The 15 Best Private High Schools In America: A Detailed Guide for Parents

As an Education Reform Expert and parent myself, I know that choosing the right private high school is one of the most consequential decisions families can make. The high school years are a pivotal time in a child‘s life, shaping their academic path, interests, values and goals for the future.

Private schools offer compelling benefits, from low student-teacher ratios and individualized college counseling to top-notch facilities and a commitment to excellence across academics, arts, athletics and more. But you want to ensure you choose a private school that‘s the right fit for your child.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share expert insights on how to evaluate private schools and provide detailed profiles of the 15 best private high schools in America.

How to Choose the Best Private High School

Choosing a private high school is an investment – in both your child‘s education and your family‘s financial resources. Here are the key factors I advise parents to prioritize:

Academic Rigor and Excellence

This should be every parent‘s top priority. Review the school‘s curriculum, variety of course offerings, including AP and honors options. Examine their teaching quality and student outcomes. What percentage of graduates are accepted to their top college picks? How many go on to Ivy League and other highly selective schools? These metrics indicate the school‘s academic caliber.

For example, at top-ranked Phillips Exeter Academy, over 95% of graduates matriculate to their first or second choice colleges, including Ivy League universities and other elite institutions. This college acceptance rate reflects Exeter‘s exceptional academic preparation.

Culture and Values Alignment

The high school years don‘t just shape your child‘s intellect but their character. Ensure the school‘s culture and values align with those you want to instill in your child. Look at their mission statement, honor code, service requirements, discipline policies and overall community.

For instance, Sidwell Friends School prioritizes Quaker values like community, integrity, equality and service. Their curriculum emphasizes purpose-driven education to develop socially responsible citizens. For many families, this culture and value set is ideal.

Student-Teacher Ratio

Research shows that smaller class sizes promote greater learning and allow teachers to provide more individualized attention. Aim for private schools with a student-teacher ratio of 8:1 or lower. For example, stand-out Poly Prep Country Day School maintains an impressive 5:1 student-teacher ratio.

Breadth of Opportunities

While academics are critical, you want your child to explore their passions. Look for ample extracurricular activities from sports to arts, clubs, research opportunities and more. Over 125 student groups at Milton Academy, for instance, enable teens to pursue interests ranging from robotics to LGBTQ advocacy.

College Counseling and Acceptance Rates

College admission has become extremely competitive. A strong college counseling program can make all the difference. The best schools have dedicated counselors guiding students through applications, testing, financial aid and finding the right college fit. High matriculation rates to top universities indicate a successful program.

Facilities and Resources

Modern amenities and facilities create an environment conducive to learning and growth. Consider classrooms, science labs, libraries, athletic facilities, arts spaces, dining halls and dorms (for boarding schools). For instance, Cranbrook Schools provide specialized facilities from observatories to art museums.

The Top 15 Private High Schools in America

Now that you know what to look for in a truly exceptional private school, let‘s explore the 15 best private high schools in America.

1. Phillips Exeter Academy – Exeter, NH

  • Founded: 1781
  • Student-teacher ratio: 5:1
  • Acceptance rate: 19%
  • Average class size: 12
  • Annual tuition: $53,200 (boarding), $44,200 (day)

Phillips Exeter balances tradition with innovation. The school emphasizes intellectual curiosity, leadership, character growth and service. With over 400 courses, students enjoy unparalleled academic choice. They must also participate in athletics and other activities, ensuring well-rounded graduates.

Impressive facilities include a major library, science building, visual arts center and theater. Over 95% of graduates attend their first or second choice colleges. 33% matriculate to the Ivy League, while 21% attend other elite schools including MIT, Stanford and Duke.

2. Phillips Academy Andover – Andover, MA

  • Founded: 1778
  • Student-teacher ratio: 5:1
  • Acceptance rate: 12-15%
  • Average class size: 12
  • Annual tuition: $63,950 (boarding), $52,850 (day)

The second oldest boarding school in the U.S., Phillips Andover provides outstanding college preparation. Their Center for Teaching and Learning promotes ongoing faculty development; over 75% hold advanced degrees.

Students represent over 40 states and 40 countries, creating a diverse environment. They choose from over 300 courses, pursue artistic passions in photography, music and theater, and participate in competitive athletics.

Over 11% of students receive financial assistance. Graduates attend universities worldwide including 42% matriculating to the Ivy League or elite institutions like MIT and Duke.

3. Choate Rosemary Hall – Wallingford, CT

  • Founded: 1890
  • Student-teacher ratio: 6:1
  • Acceptance rate: 23%
  • Average class size: 11
  • Annual tuition: $61,860 (boarding), $46,760 (day)

At Choate Rosemary Hall, dedicated faculty challenge students with advanced coursework while providing individual support. But learning goes beyond the classroom. Their signature programs include:

  • Senior Project – an independent, year-long project where students pursue a passion from machine learning to poetry.

  • Global Studies Program – with study abroad options, promotes global awareness.

  • CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) – helps students navigate challenges and thrive emotionally.

Over one-third of students receive financial assistance. Impressively, 99% of graduates attend four-year colleges, with 46% matriculating to the Ivy League or other highly selective schools.

4. College Preparatory School – Oakland, CA

  • Founded: 1960
  • Student-teacher ratio: 8:1
  • Acceptance rate: 20%
  • Average class size: 16
  • Annual tuition: $41,485

With a progressive approach tailored to boys‘ learning styles, College Prep‘s curriculum emphasizes critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. An integral component is their Service Learning Program which embeds 75 hours of community service into the academic program.

College Prep promotes equity with around 55% students of color and robust financial assistance. Extensive arts and music programs let students cultivate creative talents.

The school boasts a 100% college matriculation rate, with 31% of 2019 graduates attending Ivy League universities or other highly selective schools like Stanford or MIT.

5. Poly Prep Country Day School – Brooklyn, NY

  • Founded: 1854
  • Student-teacher ratio: 5:1
  • Acceptance rate: 23%
  • Average class size: 13
  • Annual tuition: $50,400 (K-12 day)

With a long history, Poly Prep Country Day School combines rigorous academics and whole child education across their Lower, Middle and Upper schools.

The school promotes civic values and ethics alongside intellectual rigor. In addition to core academics, students explore passions – from engineering to arts to athletics – through over 40 diverse clubs and teams.

Poly Prep maintains an impressive 5:1 student-teacher ratio. For the Class of 2019, 32% of graduating seniors were accepted to Ivy League institutions, with others attending elite schools like Stanford, Duke, NYU and Boston College.

6. Milton Academy – Milton, MA

  • Founded: 1798
  • Student-teacher ratio: 5:1
  • Acceptance rate: 17%
  • Average class size: 12
  • Annual tuition: $63,500 (boarding), $48,300 (day)

Established in 1798, Milton Academy excels in combining rich history with forward-thinking education. Their curriculum emphasizes collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and communication skills.

Students enjoy a 5:1 ratio learning from faculty with advanced degrees from Harvard, Brown, MIT and other top institutions. Over 125 student groups provide enriching extracurricular activities from dance to debate to sustainability initiatives.

Extensive arts programs, competitive athletics and service opportunities promote well-rounded graduates. The majority attend Ivy League colleges, Stanford, Duke and other highly selective schools.

7. Harvard-Westlake School – Studio City, CA

  • Founded: 1991
  • Student-teacher ratio: 7:1
  • Acceptance rate: 20%
  • Average class size: 17
  • Annual tuition: $40,600

Harvard-Westlake provides outstanding college preparation with a curriculum blending traditional disciplines and innovative programs. Signature offerings include:

  • Design lab – students utilize 3D printing, laser cutters and other technology to solve real-world problems.

  • Science research – students partner with PhD scientists at Caltech and UCLA on original research.

  • Los Angeles Immersion – exploring pressing urban issues facing LA like housing and transit.

Impressive teacher credentials (over 75% have advanced degrees) and facilities ranging from a 300-seat theater to athletic complex enable exceptional arts, athletics and student life programming.

In 2019, Harvard-Westlake graduates matriculated to universities including Stanford, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Northwestern, and all Ivy League institutions.

8. Sidwell Friends School – Washington D.C.

  • Founded: 1883
  • Student-teacher ratio: 7:1
  • Acceptance rate: 19%
  • Average class size: 16
  • Annual tuition: $42,960 (K-12 day)

Sidwell Friends provides outstanding college preparation guided by Quaker values like integrity, service, peace, equality and community. Students participate in 60 student-led organizations and complete a minimum 80 hours of community service.

Extensive global study and exchange programs enhance students‘ world perspectives. Graduates attend elite colleges worldwide including Ivy League universities along with highly selective institutions such as Stanford, University of Chicago, Emory and more.

9. Groton School – Groton, MA

  • Founded: 1884
  • Student-teacher ratio: 5:1
  • Acceptance rate: 18%
  • Average class size: 13
  • Annual tuition: $63,100 (boarding), $48,300 (day)

Modeled after elite English boarding schools, Groton provides outstanding college preparation guided by its motto "cui servire est regnare" (to serve is to rule). Community and social responsibility are central pillars.

Students pursue academic excellence alongside artistic, athletic and service endeavors. Over 120 student clubs span interests from robotics to French cuisine. Graduates attend universities worldwide including 42% matriculating to the Ivy League and elite institutions like Stanford, Duke and University of Chicago.

10. Episcopal High School – Alexandria, VA

  • Founded: 1839
  • Student-teacher ratio: 6:1
  • Acceptance rate: 19%
  • Average class size: 12
  • Annual tuition: $63,430 (boarding), $46,110 (day)

With over 180 years educating future leaders, Episcopal High School balances rigorous academics and character development. The school partners with communities worldwide for service initiatives, with each student completing 120 service hours.

Athletics and activities ranging from robotics to multicultural alliance promote well-rounded graduates. Impressively, 100% of graduates are accepted to 4-year colleges, with 88% attending the most selective schools including 42% accepted to the Ivy League.

11. Lakeside School – Seattle, WA

  • Founded: 1919
  • Student-teacher ratio: 7:1
  • Acceptance rate: 23%
  • Average class size: 16
  • Annual tuition: $37,475

At Lakeside School, teachers encourage intellectual exploration, creativity and independent thinking. Signature programs include:

  • Global Service Learning – students participate in meaningful cross-cultural service projects worldwide.

  • Innovation Lab – students utilize emerging technology like VR, robotics and 3D printing to solve real-world problems.

  • Senior Year Passion Project – students spend year researching a passion from microbiology to Native American rights.

The majority of graduates are accepted to their top choice colleges, including highly selective schools like University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Rice, Emory, Notre Dame and all Ivy League institutions.

12. The Harker School – San Jose, CA

  • Founded: 1893
  • Student-teacher ratio: 8:1
  • Acceptance rate: 35%
  • Average class size: 17
  • Annual tuition: $61,860 (K-12 day)

The Harker School provides a challenging, supportive environment where students thrive. Students cultivate passions in areas like STEM, global studies, journalism, arts and athletics.

Notable programs include:

  • Coding – computer science curriculum starts in kindergarten.

  • Harker Research Symposium – students present original research ranging from algorithms to WWII history.

  • Speech and debate – students participate in tournaments nationwide.

College matriculation is impressive with recent graduates attending UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, NYU and other top universities, earning millions in merit scholarships.

13. Cranbrook Schools – Bloomfield Hills, MI

  • Founded: 1904
  • Student-teacher ratio: 8:1
  • Acceptance rate: 23%
  • Average class size: 15
  • Annual tuition: $39,800 (K-12 day)

The Cranbrook Schools campus features integrated arts, science and cultural institutions spanning 319 acres. Students have access to art and science museums, observatories, radio station and other resources supporting exploration.

Cranbrook‘s curriculum balances arts, sciences, humanities and athletics. With a 8:1 student-teacher ratio, students receive individualized attention. The school boasts impressive college outcomes, with 94% of graduates attending their first or second choice colleges including Ivy League and other highly selective institutions.

14. Trinity School – New York City, NY

  • Founded: 1709
  • Student-teacher ratio: 6:1
  • Acceptance rate: 16%
  • Average class size: 13
  • Annual tuition: $53,530

As the oldest continually operational school in the country, Trinity School balances tradition with innovative programming. Students thrive with a 6:1 ratio and intimate average class size of 13.

Trinity provides outstanding college preparation; 100% of seniors are accepted to four-year universities, matriculating to schools including UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, NYU, UPenn, Brown, Yale and other highly competitive colleges.

Distinguished programs range from summer study at Oxford to student-run microfinance initiative to renowned performing and visual arts.

15. Hopkins School – New Haven, CT

  • Founded: 1660
  • Student-teacher ratio: 5:1
  • Acceptance rate: 23%
  • Average class size: 13
  • Annual tuition: $54,970

Established in 1660, Hopkins School combines rich history with forward-looking education. Students learn and grow through small classes (5:1 ratio) led by expert faculty, 90%+ holding advanced degrees.

Hopkins‘ curriculum stresses critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. Graduates earn acceptances to highly selective colleges and universities including Harvard, UPenn, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Brown, Duke, Stanford, University of Chicago and other top institutions.

Choosing The Best Private High School For Your Child

I hope this guide provides helpful insights into what makes a private high school exceptional along with detailed profiles of 15 of the very best private schools in the nation. But choosing what‘s ultimately best for your child depends on their specific needs.

As you evaluate private school options, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make a list of your priorities – rigorous academics, specific programs, location, costs, etc. What matters most?

  • Tour campuses to get first-hand experience of the learning environment

  • Look beyond marketing materials; talk to current students, parents, alumni

  • Assess college counseling. Strong programs guide students through the competitive admissions process.

  • Thoroughly research costs, financial aid policies and available scholarships

  • Consider your child‘s needs – their strengths, interests, values. What will allow them to thrive?

The private high school you choose will have a profound impact on your teen‘s growth and opportunities. With careful selection, it can set them on an exciting path toward college and a fulfilling adulthood. I wish you the best navigating this important decision for your family!

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