What do the best high schools in the United States have in common?
To start, they are made up of a population of driven, curious, and multi-talented students.
While some are magnet schools, others offer tuition-free admission without strict eligibility requirements.
Curricular flexibility is another shared feature of the best high schools in the United States. Students have the option to enroll in many specialized electives, advanced-level classes, and even dual enrollment opportunities (where they can graduate high school with college credit).
Schedules are also flexible, affording time for devotion to the core subjects and electives, research projects, and extracurricular pursuits.
More often than not, time for the latter is embedded within the school week.
One might assume that such coveted institutions would foster a competitive learning environment with potentially damaging repercussions, but this is not necessarily the case.
Because many of the best high schools choose not to rank their students, the pressure to perform better than others translates to a desire to better oneself.
It is common for students to take healthy academic risks (i.e., choosing a class outside of one’s comfort zone or devoting time to community service).
Our list of the ten best high schools in the United States has been ranked according to where each school places in the U.S. News best high schools list at the time of this writing.
We guarantee you’ll be inspired by the innovative markers of each unique school!
10. Julia R. Masterman Secondary School (Philadelphia, PA)
Serving 460 high schoolers and over 700 middle schoolers, Masterman enrolls a diverse population of college-minded scholars.
All students pursue a college preparatory pathway, and classes are only offered in two levels: Honors and Advanced Placement (AP).
The busy Masterman school day comprises eight periods, generally 45-50 minutes in length. During lunch, scholars can pursue various enrichment courses, such as American Sign Language, photoshopping, and improv comedy.
Student-led organizations include a mental health awareness club, the United Minority Council, and an array of cultural and performing arts groups.
All Masterman students receive a district-funded Chromebook to keep for the year, which helps to bridge the gap in access to technology. Academic excellence is undoubtedly the name of the game at Masterman.
On average, scholars total a 1433 average on the SAT, and 100% matriculate to four-year universities or colleges.
9. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (Lawrenceville, GA)
Specializing in bioscience, engineering, and emerging technologies, Gwinnett has forged valuable partnerships with local businesses and colleges to connect students to real-world experiential learning opportunities categorized by grade level.
For instance, 9th graders have access to a twice-annual speaker series featuring entrepreneurs, artists, and other successful community members, while 10th graders visit STEM sites off-campus.
In their junior year, scholars complete a semester-long internship before progressing to a capstone project in their final year of study.
The school day is made up of seven periods, with classes lasting around 45 minutes. Each grade has flexibility within a set curriculum. I
n 9th grade, for example, students take six required courses and one elective from topics like robotics, human geography, or digital media.
8. The School of the Talented and Gifted (Dallas, TX)
Known as TAG, this incredible school offers a host of special programs, competitions, and clubs for its ambitious students.
The TAG Interim Term (TAG-IT) is a two-day program that challenges the school’s instructors to develop a mini-course on a topic of their choice.
Students enjoy exposure to everything from ballroom dancing and stained glass making to DNA analysis and film criticism!
TAG views competitions as a way to foster friendly camaraderie and new learning. Students interested in current events participate in 40-question rounds focused on gauging their understanding of geography, culture, and sociopolitical activity.
In Lincoln-Douglas-style debates, students argue for or against a concept, then go back to the drawing board to refute their opponents’ claims.
The rigorous curriculum stipulates a minimum of ten required AP courses. It is all too common for graduates to move on to elite universities like Yale, Rice, Howard, and Stanford.
7. Central Magnet School (Murfreesboro, TN)
Central Magnet is led by its first principal and educator of 34 years, John Ash. Applicants must reside in Rutherford County to be eligible for admission, determined by grades and standardized test scores.
Each applicant receives points based on their scores, and the candidates with the highest number of points from the pool are accepted into the community of 1,244 6th through 12th graders.
Admission is understandably competitive –nearly 1,200 apply, with a 37% admission rate. An impressive 99% of those who enter CMS matriculate to a four-year college!
Graduates bring in significant scholarship funds to attend institutions like MIT, Clemson, and Emory. In fact, the class of 2020 garnered over $12 million in scholarship money, averaging $63,554 per student!
Central Magnet is STEAM accredited, and nearly 80% of its teachers hold master’s degrees. Most have at least 15 years of teaching experience and lead one of 29 available AP courses.
6. Davidson Academy of Nevada (Reno, NV)
Conceived by the innovator/philanthropist team behind successful education software programs MathBlaster™ and ReadingBlaster™, the Davidson Academy is the first free public school of its kind serving profoundly gifted and talented middle and high school students.
Classes are grouped by ability versus age, and students can attend in-person or online.
With only 163 students enrolled from 20 zip codes, the benefits of attending Davidson include a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio, a highly diverse student body, and flexible scheduling.
Fridays are divided into three 2-hour blocks with 15 elective options for each period, and many students submit ideas for electives. Some students may even teach electives!
The school follows two pacing styles: “as quickly as possible” and “as appropriate.” In the former option, the school caters to families who wish for their children to obtain high school diplomas as soon as possible, typically between 16-17 years old.
In the latter option, more individualized attention is devoted to students and the level of rigor they need for a curriculum to prove challenging.
5. Payton College Preparatory High School (Chicago, IL)
The 1,100+ students at Payton spend each day engrossed in advanced-level, interdisciplinary pursuits in collaboration with their teachers, peers, and sister school counterparts in China, the Czech Republic, and South Africa, among other locations.
It is the only school to host the Confucius Institute, an organization dedicated to increasing the population of Mandarinparticipate people.
Payton pupils take part in an enriching seminar program, which connects them with opportunities to learn anything from judo and acoustic guitar to 3D modeling and financial analysis.
The service learning requirement mandates two service learning projects, typically completed in conjunction with a civics or government course.
Students attend seven micro classes and longer classes built into the weekly schedule on alternating blocks.
Time management is obviously an essential skill that students work to develop during their time at this rigorous institution.
Many students will additionally take part in Payton trips and exchanges like an ecology camp in Belize, a language program in Spain, and a concert choir opportunity in China.
4. School for Advanced Studies (Miami, FL)
The list of reasons to attend the School for Advanced Studies (SAS) is seemingly endless! Each semester, scholars enroll in a minimum of three dual-enrollment courses, all of which provide the opportunity to earn college credit.
By the end of their sophomore year, this means that students will have accumulated over a year of college credit!
SAS enrolls nearly 800 students from public, charter, private, and home-schooled backgrounds.
Current sophomores are eligible to apply, and admission is based on a ranking determined by GPA, attendance, testing scores, and citizenship records.
Those who are admitted to SAS receive free tuition, textbooks, and school supplies.
3. Signature School (Evansville, IN)
Truly a community-embedded institution, the Signature School is housed in a renovated 1920s hotel by the river. 369 students in grades 9-12 attend the public charter school, which offers 21 AP courses and 24 International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.
Community service is integral to the Signature experience, with each student required to complete a minimum of 100 hours of service.
Signature scholars may forge connections within the community with entities like the Wesselman Nature Society, Funk in the City, and Arthritis Foundation.
Whatever niche you can think of, the school has likely developed a partnership with a community group or nonprofit focused on that area.
What’s even better? The school is an open-admission public charter school, meaning any student can apply for the tuition-free experience. Understandably, the school receives many applications, so admission is based on a lottery system.
2. Academic Magnet High School (North Charleston, SC)
Located in one of the most desirable vacation destinations in the United States, Academic Magnet boasts so much more than proximity to the beach and delicious southern cuisine.
Scholars have opportunities to work with technology, engineering, and hospitality experts, among other burgeoning industries in the area.
The graduation requirements detail a minimum of 90 community service hours, four AP courses, and a year-long independent study endeavor.
Admission is highly competitive. In addition to GPAs and standardized test scores, applicants also submit a writing sample, math assessment, and teacher letter of recommendation.
Academic Magnet operates on a 90-minute block schedule, and all core classes are offered at the Honors or AP levels only. In the most recent year, the pass rate across 1,717 AP exams taken at the school was an impressive 94%!
1. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria, VA)
Founded in 1985, Thomas Jefferson High’s reputation is bolstered by its commitment to STEM and 13 specialized research labs dedicated to topics like neuroscience, quantum physics, and nanochemistry.
All students engage in the annual Thomas Jefferson Symposium to Advance Research, where they showcase the findings and implications of their independent research projects.
Mentorship is a key component of the school’s curriculum. Students have unprecedented opportunities to collaborate with expert engineers, scientists, government figures, and business leaders in the Washington, D.C. area.
Students passionate about computer science should absolutely look more into Thomas Jefferson’s programs, as the school offers seven years’ worth of computer science classes! Offerings focus on exciting topics like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and mobile application development.
In addition to seven academic periods, the “8th period” is designated for more than 180 existing clubs, sports, and research-related pursuits.