Upper School Curriculum

The development of intellectual independence, personal responsibility, and leadership skills is an important piece of the four-year Upper School sequence. In 9th-12th grade, students pursue a challenging and interdisciplinary program of studies, consisting of an integrated Humanities program, hands-on laboratory science, applied mathematics, foreign language, visual and performing arts experiences and physical education.

Action-Oriented Learning

Upper School Curriculum 12Th Grade

Twelfth Graders Dive into Civic Engagement

Our seniors learn how to be participatory citizens through pro-active engagement in democratic processes. Seniors have the opportunity to volunteer their time to an electoral campaign, social justice project, nonprofit, or other approved political project of their choosing. Additionally, every senior engages in critical study of the Constitution. This study is connected to the major themes of the specific course, allowing for deeper connections with real-world issues.

Upper School Curriculum 11Th Grade

Eleventh Graders Debate Thorny World Issues

Eleventh graders learn how to view the world from a global perspective and what it means to understand both sides of complicated issues through the 11th Grade Debates. International and domestic students team up to research the pros and cons of current issues, such as using drones to combat terrorism, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants, a national $15 minimum wage, and dealing with the refugee crisis.

Many of our students choose careers in journalism and political science. Click here to read more about Nick Eaton '03, Digital Audience Editor, The Seattle Times.

Upper School Curriculum 10Th Grade

Tenth Graders Manipulate DNA

Biology students engage in real life science by manipulating DNA, thanks to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Science Education Partnership. Students compare DNA samples using the electrophoresis process, one of the methods used in DNA matching for criminal investigations. The lab allows students to experience DNA fingerprinting with equipment not commonly seen in a biology classroom, such as a centrifuge and electrophoresis chamber.

Many Northwest School alumni enter the field of science. Click here to read more about Kate Rozen-Gagnon '06 combating mosquito borne viruses.

Upper School Curriculum 9Th Grade

Ninth Graders Design and Test Catapults

Physical Science students work with chop saws, hammers, and drills to construct group-designed catapults. The annual catapult project submerges students in the design process and provides opportunities for creative problem solving when things go awry. Once the catapults are completed, the students spend a week or more in the hallways of the school testing their machines and making adjustments based on the results. The project culminates with the annual catapult competition, in which student teams advance by consistently hitting the target.

At Northwest, we’re challenged on a daily basis to question the world around us, to look past the surface and find the hidden truths. Because of all that critical thinking and analysis, I have a stronger sense of my own voice and my own values.

Northwest School 12th Grader, 2017

Upper School Curriculum Guide

Where Our Grads Go

Northwest School 2019 grads are continuing their education at 51 institutions, including:

  • Amherst College
  • Barnard College
  • Boston University
  • Bowdoin College
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Carleton College
  • Chapman University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • College of William & Mary
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Emory University
  • Gonzaga University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Haverford College
  • Kenyon College
  • Lewis & Clark College
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • Loyola University New Orleans
  • New York University
  • Northeastern University
  • Oberlin College of Arts and Sciences
  • Occidental College
  • Pitzer College
  • Pomona College
  • Purdue University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Scripps College
  • Seattle University
  • Smith College
  • St. John's College
  • St. Olaf College
  • Stanford University
  • The New School - All Divisions
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of California, San Diego
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Puget Sound
  • University of Redlands
  • University of San Francisco
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Washington State University
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Western Washington University
  • Whitman College
  • Whitworth University
  • Willamette University
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute


The Northwest School requires the following minimum course of study in the Upper School:

  • Math: 3-4 years *
  • Science: 3-4 years *
  • Humanities: 4 years (English & History)
  • Foreign Language: 3-4 years *
  • Visual and Performing Arts: 4 years
  • Physical Education: 2 years
  • Environment: 4 years

* Seniors must take a minimum of a fourth year of study in any two of the language, math and science departments.