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About Niche's College Rankings

What Makes Niche College Rankings Better than the Rest?

Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions most students will make. Niche gets it, and we're here to help. We've built the most accurate, transparent, and complete college search tool on the internet. This tool is powered by our comprehensive college report card and rankings. Our commitment to helping prospective students find the college where they belong has pushed us to make our 2022 Niche College Rankings our best yet.

What's New in 2022?

Quite a bit has changed in the past year, especially for students. Classes went remote, standardized tests were canceled, and we all spent a lot more time at home. Because the college search process has been greatly impacted, we wanted our methodology to reflect its current state. The most significant change made to the methodology this year was de-emphasizing the importance of SAT and ACT scores. Niche made the decision for several reasons: an increasing number of institutions adopting test-optional policies, challenges making appointments to test in-person due to COVID-19, and acknowledgment of socioeconomic and racial disparities perpetuated by standardized tests. As of the 2022 Best Colleges rankings release, the weight for any factor that considers standardized test scores has been reduced by half. Niche chose to reduce instead of eliminate SAT and ACT factors because despite the growing movement toward test-optional admissions, many colleges still require test scores and the future of standardized testing remains unclear. As things continue to change and evolve, Niche is committed to continually improving our process and methodology to ensure our rankings can be trusted to make such an important decision.

More Opinions from Real Students

Niche has nearly 500,000 college reviews from real students—more college reviews than any other place on the internet. This gives a uniquely authentic and credible view into what students really think about their college. We get deep too, asking questions about everything from dorms to professors.

The Most Rigorous Data Analysis

Our college rankings don't use data submitted to us by colleges or ask “experts” to echo back which colleges they think are top. Our algorithm only relies on the most trustworthy sources, like the U.S. Department of Education, to supply our data. By thoughtfully combining the most accurate facts with reviews from real students, Niche gives prospective college students the most transparent and complete view of the schools they are considering.

We Capture the Full Experience

Though quality data is a priority, at Niche, we know that a college is more than a collection of stats. No matter what a prospective student is looking for in a college, Niche is there to help them find their best fit school. We go beyond academics, grading colleges in areas like value, diversity, and, yes, even party scene, keeping constant our commitment to detail and accuracy.

We've worked hard to craft our rankings as a blend of student feedback alongside dependable data. This is why millions of prospective college students have come to rely on Niche for making one of life's big decisions.

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%10.0%
A-0.84 ≤  z < 1.2810.0%20.0%
B+0.44 ≤  z < 0.8413.0%33.0%
B0.00 ≤  z < 0.4417.0%50.0%
B--0.44 ≤  z < 017.0%67.0%
C+-0.84 ≤  z < -0.4413.0%80.0%
C-1.28 ≤  z < -0.8410.0%90.0%
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%100.0%

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

Please Note: Rankings are only published once a year and were most recently released on August 13, 2021. Due to the annual release, rankings and grades can become out-of-date as new facts and information become available. Such data will be incorporated into the next year’s rankings. Niche takes steps to ensure data integrity, but rankings may be inaccurate if Niche is supplied with inaccurate data from schools, data sources such as the US Department of Education, or spam and automated 'bot' reviews.

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