Even long before our tech-industry fame, the Bay Area has served as a hub for education and exploration. As such, our communities are home to some of the highest ranked educational institutions in the country—from the Palo Alto Unified School District to The College Preparatory School in Oakland and even all the way up to Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
When looking specifically at independent, private schools in these communities, you’ll find several that rank among the best in the United States. In this guide, we’ve rounded up those top-ranking institutions which serve the entire Bay Area—from East Bay through San Francisco, south to Silicon Valley and north to Marin County.
The College Preparatory School in Rockridge is the number one ranking private school in the Bay Area, the second in California and the eighth in the entire country, according to Niche. Their open and airy campus is tucked into a glen, surrounded by lush trees, and welcomes students from more than 50 different middle schools. More than just impressive college outcomes and small class sizes, their institution allows graduates to shine in intellectual resilience, build a sense of community, and foster a hopeful atmosphere of possibility. To learn more, click here.
The Harker School, one of the top performing schools in the country, is celebrating 125 years of education in Silicon Valley. Today, it’s the largest independent school of its kind in California and their team offers four different San Jose campuses for preschool, elementary, middle and high school students. Every campus offers extensive education opportunities, extracurricular programs and plenty of outdoor space for a high-quality, well-rounded and world-class education.
Castilleja is dedicated to educating and inspiring the Bay Area’s young women, and their diverse student body comes from the San Francisco Peninsula, Burlingame, San Jose and even some East Bay communities. Their 6th through 12th graders enjoy a global curriculum that includes Social and Emotional Learning programming, leadership opportunities at all grade levels, and tons of co-curricular offerings from athletics and student government, to community action and internships. The campus—which caters to just over 400 students—boasts studios dedicated to art, music, drama and video production, a new black box theatre, a state-of-the-art fabrication workshop, a 1,000-square-foot art gallery, and a multi-level fitness facility with two full gymnasiums, a cardio studio, a dance studio, a yoga/spin studio, and an indoor climbing wall.
Crystal Springs Uplands School is an impressive institution with two distinct campuses: the lush, historic Upper School campus in Hillsborough and the 60,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Middle School campus in Belmont. Even more than their excellent test scores, college acceptance rates, innovative curriculum and gorgeous campuses, the team behind Crystal Springs believes a truly excellent education extends beyond middle and high school. It fosters passionate curiosity, instills creativity, and strives for balance, determination, open-mindedness, and an authentic investment in making our world a better place. To see more data, like average class size, student-to-teacher ratio and financial aid, click here.
Situated in the hills of Oakland, Head-Royce educates a total of 880 students from kindergarten through high school, and their student-to-faculty ratio is excellent at 8-to-1. In addition to several international students admitted to the Upper School, these students come from Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, Orinda and more than 30 other communities in the East Bay and beyond. And the curriculum extends well beyond test scores with goals that include healthy living and a love of nature, responsibility and leadership, an appreciation of individual and cultural differences, and even integrity, ethical behavior, compassion and a sense of humor.
The best way to summarize the environment at The Nueva School is through the motto: Learn by Doing, Learn by Caring. Based on more than 50 years of expertise serving gifted learners, this pre-kindergarten through high school institution builds gifted learners into flexible thinkers, designers, mathematicians, artists, scientists, friends and citizens of our community through inquiry-based, interdisciplinary studies that extend from the classroom to life outside of school. A snapshot of programming includes pioneering curricula in Social-Emotional Learning, the first pre-collegiate Design Thinking program in the country, and the Social Justice, Equity & Inclusion program, which is now in its fourth year.
Menlo School offers middle and upper school curricula that invite students to discover and build their interests, find and exercise their voices, and enjoy the entire process. As a result, the school offers a tight-knit community between students and their peers, students and their teachers, and amongst Menlo School families, which isn’t surprising given their great student-to-teacher ratios and extensive extracurricular activities that include 44 different athletic teams, studio art and graphic art, and even movie making.
The story of The Branson School begins all the way back in 1916 when 15 Marin County families combined forces to start a local school for their children. Today, the institution has developed into one of the state’s top ranking independent institutions where they work with students to make a positive impact in the world by leading lives of integrity, purpose, learning and joy. In addition to a global education, these students can enjoy a breathtaking campus, a wide diversity of arts programs, and countless clubs, which include Guide Dogs for the Blind Puppy Raising, Environmental Action Committee, Garden Club and Branson Sports Broadcasting Network.
Nestled in Pacific Heights inside historic, renovated buildings, San Francisco University High School is home to just over 400 students representing more than 50 zip codes, more than 90 middle schools, and every part of the Bay Area, including North, East and South Bays. With an average class size of 15 and a student to faculty ratio of 7-to-1, students enjoy a tight-knit and nurturing environment complete with 122 courses and 95 electives, language courses including Mandarin, French, Latin and Spanish, and 35 athletic teams across 14 different sports.
Located near City College of San Francisco and directly adjacent to Balboa Park, Lick-Wilmerding High School is dedicated to developing students into life-long learners and citizens who are committed to making our world a better place. Through academics and arts, athletics programs, a variety of clubs, and a community dedicated to inclusivity, they’ve become one of the best private institutions in the region.
Priory is the only Benedictine College Preparatory school in California. As such, they offer a highly supportive learning community that functions alongside outstanding faculty, a rigorous college prep curriculum and a broad co-curricular program. The campus is surrounded by ancient redwood trees, is supported by solar panels, and boasts cozy outdoor plazas as well as amenities like the state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center.
Marin Academy is a school that focuses on problems, projects and questions to develop deep thinking skills, but they go even further, building creative thinking and problem solving, too. Alongside this creativity, their program supports collaboration between every student so scholars, athletes and artists are all valued and represented—even far outside the classroom. For example, Minicourse is a week spent outside the classroom for experiential learning in Zion National Park or Northern Mexico. Other special programs include the Conference on Democracy, which brings national experts to campus and the Literary Festival, which allows students to work with internationally acclaimed writers. To learn more, click here.
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