What is the Common Data Set

Whenever you search for colleges using the College Board, College Data, or US News & World Report, you are using data based on the common data set (CDS). This survey captures some information that isn’t available through the government’s Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data Set (IPEDS) used for the College Navigator search website and others.

When you’re researching colleges, you might find the following information useful and it may only show up on the CDS survey:

  • Percentage of classes by size categories
  • Average GPA of the freshman class
  • GPA-breakdown of freshman by high school GPA
  • Percent of freshman by SAT/ACT test score ranges
  • Percent of freshman by class rank
  • Percent of students who join a sorority or fraternity
  • Percentage of students who have their institutionally defined financial aid need met.
  • Information on aid to foreign students

Usually searching by the college name and “common data set” will locate the information. The vast majority of colleges and universities make their common data set available. There are exceptions. If the school doesn’t release the data on its own website, you can usually find the information on one of the college search websites mentioned previously.

There are also some characteristics for which you should not rely on the common data set or the websites that use it. The biggie is teaching assistants (TAs) or graduate assistants. If you look up Harvard University on the US News and World Report College Search site, you will see that the “Classes taught by graduate students” is listed as “N/A.” The fact is that the CDS excludes any graduate students by definition. You will find the following definition under section I- INSTRUCTIONAL FACULTY AND CLASS SIZE of the CDS instructions.

(d)undergraduate or graduate students who assist in the instruction of
courses, but have titles such as teaching assistant, teaching fellow, and the like



So even though Harvard reports through IPEDS 1,215 part-time instructional graduate assistants, they aren’t going to show up in the CDS or the sites that use them. Some universities do report “Classes Taught by Graduate Assistants” in the US News College Rankings but I’m not sure where they are actually reported in the Common Data Set form.

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