students and alums. If you have known any person who has been to the college of your choice, that person can be very helpful for you. Or you can talk to the alumni of colleges in the US. They might be around you. In both cases, you can have reliable information on the qualitative aspects of the college of your choice.
Ask questions in case you don’t find the information you’re looking for. You should never hesitate to ask. Great answers need queries. You can ask colleges through email and their site about the information you cannot find anywhere else. Oya School’s discussion forum can also be helpful to you in learning different things about the colleges of your interest. You can participate in discussions to have firsthand talks.
How can you get the most out of the CDS?
Although not everything is there in the CDS, it can be a quick way for you to compare your colleges. The facts are presented in a simple, standard, easy-to-access way that can be very helpful as you gather information and compare colleges.
This is especially true at the beginning of your college research process. If you already have some basic criteria for what you definitely do or don’t want in a college, based on factors like financial aid availability or enrollment numbers, you can use CDS data to quickly include or eliminate colleges you encounter.
It is equally important for you to go beyond the CDS. Facts and figures are important, but there are multiple factors than depend on your personal preference. So the judgment is in your hand. That’s something you can only determine by engaging more personally with the college.
Oya School’s database on colleges has the data that are in the CDS of the colleges and much more. You can look for qualitative aspects in the ‘Share Your Experience’ and ‘Blog’ sections of the site.