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Pros and Cons of Menlo School

Original post made by PA mom, Southgate, on Dec 19, 2009

I'd like to hear from people who have first hand experience with Menlo School. What are pros and cons of this school, apart from the obvious cost of $32,000/year. I went to open house and was very impressed by the faculty - they are top notch, they are well respected by both students and parents, they resemble me of Stanford faculty. The class size is small which allows for great interaction between students and faculty.
My concern besides cost is do they instill elitarian culture? Do the students think they are cream of the crop of society? How would a kid from a middle class family feel there among the upper class crust?

Comments (18)

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Posted by Felix McC
a resident of University South
on Dec 20, 2009 at 7:23 am

Menlo School has a reputation for elitism to a certain extent and it exists there, but that reputation also belies the school's idea of itself. It sees itself as "quirky" school, which allows the individuality of each student to develop. There is a solid group of more middle class (middle class for this area, at least) students at the school who eschew that elitist stereotype.

There is a certain casual element to Menlo--the very casual dress code and relaxed attitude of students in many classes (less-than-appropriate language is often allowed in the classrooms by faculty), which sometimes distract from a cohesive unified approach to education that a school needs to thrive. It has been said in the past that Menlo "has no soul" due to its focus on money/fundraising, grades,and establishing an a academic reputation, at a cost to the academic curiosity and creativity of its students.

It is best if you visit and see for yourself. Talk to faculty, staff, and students. Have your child shadow for a day and observe. It has some good programs and attracts good students and is viewed as a solid academic school (not sure if it veers far from traditional instructional methods: read book, listen to lecture/discussion, take notes, take test..next topic..).

So, there are positives and negatives (as with any school) and Menlo is still trying to define itself it seems, with the new campus construction and how it wants itself to be seen to the outside community, and how it unites itself with a daily mission it can live up to on the inside.


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Posted by Darwin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2009 at 5:04 pm

If you want to compare Menlo to a college, then I'm not sure I'd go with Stanford.

Menlo = Reed College


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 21, 2009 at 8:32 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I know two Menlo grads - on is a minister in Pennsylvania , the other a software developer in Reno. Both were and are well founded and socialized.


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Posted by PA mom
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 21, 2009 at 9:28 am

Thank you Felix for your thoughful response.
And thank you for the rest who responded, though I did not ask about Menlo College, I asked about Menlo School (middle and high).


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Posted by Zoe
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 21, 2009 at 9:34 am

All things equal, does one have a better chance of getting accepted in top universities from Menlo school or from Gunn or Palo Alto High?


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Posted by public school mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 21, 2009 at 9:38 am

Menlo is a school for parents who have professional or social aspirations. Whether or not it pays off for them, I cannot say. I would guess it does, or they wouldn't invest their money in that fashion. The kids, however, do not get a better education by any measurable standards and do not get into better colleges, plus they miss out on the advantages of the comprehensive public schools with their vast array of academic and extracurricular offerings.

Bear in mind that the stated tuition is only the tip of the iceberg. You will also be expected to donate a substantial amount of money, and your child will be plunged into a very competitive materialistic environment, socially penalized if s/he is not given a BMW at age 16, is not permitted to host birthday parties in Costa Rica or Maui, etc.

Those are just a few reasons why so many people who could afford to send their child to any school choose the public schools with their real world grounding and challenges. Thanks to those parents and their generosity, our local public schools also have most of the amenities that have been cut from high school programs throughout the state.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 21, 2009 at 11:14 am

We have several friends with kids at Menlo who have had a good experience. My observations:

They are (of course) a totally college prep school, great for the "mainstream" kids. The Middle school is more rigorous then PAUSD schools, but if you take the same c

More kids from Paly seem to have gotten into their first choice (early decision) schools then Menlo this year, but Paly is a much bigger school

Lots of school spirit, very athletic, seems like mostly nice kids.

They community is a VERY wealthy one. The above post was not kidding, if you didn't get a new BMW for your 16th birthday, you're bummed.


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Posted by MaryC
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2010 at 1:54 am

Is there any average yearly SAT score for this school being published? What is the average students got accept to IVY League schools each year? 20% or 30%? Why it is not being mentioned in any elite private schools in the nation? How to quality this school as elite if there is no statistic number to back it up.


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Posted by jsieg
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 29, 2010 at 11:35 am

I'm a senior at menlo right now and I'd like to clear up a bunch of stuff. I take offense to many of the posts here because there are so many false statements. There are NO social pressures to get a nice car on your 16th birthday. We DO get a significantly better education - I have never had a class with more than 19 people in it, and I spend about 4-5 hours a night on homework. One of my best friends transferred out after sophmore year. He had a 2.8 gpa at Menlo, and now has a 4.0 at Gunn High School. That should be pretty telling right there. I, personally, am not rich - I recieve substansial financial aid. Yes, we do have plenty of rich kids, but there is absolutely no sense of elitism. You are not looked down upon if you don't have money. Oddly enough, you ARE looked down upon if you wear designer clothing. In fact, money isn't even brought up. Sports are pretty important at Menlo. I play varsity basketball, and the stands are generally filled. Same goes for football and other sports. Its a very competitive school in terms of athletics and academics - if you are doing poorly in school, you are looked down upon. Also, you are looked down upon if you don't go to a good college. The UC schools are considered average AT BEST. There have only been 2 people over the last 5 years who havent gone to a 4-year college. Other than that, everyone is nice and treats each other with respect. I love menlo and wouldn't want to go to school anywhere else.


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Posted by Richie Rich
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Up until just recently, Menlo School was affiliated with Menlo College.

Now Menlo College is known as a school where rich parents send their kids to school when they aren't good enough academically to get into a good school - so they pay $30+k for 4 years and in return, their kid gets handed a bachelors degree.

Not sure how many at the School end up at the College, but both are for rich kids, obviously ($32k/yr for middle and HS - yikes!).


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2010 at 8:44 am

Jhsieg -

My nephew graduated from Menlo a few years ago, his parents are comfortable but not wealthy, he was really bummed that he had to drive dad's old (very nice) car instead of getting a new one for his 16th birthday - many of his friends had gotten new cars. While no one looked down on him, it bothered him. He also wore pretty much only designer clothing, so I guess you would think that people looked down on him for that?

He got a great education and is doing well at a good college. But many Menlo (and Sacred Heart) families have a LOT of money.


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Posted by faraq
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 13, 2010 at 10:55 am

I have know of one family with a kid at Menlo. This kid seems very bright, but somewhat spoiled and out of touch with 99.99% of humans and how they live. This could be Menlo or it could be that Palo Alto is generally out of touch with the rest of the world. I guess it doesn't matter when you're destined for a huge inheritance and are set for life at birth.


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Posted by School mom
a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2010 at 6:38 am

I've heard that sports are a big deal at the Menlo School. Can brainy/nerdy/quiet middle-class kids who don't participate in sports (other than what may be required) be happy and accepted by the other students there, or would they be ignored and (perhaps unintentionally) marginalized socially because they're not athletic or extraverted or wealthy?

Also, can anyone suggest a school, public or private, in the Bay Area where these sorts of kids would be happiest?


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Posted by teakt
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:39 am

My daughter is at Menlo School now. We are from not-so-rich area with a small little house. I am sure many other schools offer great programs too and the good kids will excel no matter where. My observation is:
1. Kids are encouraged and motivated to do things they have never thought they are able or love to do: dance, water polo, drama, Choir. Many parents were very surprised to find out what their children signed up for.
2. We as parents, hardly need to supervise homework or project. They can find teachers or classmates who are eager to help. Maybe this is also child-dependent.
3. You don't have to be super star to belong to any team at middle school. They don't select top 10 students to compete in math or other area. If the kids are interested, they are free to go. This of course will not put them on top 1 or 2 spot.
4. Search Google on "how to get into Harvard WST.com". For more additional information regarding where the graduates go.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2011 at 8:05 am

How many students typically leave Menlo after 9th, 10th, and 11th grades? I know that admission to grades after 9th is contingent upon there being spaces (because other students have left), so how often does this happen? And can someone entering after 9th make friends easily, or are the friend groups pretty much set?


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Posted by Jimbo
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2014 at 10:24 pm

I was reading this page and was shocked by how many stereotypes and false comments were posted here. Menlo school is a wealthy school, but it is influenced by its area, atherton. I have met many kids from Menlo and have shadowed there and none of them seemed to be affected by their socioeconomic status. 18% of Menlo students receive financial aid, so it does a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of them seemed to be smart and aspiring kids. Nearly everyone plays sports at Menlo and while it is not more important than grades, sports are very popular. Menlo is also very academically rigorous. I have heard a story of a kid who thought Menlo was hard that he had to transfer. However, many of the students did not act like grades were all that matter, they were very well rounded. Menlo is also ranked within the top 20 of private schools. While Menlo students do where nice clothes (polo shirt), they are nothing like designer clothes. Finally menlo has very good college acceptances with about 10 students every year being accepted to Stanford in comparison to public schools of 400 per grade with only 2 to 3 getting in.

Overall, I believe much of this page's comments are derived from false stereotypes that Menlo is a rich kid school. Menlo School is a great and wealthy private school with a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and a rigorous academic program.


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Posted by former Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 16, 2014 at 2:36 pm

I have experience with both public and private schools. One needs to resist pat stereotypes. For one thing, any school experiences student turnover, economic changes occur in the country/community, administrations and teachers change and these things all DO affect what a school is "like."
In our experience and to our knowledge, private schools are not all just for rich kids by any means.
For example, in the mid 2000s at PALY, a local public high school, there was a kid with a luxury convertible BMW who was quite noticeable and likely the envy of plenty of people. I don't know if there is a comparable student driver there now. So one's impressions are a snapshot in time.
The best thing is to get your info from a variety of sources and also to observe a school as much as possible before putting a kid into that school, if this is at all possible.


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Posted by in the know
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Menlo is going through a huge transition right now, after a period of very rapid growth from its roots as a folksy boarding school for the scions of the old Atherton ruling class to a highly competitive first-tier college prep school. The recent former leadership had serious flaws, and the influence of these flaws permeated the institution. For a while, teacher morale was quite low. There is at least one case of a mid-to-senior level manager being promoted to a truly Peter-Principle-level of incompetence after a decidedly checkered history as a teacher (if you think the Phil Winston affair was tawdry, this one would knock your socks off). There is/was no transparency in the salary "scale" (meaning there is not actually a scale, unlike Sacred Heart, which has a totally transparent scale), and instead salary negotiations with teachers were used as a bargaining cudgel and a weapon. There were several cases of very well-liked and highly respected veteran teachers being run out of a job based on political bickering and petty personal revenge tactics by senior management. (In several cases lawsuits were brought but immediately settled with total confidentiality in order to avoid bad PR.) Certain parents who were wealthy enough wielded inordinate influence with the administration and were able to shield their children from any consequences for truly reprehensible behavior, which in one case led to at least one staff member resigning in disgust. In other cases summary "judgment" was delivered against students based on hearsay and rumor, without regard to the actual facts of the situation. Other students and parents saw this and the message was clear - money talks, ethics walk, influence is everything, and politics is king. A great role model for young people. That model will take some undoing, which may be happening now. There is a new head, who is evidently instituting a new regime, and time will tell whether the overall climate at the school improves.


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