Common Data Sets Complete the College Search Process


The 2020 U.S. News & World Report rankings a popular reference list each year. Thousands of parents and aspiring college high school seniors are pour over the numbers. Should you care?

Well, maybe, maybe not so much.

The 1,400-plus universities know how to game the rankings system. Let that sink in. Did you realize the measures weighted in the rankings have serious flaws?

Consider this: The weighting for faculty salary may include professors who never teach undergraduates? Or the “academic reputation” category includes college presidents who downgrade peer institutions? The list goes on and on across most every segment given a weight.

The sad part is that many parents and students take the rankings as gospel while it is far more prudent to examine Common Data Sets when winnowing the list of universities to contact, to visit and to decide on as a “reach,” “target,” or ”safety” finalist.

Parents need to become adept at scouring important sections of the CDS at those potential colleges. The data are not aggregated across the country, but individual universities almost always post their numbers.

Remember the Man Behind the Curtain in “The Wizard of Oz?” The CDS gives the savvy parent a much clearer insight into the magic behind what colleges tend to favor or offer prospects. Statistics on majors and degree mixes, scholarships and especially freshman admissions ought to help the aspiring entrant make sense of how s/he might fit.

–Does your future collegian have a testing issue but is still poised and confident? CDS data show which schools give weighted credit to a good interview.

–Want to know what it means to be wait-listed by the University of Michigan—and how many in that category actually get an invitation? Check the Michigan CDS.

–Are you considering a teaching career and curious why Edgewood College in Madison, Wis., fails to stand out in the U.S. News’ rankings? You can drill down to find why the Education Department produces outstanding, culturally responsive high school teachers and just this year landed the school on the new U.S. News Social Mobility chart.

–Finally, and perhaps most importantly given stratospheric costs these days, the CDS offers a genuine peek behind that curtain about true costs vs. rack rate price tags. The CDS for a college is a treasure trove of information about its trends in need-based aid and non-need/grant aid, endowed scholarships, student loans, work/study programs, tuition waivers, and for the sports star, athletic awards.

So, remember that the College Board, Peterson’s, U.S. News & World Report and other college experts collate their data and might rank one of your candidate schools at No. 200 instead of No. 20. But we urge you to dig a bit deeper, build an Excel spreadsheet and get to know your best data buddy, the college Common Data Set. And don’t forget, navigation help is always available from Valle Educational Consultants.

–MIKE RYAN