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This Data Viz Site Makes College Hunting Way Less Miserable

The college search can be a long slog. But thanks to the site Data USA, you can arm yourself with reliable data from government sources.

The college hunt process is not only time-consuming and expensive–it’s super stressful, for parents and students alike. Finding reliable information about colleges, including the stuff that institutions choose not to include on their shiny websites, is a challenge.

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But a new resource from the online data platform Data USA pulls a host of information from different government data sets about admissions, enrollment, graduate careers, and operations for more than 7,300 colleges into one place. Most crucially, it shows how colleges stack up against each other when it comes to what you really care about: how much they cost.

[Screenshots: Data USA]

The website, which was built by MIT Media Lab professor Cesar A. Hidalgo in partnership with consulting company Deloitte and data viz company Datawheel, has been around since 2016, and also hosts information from government data sets on cities and places, jobs, and courses of study.

Adding data on universities is the project’s latest update. Clicking around the university pages, which are shockingly comprehensive, reveals some interesting observations. In terms of the net cost students usually pay taking loans and grants into account, USC is almost twice as expensive as Harvard and most doctoral universities, according to data from 2016. On the same scale, Carnegie Mellon and University of Rochester are even pricier. You can also compare two institutions directly to see how they stack up. To do so, the interface neatly splits down the middle, and you can see each university’s visualizations right next to each other.

The platform also shows metrics on topics like the most popular degrees, the breakdown of faculty by gender, the student loan default rate, and the amount of federal funding universities receive. The data for the university pages comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and a separate Department of Education data set on annual default rates.

If you’re not in the U.S., fear not. Data USA isn’t the only platform of its kind. Datawheel has also developed similar versions for Chile and for a group of countries in Africa.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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