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About Niche's 2017 Best Places

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. Every month, millions of families use Niche to research schools and places to live.

Niche Best Places to Live Rankings

The goal of our Best 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 from 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.

Neighborhoods

A place with a population of at least 1,000 located within a city.

Places

A non-rural town with a population of 1,000 or more, including neighborhoods, 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.

What's New for 2017

All of our Best Places to Live Rankings have been updated to reflect the latest data available. For the first time, we are incorporating millions of reviews we've collected from residents about their community. Incorporating reviews from real people along with our rigorous analysis of data sets will help show what a place is really like.

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 deciding where to live. 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 places from each other and accurately represent each places .) Because there are different factor types, we processed them differently:
    • Factors built from Niche user data and student/parent-submitted surveys were based on aggregated data/responses across each places. We logically have a higher degree of confidence in the aggregated score for places 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 for each place. This score evaluated 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 single factor could have a dramatic positive or negative impact on a particular place’s final score and that each place’s final score was a fair representation of its performance. 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 each place’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 place. Depending on how much data the place 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:
    • Places 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.
    • Places 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.
    • Places that had all of the required 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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