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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 thousands of K-12 schools, colleges, and places to live.

Niche Places to Live Rankings

The goal of our Places to Live Rankings is to provide accurate, comparable, and thorough evaluations of places. To do so, we’ve collected and analyzed dozens of rankings factors from federal and local government datasets. We’ve combined those with proprietary Niche data and community reviews about K-12 schools in each area. Read more about where our data comes from.

All Niche reviews and data are scored and standardized so that each place is comparable. We then assign each place to a cohort based on population and urban clustering.

Local Area CohortsClassification
Suburbs

A place located within a Census-defined urbanized area, but outside the principal city with a population of at least 1,000.

Cities

A principal city for an urbanized area with a population of 100,000 or more.

Places

A non-rural town with a population of 5,000 or more, including suburbs and cities as defined above.

Counties

A county with a population of 5,000 or more.

Note: Due to how the census classifies places, there may be areas that are represented by more than one place. For example, the area of Manhattan is represented as both Manhattan and part of New York City.

Each place is then ranked against all other places in its cohort both overall and by key attributes.

Why do we grade and rank places?

While our rankings show the Top 100 places for each ranking, we use grades to provide the user with some context to those rankings and also to provide insight into those that did not make the Top 100. In each ranking, it’s important to focus on more than just the number. Given the high number of places included in our rankings, there may not be a large gap between the 15th and 30th ranked place in a given ranking. In reality, both are exceptional when compared to the total population of all places. Grades can often provide greater context because they are assigned based on how each place compares to all others included in the ranking. Grades are determined using the process defined below.

How do we compute our rankings?

To compute our rankings and grades, we go through a series of steps. These steps are in place to ensure that our rankings are statistically sound and offer the most amount of guidance to those looking to make a school choice. In general, the process used to compute 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 places from each other and accurately represent each one.) 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 place level. This score evaluates distance from the average using standard deviations and allows each place’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 area's final score and that each final score was a fair representation of the place. Weights were carefully determined by analyzing:
    • How different weights impacted the distribution of ranked places;
    • Industry and market research;
    • Each factor’s contribution to our intended goal of the ranking, as described in the introduction above.
  5. After assigning weights, an overall score was calculated for each place by applying the assigned weights to the individual factor scores. This overall score was then assigned a new standardized score (again a z-score, as described in step 3). This is the final score for each ranking.
  6. With finalized scores, we then evaluated the completeness of the data for each individual place. Depending on how much data the area had, we might disqualify it from the numerical ranking or from the grading process. Here is how we distinguished these groups using the weights described in step 4:
    • Places missing the data for more than 50 percent of the factors (by weight) were completely excluded. They did not qualify for the numerical ranking or a grade.
    • Places that had at least 50 percent of the factors (by weight) but lacked one or more of the factors or did not meet minimum population thresholds were not included in the numerical ranking but were assigned a grade according to the process outlined in step 7 below.
    • Places that had all of the factors (by weight) 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 place (when qualified) based on the final z-score discussed in step 5.
    • Grades were determined for each place (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 place performs compared to all other places 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- in any rankings.

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