The Best Schools reviews
I'm not sure what the others are seeing, but most of their ranking lists don't seem to rank just sponsored schools. In fact, besides the ads at the top of the pages, I can't see any other signs of sponsored placements. I emailed them and they said most of the schools in any of their rankings don't pay them anything. They make their rankings by using the government supplied data for schools. I emailed them about their scholarship too and it's real. They've been doing it since 2015 with plans to expand. I write for my college newspaper and this site is probably the most legit ranking site I've found for my story. At least they replied to my email!!!
Thebestschools.org only lists in their rankings schools that have agreed to compensate thebestschools.org for referrals. They do not list any schools that they cannot make money from, which calls to question just what their definition of "best" actually is.
In addition, TheBestSchools.org advertising disclosure (https://thebestschools.org/advertising-disclosure/) explicitly states: "…we do not rank any schools or programs on our website based on any type of financial relationship with any school partner. Schools never receive preferential treatment in our rankings because of financial compensation or advertising partnerships. All the schools in our rankings are evaluated using the same criteria and are ranked by our algorithm."
Further details are at the site.
This sponsor-driven site is a pretty decent, but an overly comprehensive source of basic info on educational institutions. It offers lists of what it deems the "best" online as well as brick & mortar colleges & universities. This site is so jam-packed with page after page of rankings, links, and features that it seems like overkill and you can spend hours here doing dizzying research on schools, sometimes going in circles.
Bestschools has expanded over the years to include a breakdown of career descriptions & degree programs. Many of the schools appear to have paid for advertising on the site. Overall, it's still a fairly good place to start for information.
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I emailed them and asked about this. It's real, since 2015. I also contacted one of the schools of a listed winner and they said it was real. I was working a piece about scholarship scams for my college newspaper.