How to Use the Common Data Set to Build Your College List

You’ve picked out a few colleges that seem perfect, but how do you really know if they’re the right fit? Comparing them can feel overwhelming until you discover the common data set. The Common Data Set (CDS) is a powerful tool that can simplify your college search and help you make informed decisions. In this article, we’ll explore what the Common Data Set is, how colleges use it, and most importantly, how you can leverage it to your advantage.

What Is the Common Data Set? 

The Common Data Set is a document containing valuable statistics and information on nearly every 4-year college and university in the US. Created annually by the College Board in collaboration with higher education associations, the CDS covers various aspects of each institution, including admissions, financial aid, student demographics, and academic offerings. Its purpose is to provide transparency and standardization in college data, making it easier for students to compare and evaluate different institutions.

What do colleges cover in the Common Data Set?

Each college’s Common Data Set is a comprehensive document of 30+ pages, organized into sections such as general information, enrollment and persistence, admission requirements, financial aid options, student life, and more. This wealth of information can help you gain insights into factors such as average test scores, acceptance rates, financial aid availability, and student demographics, allowing you to make well-informed decisions about which colleges are the best fit for you.

The CDS aims to provide transparent and comparable information for prospective students. While not always perfect, it can serve as a helpful resource in your college search and application process. Be sure to look at the CDS for any schools you’re seriously interested in to make the most informed choice.

List of Common Data Sets for US Schools

What if I have more questions about a school’s admissions process? 

Feel free to reach out to the school directly with any specific questions about their admissions process. However, it’s advisable to conduct your own research beforehand, as it’s not ideal to ask questions that are readily available online. Keep in mind that college admissions counselors are busy individuals and prefer not to be contacted unless you have a specific question that you cannot find the answer to online.


The Common Data Set is an invaluable resource for researching and comparing colleges. By understanding the data and what it represents, you’ll be in a much better position to find schools that are the best fit for your needs and priorities. Best of luck! 

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