How do I compare colleges?

The American University flag.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s easy enough to fall in love — at least temporarily — with any college. The campus is beautiful. The dining hall has loads of choices:  cereal bars! vegan meals! Such diversity (or non-diversity, depending upon your preference). Yet at some point, the food choices and the pretty visuals all blend together, so it’s time for nitty-gritty comparisons.

Over at, they provide a good starting list of questions. They list eleven; here are the first few:

  • Is an in-state or out of state college right for you?
  • Do you want to go to a big school or smaller sized school?
  • What financial aid is available?

From there, search for details on any one of many college comparison sites…

1.  College Board’s search offers that classic essay response:  compare and contrast here.

2.  College Navigator, provided by the Department of Education, provides search, compare and save capabilities here.

3.  And there are many, many more: see here, here, and here. New ones are still being built; each with their own quirks and characteristics.

Most, if not all of these websites source their information from the Common Data Set each college makes available. More about the Common Data Set can be found here.

The Common Data Set (CDS) initiative is a collaborative effort among data providers in the higher education community and publishers as represented by the College Board, Peterson’s, and U.S. News & World Report. The combined goal of this collaboration is to improve the quality and accuracy of information provided to all involved in a student’s transition into higher education, as well as to reduce the reporting burden on data providers.

Since the information is, well, common, what sets any one website apart is the user interface. Mod Squad Pete and I have been looking at these for a while, and we’ve been remarkably fickle. Just when he sets up a list of favorites in one, we find one that seems to work better for us. Until now?

College Data screen shotOur current favorite is College Data. I’ve provided a couple of screenshots. It’s clean, fast, and thorough. The College Admissions Tracker shows data on admitted students. The Student Selection indicates the relative importance of multiple admissions factors.

Both these screenshots show data from American University in Washington, DC — just because Mod Squad Pete is heading up to their Prospective Student Preview Day on Friday. Good thing for him to know that they consider his level of interest as one of the most important factors.

Got a favorite comparison site? Let me know in comments.

Hat tip to Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s College Solution Blog for the recommendation of College Data.

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Filed under Getting In

2 responses to “How do I compare colleges?

  1. Pingback: Every college talk is a tough talk. | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

  2. Pingback: From Mod Squad Pete…10 Reasons to Skip the Expensive Colleges | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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