Review, rankings site College Prowler joins Niche group

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A service that helps prospective college students research anything from electives to the best slice of pizza on a chosen campus is now part of a suite of services that will help them find homes in the best school districts after graduation.

College Prowler, the Shadyside-based college review site that has skyrocketed to the top of its field since its inception in 2002, is now a part of Niche, a group of websites designed to provide targeted information and reviews for the nation's secondary and elementary schools and eventually individual neighborhoods. Niche is available through the College Prowler website collegeprowler.com or at niche.com.

College Prowler, founded by Carnegie Mellon University graduate Luke Skurman, features student reviews, live discussions, scholarship links and college rankings for more than 7,000 institutions.

In 2004, the site attracted $500,000 in funding from FreeMarkets Inc. founder Glen Meakem, who now serves as the chairman of Niche.

Using a combination of data from College Prowler profiles that includes details regarding high schools and SAT scores, public records, surveys and other metrics, the idea is to make Niche the go-to resource following individuals from under their parents' roofs to the purchase of their first homes.

Since Niche's K-12 schools section went live in May, the company has attracted 35,000 comments on nearly a third of the nation's high schools. When the neighborhoods section launches early next year, Mr. Skurman anticipates it will make a similar splash.

"What's really cool is all the information is vertically connected," Mr. Skurman said.

"We know people went to this high school, went to this college, had this average SAT score and they ended up in this major at college. We're going to take that information and translate that some of those pieces into creating neighborhood reviews."

While the data could serve the company well through sales to real estate companies hoping to highlight neighborhoods or to colleges seeking to boost their brand, individual user data isn't up for sale, according to Mark Tressler, Niche's director of business development.

"In terms of personal information, we're very protective of that. We would only share opinions based on information that's been put together at the aggregate level," he said.

Mr. Meakem said the company had a handful of employees and barely any revenue when he came in as an investor nearly a decade ago.

Today, he said College Prowler sees millions of dollars in revenue, has positive cash flow and has more than 20 employees.

Project manager David Rush also noted Niche is currently hiring for positions in engineering, sales, marketing and other positions.

Considering the fact that Niche sites are set up to support current College Prowler users through their next major milestones, Mr. Meakem is confident the new suite of products will become just as important as the first.

"We want to be able to help people find their Niche throughout their lives at different points," he said.

businessnews

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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