What's Up With Washington University?

I got an email this morning from a women who had become frustrated after reading my blog post about the usefulness about the Common Data Set. As an example, I mentioned Washington University’s Common Data Set in the post and she tried tracking it down on the Internet. She couldn’t find it and neither could I.

“So now what?” she wondered.

It’s been my experience that most schools post their Common Data Sets on their websites and I can’t fathom why some institutions keep the document a secret.

But when Google can’t track down a school’s Common Data Set, I’ve always suggested going to the source. Call up the school and ask for the CDS’s location.

I felt bad that my blog visitor couldn’t locate the Common Data Set so I decided to hunt it down myself. I called Washington University. The first people I talked to in admissions had never heard of the CDS. Eventually, I chatted with someone in the office who directed me to an online facts publication that she said should contain the information I needed. It didn’t come close.

I called the school again and someone thought the document might be connected to the medical school. I explained it was not. I finally left a message for someone in admissions and identified myself as a journalist. I received a return call from someone in the public relations department. In a voice mail message, the staffer acknowledged that the school doesn’t post its CDS on its website, but he didn’t explain the rational.

The Wash U. spokesman noted that you can get information from the federal government. As I explained yesterday, the easiest way to access the federal data is through the College Navigator. It’s not, however, identical information.

He also suggested looking on the CollegeBoard.com’s website. You can get valuable information by looking at individual school’s profiles, which you can access through the college search engine on the CollegeBoard’s home page. I use this a lot as a quick resource. When I typed in Washington University’s name, I got the “At a Glance” page.  I then clicked on the link for “Cost & Financial Aid” page.
Looking at this financial page, you can see that Wash U. meets 100% of a student’s financial need and that the average package is $31,564. The vast majority of that package — $28,345 — is grants. That’s great news for students who are going to need a financial helping hand.

On the same page, you can also see that Wash U’s average “non-need based grants” — that’s money for the affluent kids — is $8,459. What this doesn’t tell you is how many students receive this money. That’s the sort of information you can find in the Common Data Set.

There is one way you can get Common Data Sets from uncooperative schools. You can buy them. Wintergreen Orchard House, an educational publisher, which helped create the CDS, compiles them every year. The newest Common Data Sets are scheduled to be shipped out to customers, including myself, sometimes this month.

Buying all the  Common Data Sets is pricey, but you can obtain the documents for a single region for $59.

Happy reading.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and the college blogger for CBSMoneyWatch.com.

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