The World’s Most Awesome Schools

It happens more often than one would think.  In the course of one’s globetrotting life, the question – when arriving in a strange country – eventually stops being “where do they make good caipiroskas?” and becomes “where can we send the children to school?”

If you are moving to the US, the question often revolves around moving to a neighborhood which has a good school system assigned to it.  Very often, that means a high-income area with some kind of top-ten public school which is hugely amazing on the academic side, and has none of the social issues that you might encounter if you happen to get an inner-city district assigned to you.

To many, that is the elegant solution: classless (as in class-blind, not lacking in class) and free.  But to really be considered awesome, I think we have to eliminate public schools from consideration.  They lack a certain style and a lot of panache.

So, apart from being a private school, what does make a school awesome?

I have a little bucket list that I use:

1.  No matter where it is located, English must be the official language or at the very least equally important to the local tongue.  English is the world’s lingua franca, and if you’re lacking here, all your graduates are really good for is the French Foreign Legion (*waves at the angry Frenchmen in back*).

2. It needs to have academic standards that are higher than the schools around them.  One way to measure this is to see which international exams are on offer.  Cambridge and Oxford in the name of the examinations are usually a good sign… lesser institutions get you left off the list.

3. It needs to mix modern progressive teaching methods with quirky traditions brought in by the founder.  This is harder than it sounds, but some places manage it really well.

4. People need to look at you funny if you send your kids there.  They need to say stuff like: “Why would you spend so much money on that?  The Generic School for Boys is nearly as good, and costsa third of what you’re paying”, or “Oh, I could never send little Timmy to a school like that one, he’s a special snowflake, and that school is too structured and traditional for him!”  If you’re getting both, then you’re doing something right!

5. It needs to be co-ed.  Single sex schools are cannot, by definition, be awesome.  Just ask any of the students.  Trust me, I waffled on this one as arguably the world’s most awesome school, Eton College, is boys only.  If this list had been compiled in 1914, and not 2014, it would have headed the list.  I almost removed this criteria just because of Eton… but I didn’t, and we need to live with the consequences.

6. Needs to have an international student body.  Well, just because cosmopolitan and awesome are synonymous on this blog.

7. Arts and extra-curricular activities are an important complement to the academic side.  And by extra-curricular, I am not necessarily linking it to #5…

8. There needs to be a sense of belonging – if there is no sense that people who went to other schools are somehow suspect, no need to apply here.

So how does one go about identifying the very best of the very best?  Easy: research, scientific method, school chauvinism, preconceptions, opinion and if all else fails, a coin to break any ties.

Without further ado, the world’s five most awesome schools:

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#5 Zurich International School.  This one loses a few positions by not being British in inspiration (it’s a former American International School), but regains them by virtue of being in Switzerland, having its kindergarden on the shores of the Zürichsee and being the Zurich repository for expat kids.  It also teaches German– but only as a second language.  Also contributing here are the fact that you’re never more than half an hour from a decent ski slope (nor more than a couple of hours from really world-class hills).  Now, if anyone suspects a bit of a chauvinism factor at work here, because, just maybe, I might have received part of my primary school education here, I will leave that question open.

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#4.  Harare International School.  We mentioned panache, right?  Well, a second cousin, twice removed of panache is suicidal insanity, which is my definition of putting a prestigious school in the country that Cracked.com ranked #2 in the list of the worst places to be (we had a hard time finding a school that met the checklist in North Korea, so we settled for Zimbabwe).  But you might end up here someday, so if it falls to you, you need to know that this institution has been an International Baccalaureate partner since 2004, and has a beautiful theater in a beautiful setting.  So, setting + bravery + perseverance means awesome.

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#3 St. Andrews School Bahamas.  It has Sir Richard Brandsen on the website and it’s in the Bahamas.  I really shouldn’t need to go any further, but I will, just to rub it in: remember when you played hooky and smoked behind the gym?  Well, odds are that hookies from this school are smoking on the beach which is a comfortable walking distance from the campus – of course, I would never speculate on what, exactly they are smoking.  Whatever it is, it has to be awesome.

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#2 Tanglin Trust School. Location, Location, Location.  When you combine the fact that Singapore has one of the world’s highest standards of living with the further fact that Buzzfeed tells us that it contains the some of the world’s happiest children, you are probably already well placed by being here.  When you combine that with a British curriculum, lengthy waiting lists and a bias towards British and Commonwealth students on the waiting lists, you almost don’t even need to take into account that it was closed during WWII because of Japanese occupation and British internment in camps. The fact that this school is still with us after that?  Awesome.

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#1 Eton College.  What the hell, Eton is Eton, so screw the rules.  This is the one that established the template for awesomeness the world over, and has been referenced in literature and in culture since its founding in 1440.  It would have gotten onto the list just on the merit of being founded as “The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor” by an actual king, but mainly appears here because it’s been teaching the western world how a gentleman should behave since then.

Yes, I’m missing some of the world’s more expensive boarding schools, (especially, this one – holy crap, that campus!) and I’m also missing my own alma mater (which was awesome by the checklist standards, but is based in a city a bit too boring to count), but that’s what comments are for, especially the ones that call me out for outdated elitist attitudes!  Stand up for your school, and convince me, and maybe we’ll feature it in a future article.

We might not, of course.  We’re easily distracted here…

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9 comments

  1. I happen to believe the city you live in is quite entertaining… Why, just the other day you were swearing at the government because of the entertaining new ideas they have…

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  2. Speaking of easily distracted, the only point I might discuss further is the co-ed one. Research into this has shown that girls do better in an all-girl school, although boys do not do better in an all-boy school. Apparently, boys will be disruptive whether there are girls among them or not. I don’t really know how significant that would be in relation to this discussion.

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  3. You forgot Phillips Exeter Academy – only the most prestigious school in the US! It meets all your criteria.

    1. English is the official language.
    2. Highest academic standards in the US (by far) – the acceptance rate is on par with the best college/universities in the world (19%).
    3. The Harkness method of teaching was conceived at Exeter. From Wikipedia: “Exeter is particularly noted for its innovation and application of Harkness education, a system based on a conference format of teacher and student interaction, similar to the Socratic method of learning through asking questions and creating discussions. The Harkness method and table is used in every subject taught at the school, and has been widely replicated in private secondary schools throughout the region.”
    4. People look at anyone funny when they say they went to boarding school, but the normal reaction when you inform somebody that you went to Exeter is either “what did you do to deserve being sent off?” or “Holy shit how did you ever get into that school!?”
    5. Co-ed, of course.
    6. 9 % international: https://www.exeter.edu/about_us/171_9260.aspx and INCREDIBLY diverse. As a side note, if your family makes less than $70k a year and you are accepted, you don’t have to pay a cent for your education.
    7. Here’s your average day: https://www.exeter.edu/admissions/109_13173.aspx. Also, every “prep”, i.e. freshman, must participate in 3 sports in one year, thereby making extra curricular activities a cornerstone of the curriculum. Furthermore, there are more student clubs/organizations than any other school in the US.
    8. Trust me when I say if you graduated from Exeter, you belong to one special and unique fraternity.

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    1. There being so many Demases with spleens out there, why do I get the defective one? 😛

      While the merits of Exeter aren’t being dismissed, and in fact are amply recognized, it missed the cut for reasons of awesomeness and that 6.9%… It probably would have ranked significantly higher if it had been located anywhere else other than the US. It’s a great school, it just missed on the subjective part of the listing.

      Of course, your comment begs the question: what did you do to deserve getting sent there?

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