10 Outstanding High Schools in Iowa

If you’re looking for outstanding high schools in Iowa, then you’re in the right place. Here, we run through some of the top academies for young people from the state. Students who attend these schools get the best grades, are a part of the top athletic teams and stand a better chance of getting accepted into top-tier universities.

Sounds good, right?

These are the 10 best high schools in the Iowa

West Senior High School

Located on Melrose Avenue, Iowa City, West Senior High School is arguably the best school in the state. From the outside, it isn’t the most attractive school in the country architecturally. Still, once you arrive inside, you quickly realize that you’ll get an education from top teachers with nationwide appeal.

West High got its start in 1968. Since then, it has built up its team considerably and aims to make lessons fun and interesting. What’s nice about this school is that they don’t try to control you all the time. Part of the school’s mission is to foster “responsible, independent learners capable of making informed decisions in a democratic and global community.”

They prioritize their students’ independence instead of hand-holding, and students expect respect from authority figures the same way that teachers anticipate respect from their students.

West Senior High is for grades 9 to 12 and currently has 1,466 students on its books. Class sizes are small (which is great if you want more teacher time), and the graduation rate is 95%, which is exceptional for an Iowa school.

Hence, if you’re keen on going to college, West Senior High is your friend. It’s currently number one in the state for college readiness and has a graduation rate of 97 percent. In short, you’re much more likely to get into your university of choice if you go here than anywhere else.

Decorah High School

Coming in at number two on our list is Decorah High on Claiborne Drive in Decorah, Iowa. This institution should be on your radar if you’re a bit of an intellectual and love an academic challenge. Decorah may not prioritize physical athletics as much as other schools on the list, but that doesn’t exclude them from the competitive realm altogether. There’s still plenty of room for competition in the areas such as the Math Olympics.

For instance, the school encourages students to take Advanced Placement courses, exams, and other college-level courses that prove to universities that you’re serious about your education. Doing well in these areas increases your chances of getting into the university of your choice and having a great career. (No pressure!)

You might also want to consider Decorah High if you love a caring environment. The school is well-known for its supportive staff and focus on student success. You would think this would be a tentpole characteristic for every school, but that’s unfortunately not the case. There are plenty of schools across Iowa with teachers that lack the same enthusiasm as the ones at Decorah High.

The school caters to grades 9 to 12. The total number of students is 575, and class sizes are small, with a teacher-to-student ratio of 15-to-1. Their most impressive statistic is that 97% of students graduate successfully, and the school is sixth in Iowa for college readiness.

Dowling Catholic High School

Dowling Catholic High School is widely regarded as the most prestigious school in Iowa. Despite being a private school in the heart of West Des Moines, Iowa, its student population is much more diverse than an outsider might anticipate.

Dowling prides itself on opening the door to anybody who wants a premiere high school experience.

Their football program won 6 consecutive state championships in the 2010s, their track and cross country program consistently features state champions both from an individual and team standpoint, their volleyball team competes at the highest level year in and year out, and the rest of their athletic program is just as impressive.

The student body count is 1,415 for grades 9-12, and it features a teacher-to-student ratio of 16:1. 92% of the students go on to attend a 4-year college. Dowling features teachers who are former students and students who come from all different walks of life. Dowling’s core mission is to ensure that everybody graduates as a better person.

Pleasant Valley High School

High school should teach you several things…

  • How to grow into a young, independent adult so you won’t be startled by living independently once in college
  • How to effectively manage your time between work, school, athletics, and other extracurricular activities
  • How to socialize and find a crowd that makes you feel comfortable and inspired

Pleasant Valley High School is another top-notch institution in one of the best school districts in Iowa. Located in Bettendorf, this school focuses on giving you the best academic start possible and consistently produces social, independent, and wise graduates beyond their years.

The biggest thing Pleasant Valley High does for students is ensure its teachers take unique approaches while delivering thoughtful lesson plans. Teachers must get full degrees– some even have a Master’s degree in their resume– from leading universities. And they have to submit to regular professional development. In other words, they have to learn just like you.

The teachers at Pleasant Valley High don’t just know their material but are also genuinely interested in their work and students. 

Pleasant Valley High School is for grades 9 through 12, though it has a middle school if you are in a lower grade. It is home to a large community of 1,541 students with a student-to-teacher ratio of 18-to-1. The average graduation rate is a staggering 97%.

Ames High School

Ames High School prepares students for university life, which is apt considering Iowa State University’s campus is less than a 10-minutes from Ames High. A school that prides itself on doing things a little differently from other schools in the area.

Most lessons, for instance, involve small groups. So instead of sitting in rows, listening to a teacher at the front, it’s more like a university seminar setup. Educators avoid boring lessons with activities-based learning, meaning you’ll learn by doing rather than reading books or listening to lectures. Overall, Niche rates the school A for both academics, which speaks to its teachers’ commitment.

It’s not all about studying, though. Ames High School also excels in sports and routinely has one of Iowa’s best high school football teams. The team regularly participates in local competitions and is an excellent entry into college football.

Ames High is also famous for hosting the most state athletic championships of any school in Iowa. This makes it the perfect choice if you are a runner, long-jumper, hurdler, or discus thrower. 

Ames High is home to more than 1,370 students. 96% of students graduate (with 85% proficiency in reading and 80% in math). AP enrollment is 41%, and the student-to-teacher ratio is excellent at 17-to-1.

Williamsburg Jr-Sr High School

Williamsburg Jr-Sr High School on West Walnut Drive takes a different perspective from most larger urban schools. Rather than focusing on the curriculum, it wants to produce society’s future leaders.

Because of this, it might be a good choice for you if you see yourself working in leadership roles in the future. The school is ideal for anyone who wants to study management, politics, business, or a related field.

The school also has a rich history. The 2022 academic year will be the institution’s 137th consecutive year of public education. Williamsburg Jr-Sr High regularly improves its buildings and even has a tornado-safe room.

Williamsburg Jr-Sr High School allows entry at grade 7, so it’s an option if you are a little younger. It’s also a small school with just 387 students and a student-to-teacher ratio of 14-to-1, so it has a cozy atmosphere. The graduation rate is 99%, ranking 13th in the state for college readiness.

Ankeny Centennial High School

Ankeny Centennial High School, the little brother to the original Ankeny High, has grown exponentially since its inception in 2013. This school is for grades 10 through 12 and mainly prepares students for college. 

Ankeny Centennial High School opened in 2013 to relieve Ankeny High School of overcrowding problems. As such, the building is almost identical on the outside to the 2011 Ankeny High School, so make sure you show up at the right one on your first day! The interior, however, has a much more post-modern look than its predecessor.

Ankeny Community High is a value-driven co-ed educational establishment. It believes in caring for others and working together to reach common goals, making it a friendly place to attend.

As a top Iowa school, it focuses on academic excellence. Teachers will expect you to work hard and complete assignments on time, just as elsewhere in the district.

School sports teams compete in the Central Iowa Metro League. In recent years, Ankeny Centennial High has been the state champion in basketball, golf, girls soccer, and volleyball.

The school’s graduation rate is 96%. Mathematics and reading proficiency is 86% and 87%, respectively. More than 1,340 students attend the school, and the student-to-teacher ratio is 17-to-1, leading to smaller class sizes despite the large school size. This allows teachers to spend more individual time with their students and curate more meaningful relationships.

Grinnell Community Senior High School

Grinnell Community Senior High School is home to some of the brightest students in Iowa. Seriously, I’ve never met someone from Grinnell who didn’t immediately come off as an intellectual who gave serious thought to every word spilled out of their mouth.

I would imagine that’s because it’s a smaller school with a student body typically anywhere between 450-500 students, which allows its faculty to give more attention to each student. Their mission is to go above and beyond. Every faculty member and student strives to be their very best in every corner of the high school experience. Whether it’s the arts, athletics, or any other extracurricular activity, there’s no less than 100% given to these passions and commitments.

Linn-Mar High School

Despite being located in a smaller city (Marion, IA) than most of the schools on this list, Linn-Mar has one of the larger student bodies in Iowa, with a whopping 2,233 students and a teacher-to-student ratio of 18-to-1. That’s right. They have a staff of more than 200 faculty.

Linn-Marr may not be the most competitive school when it comes to its athletic program, but they’re home to perhaps the best competitive show choirs in the state. Their mixed-gender “10th Street Edition” went undefeated in their 2018 competition season and, most recently, in 2022.

It should also be noted that a large majority of their students attend a 4-year college after graduation, and the school writ large features primarily positive reviews from its students’ parents.

Gilbert High School

While it might have a funny-sounding name, Gilbert High School should also be on your list of high schools in Iowa. Located on Gretten Street in Gilbert, the school is best known for its small school culture and friendly atmosphere.

In 2014, the United States Department of Education made Gilbert High a Blue Ribbon School, something only 1% of Iowa schools ever get. This award means that the school is excellent academically and helps struggling students catch up. So, if you need help with English or math, then this is the place to go.

Gilbert High School has a total enrollment of just 534. The student-to-teacher ratio is 16 to 1, and more than 98 percent of young people graduate. It’s also a decent choice for preparing you to go to college, ranking 35th in the state.

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  • Ralph Compiano

    Ralph graduated from the University of Iowa with a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing who enjoys writing and producing content for various platforms.

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