The Best Public High Schools in the U.S.

by Tanika Johnson
TheBestSchools.org

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The best public schools in the U.S. prepare students for college and offer strong math and reading coursework, along with high graduation rates and gains amongst underserved populations.

The best schools in the U.S. offer students a pathway for academic and real-world success. Students attain the skills for academic research, peer collaboration, and technological innovation.

Good high schools provide dual-enrollment programs for college credit. They also have honors, advanced placement (AP), and international baccalaureate (IB) classes. Good schools also emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses. The best schools in the U.S. provide counseling for college, financial aid, and scholarship applications. These schools also help students pursue internship and job opportunities.

Types of High Schools

Public, charter, and magnet schools offer learners a free public education with rigorous academic curricula and blended, digital, and online learning opportunities.

Public High Schools

The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education delivers policies for all students to receive a free and inclusive public education. Some public schools offer blended and digital learning opportunities, online courses for rural and remote learners, and computer science and STEM classes.

Others provide accelerated learning programs, postsecondary courses, and music and arts programs. Forty-one states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts.

Charter High Schools

Charter schools create classrooms that align with their students' needs. While independently operated public entities, charter schools perform under a contract with a charter school authorizer. These schools adhere to the academic performance standards defined in their charter and communities.

Charter schools admit students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. These tuition-free schools provide a schoolwide culture that supports teachers in delivering innovative and high-quality instructional practices.

Magnet High Schools

Magnet schools also enroll students of all socioeconomic statuses, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and achievement levels. With the demand for specialized curricula, most of these tuition-free schools adopt a lottery system for admission.

Magnet schools incorporate STEM, fine and performing arts, IB, international studies, career and technical education, and world languages into their coursework. These schools abide by state standards and often exceed desired learning outcomes.

Top 25 Public High Schools in the U.S.

To identify the best public high schools in the U.S., we focused on schools that offer a traditional high school experience and atmosphere. The list does not include public high schools located on college campuses or schools with students in seventh grade or below.

Ranking Methodology

Our ranking methodology weighs the following criteria:

  • Strength of high school curriculum
  • AP or IB participation rate
  • Reading and math results
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Student graduation rate
  • Performance of disadvantaged students
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • Percentage of college-bound students
  • Facilities, clubs, and activities offered
  • Geographic diversity
  • Size of student population

1. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Alexandria, Virginia

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was created in partnership between Fairfax County Public Schools and the business community to improve student education in mathematics, science, and technology. This high school serves as the regional magnet Governor's School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia.

The curriculum emphasizes STEM subjects, problem-solving, critical inquiry and research, intellectual curiosity, and social responsibility. Faculty deliver all courses at the honors, gifted, AP, and post-AP levels. Students must participate in AP classes, and the school features a 100% pass rate for advanced placement exams.

Students must participate in an activities period included in the instructional day. Learners can participate in any of 150+ clubs and activities. The school is one of the founding members of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has very stringent entry requirements, including an entrance exam, a personal essay, recommendations, and a history of high academic achievement. Students' demonstrated aptitude and passion for studies in the mathematical, scientific, and technological fields also factor into the admissions process.

2. Carnegie Vanguard High School

Houston, Texas

Carnegie Vanguard High School, a community-centered magnet school, has a curriculum consisting of AP courses, pre-AP courses, and honors electives. Ninety-eight percent of its students gained admission to four-year colleges or universities, and 100% of its enrollees pass AP exams.

Graduation requirements include 100 hours of community service and taking ten AP courses. Carnegie Vanguard High School offers clubs focusing on community service and academics. Admission requirements require universal assessment scores, teacher recommendations, transcripts, and gifted or talented identification.

3. Liberal Arts and Science Academy High School

Austin, Texas

Liberal Arts and Science Academy, an advanced academic magnet high school, recruits academically advanced students from public and private middle schools in Austin, Texas. Ninety-five percent of its enrollees take AP classes, with a 96% pass rate. The admission rate to four-year colleges and universities is 95.5%.

Liberal Arts and Science Academy provides project-based courses that rely heavily on discussion, research, and seminar-style classes. The school delivers its collaborative Signature Courses as a cornerstone of its curriculum. Student groups research, design, implement, and present projects in the sciences and humanities.

Outside the classroom, Liberal Arts and Science Academy offers sports teams and clubs, including chess, debate, Future Teachers of America, and philosophy. Foreign language clubs include French, German, Spanish, and Chinese.

This school maintains competitive admissions based on previous accomplishments, test scores, and teacher recommendations.

4. Gilbert Classical Academy

Gilbert, Arizona

Gilbert Classical Academy features an integrated, rigorous curriculum with a focus on the Socratic method of instruction. The school prepares enrollees for college-level study by only offering honors and AP courses. All students participate in AP courses, with an exam pass rate of 98%.

Gilbert Classical Academy enhances its curriculum with fine arts courses, clubs, and athletics. Each student must complete 80 hours of community service and defend a senior thesis project. Enrollment at Gilbert Classical Academy requires enrollees to meet prerequisite course requirements.

5. Design and Architecture Senior High School

Miami, Florida

Design and Architecture Senior High School is a magnet school that teaches students foundations in visual communications, fine art, entertainment, and architecture. Students can also enroll in traditional science, math, and language arts courses. Design and Architecture Senior High School offers classes at the AP and honors levels, as well as dual-enrollment courses with local colleges.

Ninety-eight percent of students enroll in AP courses. Students can gain real-world experience through internships with local design firms. Economically disadvantaged learners make up 40% of the Design and Architecture Senior High School student body. Design and Architecture Senior High School received Blue Ribbon School of Excellence status from the U.S. Department of Education.

Each applicant must submit a sketchbook, provide a portfolio, and complete an audition for consideration.

6. University High School

Tucson, Arizona

University High School is a college preparatory school that features coursework in mathematics, science, English, and modern languages. The high school serves academically focused and intellectually gifted students through a curriculum of honors and AP courses.

The school offers foreign language courses, including Chinese, French, and German. University High School partners with the University of Arizona to provide concurrent enrollment in engineering courses.

The school shares a campus with Rincon High School, and University High School students have access to the classes offered by Rincon High School in addition to the classes at University High School. The schools share most clubs, except the University High School chess team, Science Olympiad, Academic Decathlon, and Mock Trial.

Students compete in regional, state, and national academic competitions. The school bases admissions on qualifying scores on the Cognitive Abilities entrance exam and GPA in the two semesters before enrollment.

7. Stanton College Preparatory School

Jacksonville, Florida

This magnet school emphasizes cultural understanding and responsible citizenship. The school offers honors, AP, and IB classes. Stanton College Preparatory School provides core courses at the honors and AP levels. Ninety-nine percent of students participate in the IB program, with a completion rate of 100%.

Through partnerships with University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville, students at Stanton College Preparatory School can obtain college credit while enrolled in high school.

The school has more than 50 clubs and organizations, including honor societies, special interest groups, academic teams, service clubs, and music. The U.S. Department of Education recognized Stanton College Preparatory School as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

8. International Academy

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

International Academy requires its students to attend all IB courses and exams. Enrollees can obtain up to a year of college credit before completing high school. This institution provides a blend of rigorous academic standards and practical, career-oriented learning.

The curriculum focuses on English, the arts, humanities, science, and technology, among other core courses. The school also offers primarily honors classes as part of its Middle Years Program. International Academy has three campuses: Okma, East, and West.

International Academy requires each enrollee to complete 150 hours of community service or co-curricular activities to graduate. Some of the co-curricular clubs available include chess, dance, film, and robotics. International Academy selects students for admission through a lottery.

9. Downingtown STEM Academy

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Downingtown STEM Academy is a top-rated, public magnet school located in Downingtown, PA. This IB World School offers every student the opportunity to earn an IB diploma. Students engage in rigorous, challenging academic work that requires a mindset of growth and effort. Ninety-percent percent of enrollees participate in the IB program.

A minimum of 75% of a student's credit requirement in each category must come from traditional credits. However, grades are not calculated into a student's GPA, except for dual-enrollment courses.

The school offers many clubs and athletic teams, along with programs offered in the student's home school within the school district. Admission requirements include prerequisite courses, a written essay, teacher recommendation, and an interview.

10. Staten Island Technical High School

Staten Island, New York

Staten Island Technical High School has received Specialized High School status from the NYC Department of Education. These institutions serve the needs of gifted New York City students.

Staten Island Technical High School provides a challenging college preparatory curriculum that emphasizes mathematics, science, engineering, computers, and the humanities. The high school also emphasizes health, fitness, and the performing arts. Students have access to science, engineering, and computer laboratories.

The school features a 100% AP class participation rate, with 94% of students passing AP exams. Staten Island Technical High School also offers an Early College Initiative and a college dual-enrollment program.

Students with exceptional performances in the sciences at Staten Island Technical High School can join the school's Science Engineering Research Program. Students have several career training and learning exploration opportunities, such as worksite visits, internships, and visits from guest speakers to help discover their career and life goals.

Staten Island Technical High School reports that 100% of its students receive admission to colleges and universities. Economically disadvantaged learners make up 31% of its student body.

Staten Island Technical High School is highly competitive. Students gain admission through the challenging Specialized High School Admissions Test.

11. Brooklyn Latin School

Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn Latin School provides a classical liberal arts curriculum. Students obtain a strong background in STEM, history, English, Latin, and modern world languages. The school has received Specialized High School status from the NYC Department of Education.

Brooklyn Latin School serves the needs of gifted NYC Students. Students can pursue the IB Diploma Program and earn college credits through dual-enrollment courses.

Coursework emphasizes structured writing and public speaking. Students can participate in Socratic seminars and learn through communicating based on formal rules of discussion. Students also divide learning tasks then teach each other in small groups. Each enrollee takes four years of Latin and laboratory sciences before completing an extended research essay.

The school expects students to try to make a better world through volunteering in their communities and helping the less fortunate. Economically disadvantaged students make up 67% of the student body at Brooklyn Latin School.

Students gain admission through the challenging Specialized High School Admissions Test.

12. Bergen County Academies

Hackensack, New Jersey

Bergen County Academies is a free, public magnet high school for Bergen County residents. The school offers specialized programs in math, science, engineering, design, and medical science, among others. This tuition-free institution serves grades 9-12.

Bergen County Academies offers extensive extracurricular activities and has a notable faculty, many of whom have doctorates in their respective fields. Though it offers 16 AP classes, the school does not focus on them. Enrollees engage in coursework that often surpass AP courses in technical rigor and creativity. Learners can also pursue dual-enrollment classes to earn college credits.

Admission to Bergen County Academies remains highly competitive, as the school typically accepts about 270 of the 1,600+ applicants every year through a process that includes letters of recommendation, exams, and interviews. The school has a 16% acceptance rate.

This Blue Ribbon School holds membership in the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. As home to five Intel Science Talent Search finalists in the past five years, this institution received Model School in the Arts status by the New Jersey Department of Education.

13. Academic Magnet High School

North Charleston, South Carolina

Academic Magnet High School serves academically gifted and motivated students. The high school encourages enrollees to cultivate a sense of global responsibility, contribute to their community, and uphold respect for cultural diversity.

Alongside the rigorous academic requirements, each enrollee must also complete 90 hours of community service, take and pass at least four AP courses while attending high school, complete a summer reading list, and complete a senior thesis (a year-long independent research project). Even with these strict requirements, 95% of all students at Academic Magnet High School graduate.

Academic Magnet High School features several sports teams and over 50 student clubs, including chess, debate, robotics, and physics. Each applicant must provide a written essay, middle school grades, test scores, and teacher recommendations.

14. Townsend Harris High School

Flushing, New York

Townsend Harris High School is a public magnet high school for the humanities in Queens, New York. As part of its mission, the school encourages students to strive for excellence and commit to serving their communities.

Townsend Harris High School's rigorous curriculum includes primarily AP courses. Ninety-seven percent of enrollees take AP exams with a 99% pass rate. In addition, Townsend Harris learners can earn college credits while taking high school courses for dual credit.

Students may also participate in Queens College language courses after receiving approval from the department supervisor. At Townsend Harris High School 78% of students are from historically marginalized groups and 55% are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The schools' many clubs and activities focus on academics and community service. Students applying for Townsend Harris High School must have a minimum overall average of 90%, excellent standardized test scores, and excellent attendance and punctuality.

15. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology

Lawrenceville, Georgia

The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology emphasizes project-based STEM education. The campus includes digital media production facilities for sound and video; science labs; and large project spaces for engineering, robotics, art, and design.

Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology has a 100% AP participation rate and a 96% pass rate for AP exams. Some of the offerings include chemistry, physics, engineering, and language arts. Some enrollees may qualify for dual-enrollment programs to earn early college credits.

The school features many student clubs, including architecture, debate, and robotics. Seventy percent of its students enroll in college within 12 months of graduation. Economically disadvantaged learners make up 36% of its student body.

Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology is a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology uses a lottery system for admissions.

16. Walter Payton College Preparatory High School

Chicago, Illinois

Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, a selective-enrollment magnet school, focuses its curriculum on honors and AP courses in science, math, humanities, language, and other subjects.

The high school also features foreign language courses in French, Japanese, Chinese, Latin, and Spanish. Students can participate in global exchange and study programs in China, France, Brazil, and South Africa. Each student takes four years of world language courses.

Walter Payton College Preparatory High School offers competitive sports programs and many school clubs, including astronomy, chess, debate, and photography. The school also maintains a strong commitment to service and community engagement.

Economically disadvantaged students make up 31% of the student body. During the 12 months following graduation, 85% of learners enroll in college and universities. Within 16 months, 88% have enrolled. Walter Payton College Preparatory High School is a National Blue Ribbon Award school and an Intel School of Distinction.

17. Bronx High School of Science

Bronx, New York

Bronx High School of Science maintains Specialized High School status with the NYC Department of Education. This selective public high school emphasizes a college preparatory curriculum with courses in foreign languages, fine arts, math, and science. Economically disadvantaged students make up 44% of its student body.

The school teaches eight foreign languages. Required classes include drama, health, and visual arts. In addition to the fast-paced science and math curriculum offered by the Bronx High School of Science, every student takes ninth-grade writing seminars and research literacy courses.

Students can choose from more than two dozen AP classes, with 91% of its enrollees participating in advanced placement coursework. The high school offers several post-AP courses as well, such as multivariable calculus, genetics, and organic chemistry. Qualified candidates may also participate in dual enrollment courses.

The school features eight Nobel laureate alumni, along with eight winners of the National Medal of Science and six Pulitzer Prize winners.

Bronx High School of Science is a member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. The high school bases admission on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

18. Bergen County Technical High School – Teterboro

Teterboro, New Jersey

Bergen County Technical High School – Teterboro provides AP classes, with 97% of its enrollees pursuing advanced placement coursework. Students can have a technical major and fulfill college preparatory classes. The high school also features diverse electives.

Students can also take college courses off-site at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Bergen Community College before graduating high school. Enrollees can also participate in the SkillsUSA competition each year. Learners can also participate in traditional fall, winter, and spring sports.

Bergen County Technical High School – Teterboro is a National Blue Ribbon School; a member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology; and belongs to the Coalition of Essential Schools.

19. Suncoast Community High School

Riviera Beach, Florida

Suncoast Community High School, a public college-preparatory high school, offers four magnet programs: Innovative Interactive Technology; Computer Science; IB; and Math, Science, and Engineering.

All of its students enroll in AP courses, while 52% participate in IB courses. Suncoast Community High School allows enrollees to pursue standard, IB, and AP international diplomas.

Students can complete executive internships to gain real-world experience. Through its software and hardware programs, learners can also earn industry certifications to receive a leg up after graduation.

Economically disadvantaged students comprise 27% of its student body. Enrollees can get involved in more than 80 organizations and clubs and 44 athletic teams. This high school mainly bases admissions on test scores, recommendations, and grades. The school also automatically admits learners who complete the IB Middle Years Program at local middle schools.

20. Stuyvesant High School

New York, New York

Stuyvesant High School received Specialized High School status from the NYC Department of Education to meet the needs of gifted New York City students. This high school focuses its educational program on math, science, and technology. Students can also pursue coursework in criminal law and journalism, along with a comprehensive humanities program. Each enrollee completes three years of a single foreign language.

The high school has five bands, a symphony orchestra, and a jazz combo. Learners can also collaborate to deliver theatrical productions. Stuyvesant High School features sports teams, a robotics team, academic teams, and numerous clubs. Economically disadvantaged learners make up 43% of the student body at Stuyvesant High School. Historically marginalized groups make up 81% of students.

Four Stuyvesant High School alumni have received the Nobel Prize. Students gain admission through the challenging Specialized High School Admissions Test.

21. Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School

Jersey City, New Jersey

Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School offers AP and honors-level courses, with 100% percent of its students enrolling in AP courses. The high school features nearly two dozen AP classes, allowing qualified learners to earn college credits for specific courses.

Beyond traditional courses, the high school requires each enrollee to complete 50 hours of community service. After receiving their diplomas, 89% of students enroll in a two-year or four-year college within 16 months.

Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School offers extracurricular activities, including an academic competition team, cross-country, and track and field. The high school also features internal visual and performing arts programs. Economically disadvantaged students make up 47% of the student body.

The U.S. Department of Education recognized Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School as a Blue Ribbon School. The high school bases admission on PSAT scores, academic performance during middle school, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities.

22. Brooklyn Technical High School

Brooklyn, New York

Brooklyn Technical High School maintains Specialized High School status from the NYC Department of Education. This public high school specializes in technology, science, mathematics, and engineering. Students at Brooklyn Technical High School can choose from 18 majors. The school's focus on applied science attracts learners who like to design, build, and work with their hands.

Brooklyn Technical features a college-style system of majors, including chemical engineering, media communications, social science research, and mathematics. The school offers many AP courses, with 90% of its enrollees participating in the courses and exams.

Each enrollee must complete 50 hours of community service and earn 32 service credits through school teams, clubs, and other school-related events. A robust alumni network actively supports Brooklyn Technical High School. Its alumni include two Nobel Prize winners. Economically disadvantaged learners make up 64% of the student body.

Brooklyn Technical High School is a founding member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. The school maintains a highly selective admissions process. All applicants must complete the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

23. Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School

Nashville, Tennessee

Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School supports academically gifted students in their full development. The school offers more than 25 AP courses and teaches all classes at the advanced placement and honors levels. All enrollees complete pre-calculus and physics.

The school also provides advanced study in Latin, German, French, and Spanish. Each senior completes an internship program, and all enrollees receive community service opportunities.

The school has a nationally recognized arts program covering orchestra, jazz, choir, theater, and visual arts. Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School's sports program includes basketball, baseball, wrestling, and soccer teams.

Economically disadvantaged students make up 21% of the student body at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet School.

24. Northside College Preparatory High School

Chicago, Illinois

This magnet school provides all core courses through honors and AP coursework. Its foundational courses include an integrated math program, colloquium, constitutional law, and literature and the arts. The courses use a block schedule, facilitating in-depth exploration and understanding of various subjects.

Students can also participate in study-abroad programs. This high school offers more than 50 clubs and activities and a full array of athletic teams. Economically disadvantaged students make up 38% of the student body.

Northside College Preparatory High School, a selective-enrollment institution, makes admissions decisions based on grades, standardized test scores, entrance exam scores, and socioeconomic status.

25. Mission San Jose High School

Fremont, California

Mission San Jose High School is known for its talented and dynamic student body. These enrollees receive assistance from devoted staff members and dedicated parents. Students at Mission San Jose High become immersed in a challenging traditional curriculum that includes college preparatory, honors, elective, and AP courses.

Its "Challenge Success" program addresses students' academic and social stresses. Additionally, 87% of its enrollees take advanced placement exams with a 95% pass rate.

Following graduation, 85% of learners enroll in four-year colleges or universities, and 9% enroll in community colleges. At Mission San Jose comprises, 94% of the student body consists of students from historically marginalized groups.

Common Questions About the Best Public Schools in the U.S.

What Makes a Good High School?

A good high school exceeds academic expectations and maintains strong performance markers. Good schools support teachers and provide helpful student resources. They also foster a culture of community and well-being for their students.

Which State Has the Best Public Schools?

Massachusetts public schools ranked first place in technological advancements, virtual and online learning opportunities, along with other categories, such as math and reading test results and SAT scores.

Where Is America Ranked in Education?

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, America ranks 13th in reading and 36th in math.

Tanika Johnson is an Education Consultant, Continuing Education Contributing Faculty Member, Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health Service Provider, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Board-Certified Telemental Health Provider, and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. She holds professional teaching licenses in both psychology and special education. Additionally, she earned her Ed.D. and Ed.S. from Carson-Newman University, MA from Argosy University, BS from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and completed her teacher education program at Freed-Hardeman University. She has a wealth of experience with early childhood education, social and emotional development, education advocacy, and serving the special education community and exceptional needs of children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities.

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