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About Niche's College Rankings

What is Niche?

Niche is a website that helps you discover the schools and neighborhoods that are right for you. We rigorously analyze dozens of public data sets and millions of reviews to produce comprehensive rankings, report cards, and profiles for K-12 Schools, Colleges, and Places to Live.

Where Our Data Comes From

Niche has the most comprehensive data available on U.S. colleges and universities. We rigorously analyze data from the U.S. Department of Education and over 30 million college reviews and survey responses to help students find the right school for them. View all data sources

What Makes Our College Rankings Unique?

The Niche 2018 College Rankings are based on rigorous analysis of academic, admissions, financial, and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education along with millions of reviews from students and alumni. Because we have the most comprehensive data in the industry, we’re able to provide a more comprehensive suite of rankings across all school types.

More than half of all college-bound high school students use Niche to research colleges, so our rankings are intended to be useful to a wide range of students and filterable by type and location. Our rankings strive to reflect the entire college experience, from freshman year to life after college. We also believe that each college is so much more than just one ranking number. That’s why we have in-depth profiles on each college and also assess colleges across a number of factors to produce annual graded Report Cards for each school.

What's New for 2018

All of our college rankings have been updated to reflect the latest data available as well as millions of new reviews we’ve collected from students and alumni over the last year. This year we are expanding our Best by Major Rankings to include over a dozen additional majors. We are also recognizing 2018 Niche Standout Colleges to highlight colleges making a difference in access to quality higher education. Lastly, we introduced a variety of filters and sorts in our rankings so you can search by more locations and drill down to find the school that is right for you.

How Do We Calculate Rankings and Grades?

Our rankings and grades are calculated using a series of steps to ensure statistical rigor and useful guidance in the college choice experience. In general, the process used to calculate each ranking was as follows:

  1. First, we carefully selected each ranking’s factors to represent a healthy balance between statistical rigor and practical relevance in the ranking.
  2. Next, we evaluated the data for each factor to ensure that it provided value for the ranking. (The factor needed to help distinguish colleges from each other and accurately represent each college.) Because there were different factor types, we processed them differently:
    • Factors built from Niche user data and student-submitted surveys were based on aggregated data/responses across each school. We logically have a higher degree of confidence in the aggregated score for colleges with more responses, so a Bayesian method was applied to reflect this confidence.
    • Factors built from factual information were inspected for bad data including outliers or inaccurate values. Where applicable, this data was either adjusted or completely excluded depending on the specific data.
  3. After each factor was processed, we produced a standardized score (called a z-score) for each factor at each college. This score evaluated distance from the average using standard deviations and allows each college’s score to be compared against others in a statistically sound manner.
  4. With clean and comparable data, we then assigned weights for each factor. The goal of the weighting process was to ensure that no one factor could have a dramatic positive or negative impact on a particular school’s final score and that each school’s final score was a fair representation of the school’s performance. Weights were carefully determined by analyzing:
    • How different weights impacted the distribution of ranked schools;
    • Niche student user preferences and industry research;
  5. After assigning weights, an overall score was calculated for each college by applying the assigned weights to each college’s individual factor scores. This overall score was then assigned a new standardized score (again a z-score, as described in step 3). This was the final score for each ranking.
  6. With finalized scores, we then evaluated the completeness of the data for each individual college. Depending on how much data the college had, we might have disqualified it from the numerical ranking or from the grading process. Here is how we distinguished these groups using the weights described in step 4:
    • Colleges missing the data for 50 percent or more of the factors (by weight) were completely excluded. They did not qualify for the numerical ranking or a grade.
    • Colleges that had at least 50 percent of the factors (by weight) but lacked one or more of the required factors were not included in the numerical ranking but were assigned a grade according to the process outlined in step 7 below.
    • Colleges that had all of the required factors and 500 or more full-time undergraduate students were deemed eligible for both a grade and a numerical ranking.
  7. Lastly, we created a numerical ranking and assigned grades (based on qualifications discussed in step 6). Here is how we produced these values:
    • The numerical ranking was created by ordering each college (when qualified) based on the final z-score discussed in step 5.
    • Grades were determined for each college (when qualified) by taking the ordered z-scores (which generally follow a normal distribution) and then assigning grades according to the process below.

Grading Process

Grades are assigned based on how each school performs compared to all other schools included in the ranking by using the following distribution of grades and z-scores. While most rankings generally follow this normal distribution, there are slight variances across each ranking, so the actual counts and distribution may vary.

GradeFinal Z-ScoreFrequencyCumulative Frequency
(Score at least)
A+1.96 ≤  z2.5%2.5%
A1.28 ≤  z < 1.967.5%10%
A-0.84 ≤  z < 1.2810%20%
B+0.44 ≤  z < 0.8413%33%
B0.00 ≤  z < 0.4417%50%
B--0.44 ≤  z < 017%67%
C+-0.84 ≤  z < -0.4413%80%
C-1.28 ≤  z < -0.8410%90%
C--1.96 ≤  z < -1.287.5%97.5%
D+-2.25 ≤  z < -1.961.3%98.8%
D-2.50 ≤  z < -2.250.6%99.4%
D--2.50 > z0.6%100%

Note that we intentionally did not assign a grade below D- to any schools in any rankings.

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