Not all high schools are equally suited to prepare students for college. Through disparities in resources, talent, or other means, some high schools stand above their peers, turning out better prepared and better-educated graduates. This is not meant to disparage the other high schools, merely acknowledge that the world is not an equal place.
Parents naturally want their children to succeed, and to have every chance available to do so. This often causes a great deal of stress when choosing which high school their student should attend, or what neighborhood they should move to in a city. Is the local public school good enough, or would a private school be better? Should they take a risk and try for a magnet school? What are the chances of getting accepted anyway?
In this guide, we’ll cover how to find the best high schools in Houston for your student, and then give a brief overview of these schools. We’ll start by exploring how to go about choosing the right high school, then give some brief notes on the application process generally. Finally, we’ll provide a guide to Houston’s top high schools, both public and private.
Choosing the Right School
All high schools are created with the same purpose: to prepare students to succeed in adult life and to ready them for college. The approach each individual school takes, however, can vary wildly. Therefore finding the best high schools in Houston means more than simply finding the schools with the best test scores; it means finding the schools that will best help your student succeed.
The first step is to objectively analyze your student. What are their wants and needs? What are their strengths and weaknesses? The same academic rigor that causes one student to thrive can turn another into a ball of stress, wilting under the pressure. Matching your student with the school that best fits their needs is the key to ensuring they prosper.
To do this, consider multiple high schools as options. Don’t merely set your sights on a single school commonly perceived as best, and let all else fall to the wayside. By exploring multiple options, you increase your chances of finding a school which is the best fit, and also increase the probability your student gets into a good school.
When you are researching schools, make sure you talk to current students, as well as faculty and staff. Teachers and principals can give insight into the philosophy of a school, and how well its graduates perform, but students give insight into how a school feels, its culture, and how it treats those who attend.
Finally, you should know that the application process itself is not overly taxing. You will need to start early, and make sure you have all of the materials completed and submitted on time, but the actual process itself is not the difficult part.
The Application Process
Private schools require an application, as do magnet schools. Private schools generally require the following as part of an application:
- A non-refundable application fee
- An application form
- A questionnaire or essay from the student
- Recommendation forms from an English and math teacher
- Standardized test scores
- Transcripts and academic records
- An interview
We’ll cover each of these in more detail, so you know what to expect.
The core of the application is a form filled out by you, covering basic information about the student. This accompanies the application fee. Official transcripts and records from previous schools attended are also required.
The student is themself responsible for part of the application. What form this takes depends on the school in question. Generally, it is either a questionnaire or an essay response. The goal here is for the school to learn more about the student, and how they think and approach the world.
Recommendation forms from teachers provide additional context about how the student acts and thinks in the classroom. Students entering grades 6 and up require these from an English teacher and a math teacher. Some private schools also want reports from a school principal or other administrator. Some will also accept forms from other mentors in a student’s life. Check carefully what each school requires before beginning the application process.
Standardized tests are required by private schools as an objective measure of a student’s ability. The most commonly used test is the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). Catholic schools sometimes use the High School Placement Test (HSPT) instead. Scores are relative; students are evaluated based on how their performance compares to their peers.
Finally, these schools will sometimes request an interview, to better understand the student, and how they would fit at the school. While the exact interview questions vary, practicing for the interview is a good way to ease nerves and ensure your student showcases their best qualities.
Magnet schools require the Houston Independent School District (HISD) magnet school application form. Each school also has their own application requirements.
Guide to the Best High Schools in Houston
Our list is organized in four categories. Within each category, schools are ordered by average ACT score, with the highest first. While a higher average ACT score does not necessarily mean a better average standard of education, it is a good approximation of a school’s academic prowess.
The first category is the public high schools, which have the lowest barrier of entry. Following these are the magnet schools, which are public schools, but don’t require that students live nearby to attend. They also often have more resources than standard public schools, and attract more interested students, so require an application. Next are two categories of private schools: secular and religious. Neither kind of school is automatically better, but religious schools often incorporate their faith into the curriculum, which is not the right choice for all families.
Regional Public Schools
All public schools are free, and take in all students who are zoned to them. The best way to attend one of these schools is to live in a neighborhood which is zoned to it.
Founded in 1983, Clements high school is part of the Fort Bend School DIstrict. They offer AP classes, and have a high rate of participation, with 64% of students taking at least one AP class. The average ACT score for the school is 30, and the average SAT score is 1292. The school serves Sugar Land and First Colony. The only way to attend this school is to live in a district zoned to it.
Opened in 2005, Seven Lakes High School serves the Katie School District. The school is the best in its district, with 62% of seniors taking at least one AP exam. The school has an average ACT score of 27.8 and an average SAT score of 1286. The school is zoned to the Seven Meadows and Grand Lakes communities.
Opened in 1962, Memorial High School is part of the Spring Branch School DIstrict. The school offers a number of AP courses. The school draws students from all of the Memorial Villages (including Bunker Hill Village, Hedwig Village, Hillshire Village, Spring Valley Village, and Piney Point Village), and the Memorial and Spring Branch regions of Houston. The average ACT score is 27.2, and the average SAT score is 1240.
Founded in 1955, Bellaire offers both IB and AP classes to its students. While Bellaire is technically a magnet school, it is at capacity, meaning that not even all of the students who live in the districts the school is zoned for manage to attend. The school is zoned for the city of Bellaire, and also draws students from the Houston neighborhoods of Meyerland, Braesmont, Knollwood Village, Maplewood, and Maplewood North. School busses are available for students who live more than two miles from the school. The average ACT score is 26.4, the average SAT score is 1115.
The first high school in the Fort Bend School District, students from throughout the district can apply to attend this school, not just those zoned for it. Dulles offers advanced science and math courses, including many not offered by other schools. Students wishing to apply should do so online. The application considers 7th and 8th grade academics, an academic entrance exam, and STAAR score. The school serves students from Sugar Land, Missouri City, and Meadows Place. The average ACT score is 24.2 and the average SAT score is 1169.
While these schools are still publicly funded and free to attend, they have stricter admissions requirements and do not simply draw in zoned students. Students from across Houston attend these schools, and compete for places.
DeBakey opened in 1972, as a partnership between the Houston School District and the Baylor School of Medicine. They still maintain close ties with the Texas Medical Center. DeBakey requires all students take a Health Science Technology (HST) course every year. The average ACT score for students is 31.1, and the average SAT score is 1402.
Admissions to DeBakey are highly competitive. Students must apply online through the HISD magnet program. Students must take a math readiness assessment, and must have completed Algebra 1. The deadline for Phase 1 applications is in early November, but you are encouraged to complete an application early, as space is limited.
The school is part of the Vanguard program, meaning all students are labeled as Gifted and Talented, and all students take AP courses. Indeed, all courses offered at an AP, pre-AP, or Honors level. The average ACT score is 30.2, and the average SAT score is 1295.
Students wishing to attend must apply online using the HISD magnet application. Students must either be identified as Gifted and Talented, or take an evaluation test to qualify for admission. Students not already in the GT track require a letter of recommendation from a teacher. No materials except those required will be considered for admissions decisions. The application window is from late September to early December.
HSPVA is the only public high school in Houston dedicated to both visual and performing arts. They offer six areas of focus: vocal music, instrumental music, dance, theatre, visual art, and creative writing. The school also offers 9 AP courses, and has an average ACT score 0f 28.6, and an average SAT score of 1252.
Admissions is through the HISD magnet program, and must be done online. In addition to the admission form, students must audition for the school. Creative writing students must submit a portfolio of 10 original pieces. For auditions, students may pick from two of the following: creative writing, visual arts, theatre arts, instrumental and vocal music, and dance. Students will receive an audition for their second choice based on availability of spaces. Students may be allowed to attend from outside the school district based on the needs of the program.
Secular Private Schools
Founded as an Episcopalian school in 1946, St. John’s is now nonreligious. Widely recognized as the best school in Houston, St. John’s has a strong academic focus. The school offers 19 AP courses, and offers particularly advanced math options, including linear algebra and multivariable calculus. The average ACT score at St. John’s is 33, and the average SAT is 1455.
Admissions is very competitive, with around 20% of applicants gaining acceptance. Students with a connection to the school, i.e. children of alumni or faculty, are given significant admissions preference. Students must submit a questionnaire and essay, recommendations from math and English teachers, and an extracurricular recommendation. ISEE results and official transcripts are also needed. Application materials may be submitted online. An admissions interview is also required. Students are expected to be well prepared academically before admittance into the school. Applications are due in early January.
A non-sectarian coed school founded in 1906, Kinkaid offers PK-12 education. A unique feature of the upper school is the interim term, which is three weeks in January where teachers offer niche courses, and the school sponsors trips abroad. 15 AP courses are offered, the average ACT score is 31, and the average SAT is 1333.
Students applying to the high school require an ISEE score, and must complete an interview. They must also submit application materials, including recommendations from math and English teachers. An arts supplement may be included as part of an application, but it isn’t required. The application deadline is in December.
Houston’s premier international school, Awty offers both an International Baccalaureate, and a French IB, and is the only school in Houston accredited by the French Ministry of Education. All seniors are required to take the IB or the French IB exam. The average ACT score is 28, and the average SAT is 2010 (including the written section). Bus service is provided by the school to various Houston neighborhoods.
All applications must be done online, and require a $200 application fee. Students applying in grades 6-12 must take both the ISEE and the OLSAT. A parent statement and student statement are required. Students must apply to either the international section or the French section of the school.
A coed, nonsectarian, PK-12 school, Village offers both a day school and a boarding school program, with students attending from around the world. Village is an IB accredited school, and students achieve an average ACT score of 27, and an average SAT of 1340. The school runs busses to various neighborhoods in and around Houston.
Applicants must submit an online form and pay a $200 application fee. Students must submit an ISEE score, and recommendations from math and English teachers. An interview is also required as part of the process. Proof of immunization is required for acceptance.
Religious Private Schools
St. Agnes is an all-girls Dominican Catholic high school, open to students grades 9-12. It partners with Strake Jesuit, an all-boys Catholic school, for some events. Catholic thought is an important part of the school’s culture and curriculum, with 4 years of theology courses required. 12 AP courses are offered; students achieve an average ACT score of 31, and an average SAT score of 1330.
Students wishing to apply must complete an application form online. Students must write an essay as part of this application. Recommendations from math and English teachers are required, as are official transcripts. Students must submit an ISEE score as well. A $75 application fee is also required. Students must be fully immunized to be admitted.
Founded in 1978, Emery/Weiner is a coed Jewish day school, serving students in grade 6-12. The school offers three tracks for students: on-course, honors, and advanced, with advanced courses serving as an equivalent to AP. 4 years of Judaic studies are required as part of the curriculum. The average ACT score is 29, and the average SAT score is 1330.
Students who apply must complete an online application. All students must submit recommendation letters from their math and English teachers, full transcripts, and ISEE scores. Student and parent interviews are required, and a campus visit is normally required. The priority deadline is in December; applications submitted after this point will only be considered if space is available.
Founded in 1960, Strake is an all-boys Catholic high school, and is the largest Catholic school in Houston. Students are only permitted to take 3 accelerated or AP courses at a time, and freshmen are not allowed to take any. Catholic thought is an important part of the curriculum, with 4 theology courses required to graduate. The average ACT score for students is 28, and the average SAT score was 1340.
Students who apply must complete an online application. Recommendation letters are required from English and math teachers, along with an official transcript. Students must take the ISEE and submit scores. Students can visit, but are not required to. It is expected students and families know about and accept the school’s religious character when applying.
Serving students in grades PK-12, Second Baptist is closely associated with the Second Baptist Church of Houston (as the name implies). Bible education is required each year. Second Baptist offers 15 AP classes, has an average ACT score of 28, and an average SAT score of 1300.
Applications must be submitted online. There is both a student and parent section on the application. Recommendations from English and math teachers are required, as are ISEE scores and transcripts. Students will need to complete an interview with a faculty member or administrator. The application deadline is in early December, applications submitted after this date will be considered if there is room in the program.
Founded in 1983, Episcopal is (as the name implies) a coed high school associated with the Episcopal church. With a strong artistic tradition, the school is considered just behind HSPVA in terms of the performing arts opportunities it provides. Two fine arts classes are required to graduate. Episcopal offers 17 AP classes; the average ACT score is 27.7 and the average SAT score is 1340.
Students must apply online. Once your application has been submitted, you will schedule an interview. You will need recommendations from your math and English teachers, and may optionally submit a recommendation from the leader of an extracurricular activity. ISEE scores are required, as are official transcripts. The application deadline is in early December.
Established in 1960, Duchesne is an all-girls Catholic school. Students are placed on one of three tracks: regular, advanced, and AP. The Catholic faith is included in the curriculum where possible. Religious studies courses are required each year. The average ACT score is 26.5, and the average SAT score is 1350.
Students who apply to Duchesne must complete an interview, and must submit either ISEE scores or a portfolio. Transcripts, teachers recommendations, and a birth certificate are also required. Parents must attend an open house. Students must register for and attend an entrance exam. Required application forms will be sent home with students on the day of the exam, along with due dates for all forms.
Founded in 1955, St. Thomas is affiliated with the Episcopal church, as the name suggests, and serves students in grades PK-12. While the school is religiously affiliated and sponsors a Christian worldview, Bible study courses are not required. St. Thomas offers 15 AP classes, has an average ACT score of 26, and an average SAT score of 1260.
Students must complete an online application. ISEE scores are required, as are two recommendations from math and English teachers, and official transcripts. Once an application is submitted, you will need to schedule a family interview. The deadline for submitting application materials is in January; applications submitted after the deadline will be considered on a rolling basis based on the number of spaces available.
First opened in 1987, the school is a non-denominational Christian coed institution, serving students in grades PK-12. The school’s culture and coursework are very closely intertwined with Biblical tradition, and the school’s Baptist roots can be seen in its scriptural focus. Students are required to take a Bible Studies course every year, and all courses are presented from a Biblical worldview. The average ACT score is a 26 and the average SAT is 1240.
Applications must be submitted online, and there is a $100 application fee. Three recommendations are needed, two from your math and English teachers, and one from an extracurricular mentor. Transcripts and an essay response are required, as is an ISEE score. Once applications are submitted, students and parents will be interviewed. The school’s statement of values will be discussed in the parent’s interview.
Founded in 1970, Houston Christian is a non-denominational coed Christian school. The education is based in Christian values, and all students must take 4 years of Bible studies classes. There are 18 AP courses offered, in all core subjects except Bible studies. The average ACT score is 25, and the average SAT score is 1260.
Applications must be submitted online. Recommendations from math and English teachers are required, as are transcripts for the past three years, ISEE scores, a $100 application fee, and a copy of the student’s birth certificate. Once the application is submitted, students will be scheduled for an interview. Applications are due in December, but are accepted on a rolling basis afterwards as long as there is space.