Finding Your Niche

Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

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The year is over! Cue the balloons. We have, after trials and tribulations, made it to the end of the 2018-2019 school year. If you’re a rising junior or senior, that presents a new challenge: college. Deciding where to go -and which schools are within your means- is always tough, no matter who you are. Luckily, a homegrown Pittsburgh company called Niche is helping make that decision a little easier.

Founded in 2002, Niche was originally a publisher of printed college guidebooks and reviews called College Prowler. As technology changed, so did it, and it’s now a search engine for colleges, neighborhoods, and K-12 schools, much like Yelp is for restaurants. According to Jessica Hair, who is in charge of Niche’s media relations, “We really think of ourselves as a research platform if you’re trying to choose a school for your child, if you’re researching college for yourself, or trying to find a new place to live. In addition to our rankings, we also have full, in-depth profiles where you can see stats about a given school or neighborhood, reviews from people that have gone there… We really like to think of ourselves as a one-stop shop in that research process.” While Niche might not quite be a one-stop shop yet, it’s certainly close.

The website divides itself into a college search section, a K-12 section, and a places to live section. Each school or neighborhood profile has information about the school and a ranking that is calculated based on a variety of factors that are weighted depending on how important the software developers and reviewers think they are. If, for example, you’re looking for colleges, these factors include an academics grade -based on acceptance rate, professor quality, and student surveys- value grade, professors grade, student life grade, overall student surveys, campus grade, diversity grade, local area grade, and safety grade. These are weighted in order, with the academics grade having the highest value -35%- and the safety grade the lowest, at 2.5% (weighting is decided by a seven-step algorithm created by software engineers that you can read about here, on Niche’s website; a quick summary is that the process involves creating standardized z-scores for different factors, weighting them, and then creating an overall z-score that is used to calculate grades, and sometimes a ranking compared to other colleges, schools, or neighborhoods). The actual grades and information are clearly presented in the school or neighborhood’s page, like in this picture of Pitt’s profile.

Doing research on Niche is definitely something worth trying during your college search, especially because it has information that other rankings don’t have- the “Will You Get In?” and student reviews stand out as being relevant commentary that most other guides don’t include (even though student perspectives are perhaps the best way to actually learn about what a college experience will be like). If you feel like doing some reviewing of your neighborhood or of Obama, you can create an account and get right to it. Sharing your thoughts about Obama helps create an accurate picture of what the academic, extracurricular, and social experiences at the school are like, and that can help potential students and parents make their own decisions about coming here.  

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