NCS has about 560 students in grades 4 through 12. Its mascot is the eagle. Its brother school, St. Albans, and the elementary school, Beauvoir, are also located on the 57-acre Cathedral Close in Northwest Washington near the Washington National Cathedral.
The school has some coordinate classes with St. Albans (STA), and offers a variety of electives in all subject areas. Girls are generally required to take 6 or more semesters of classes in each of the major subject areas. English is required all four years, and a proficiency in a foreign language must be obtained by taking at least 4 years of one language. Students can also pursue a topic not offered in the classroom by submitting a proposal for independent study. Girls can participate in extracurricular activities which include the award-winning literary magazine H.I.E., an independent as well as a school-sponsored newspaper, a variety of affinity groups, and the student-run Honor Board.
NCS recently constructed the Agnes C. Underwood Athletic Center; the athletic program includes rock climbing, yoga, and dance as well as more traditional team sports. Students may opt to earn credit for independent sports projects outside of school.
Art classes are offered in photography, ceramics, drawing, painting, and other areas. The performing arts program includes an orchestra as well as a variety of choral groups which often perform during Friday Cathedral services and in concerts. The Cathedral Girl Choristers attend the school on partial scholarships as employees of the National Cathedral and perform at daily religious services open to the public. They sing for all national events and government functions that take place in The Cathedral, including all presidential inaugurations and funerals. The school's theater department, shared with the St. Albans boys, stages three major productions a year and also offers courses in set design and directing.
NCS students are not ranked. Students’ unweighted, cumulative GPAs are calculated each semester. All courses taken for academic credit and receiving a letter grade are included in the GPA and reported to colleges. NCS offers Advanced Placement courses in 13 subjects in the 2007-2008 academic year. Regular courses in Computer Science, English, Music Theory and U.S. History prepare students for the AP exams. Courses in French and Spanish prepare students to take both the language and literature AP exams. Students may only take two designated AP courses per semester; those who wish to take more than two must receive special permission. AP Biology and AP U.S. History may not be taken simultaneously. Students in AP classes are required to sit for the AP exam in May. In May 2007, 141 NCS students took 347 AP examinations in 23 different subjects.The most popular college choices from 2003 to 2007 include the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Boston College, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Duke.
At Christmas, girls bring wrapped gifts for needy children in the Washington area. Each student presents her gift at a special Cathedral service.
Just before the winter vacation, the annual NCS/STA Christmas program, Lessons and Carols, is held in the Cathedral. Most of the school's musical groups perform.
Final Cathedral services for the year include the induction of seniors into the Alumnae Association at the Alumnae Service and a "Senior Service" in which the graduating seniors plan and run the service.
The school chorale and madrigals singers often perform in these Friday services. Students also occasionally perform original dance pieces, this program "Cathedral Dancers" was founded in 1990.
Flag Day is a tradition that began in 1901 when the school celebrated its first commencement. The Flag, representing the flag which has flown over the school for the past school year, is presented to the senior with the highest academic standing for her Junior and Senior years. Other awards for excellence and citizenship are given at this time. Senior girls traditionally wear floor-length, white dresses and carry bouquets of red roses. All students in grades 4-11 are required to wear either a white dress or a white skirt and white blouse. Student attendance is mandatory. Commencement is held in the Cathedral on the following day.
NCS also has two school hymns, one dating back to the beginning of the school, and one for the school's centennial celebration composed by Richard Wayne Dirksen, former director of the National Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys.
Students organize and manage more than 30 different clubs from the Math League to the Environmental Awareness Group. Students also publish their own newspaper, literary magazine, and yearbook.
Discus: (grades 9 - 12) Discus is the only award-winning newspaper on the Close. Students edit a 12 page paper and learn about the various processes involved in publishing a newspaper. The Discus is uncensored by the administration. Articles are solicited from all students. The paper is published eight times a year, about every 5 weeks.
Half-In-Earnest (H.I.E.): (grades 7 - 12) This is a year-end publication NCS students' submissions of prose, poetry, artwork, and photography collected throughout the school year. Students may submit works to the editorial board, which makes the final decision on publication. Students meet after school on Wednesdays to edit the publication.
The Independent: (grades 9 - 12) This student newspaper covers opinions and news of the Cathedral schools, uncensored by either administration, hence the name: The Independent. It receives no school funds, but is financed by subscription and donations.
Mitre: (grades 10 - 12) The Mitre is the award winning NCS yearbook, which is distributed at the end of the school year. The book reflects the life of the students throughout the entire school year, with special emphasis on the Senior Class. In order to include the final festivities of the school year, the new concept of a supplement, which is added into the back of the real yearbook, is sent to the students during the summer, after the yearbook staff has completed its work during early June. The cost of the publication is financed by the school, partially subsidized by ad sales, and each student receives her own copy.
Students from classes 7-12 can serve as acolytes for Friday morning Cathedral services.
Writing Center: (Grades 4-6) The Writing Center is a program designed for the Lower School girls to practice their creative writing skills. The Writing Center has a monthly publication called the Literary Magazine. The Magazine publishes short stories, poems, drawings, cartoons, and other types of creative writing which is all done by the Lower School Girls. Another program that the Writing Center does, is host workshops focusing on different aspects of creativity combined with writing. In the workshops, the girls can add dances, music, paintings/drawings, and other activities to enhance their written pieces. Additionally, the Writing Center provides another activity called Poem of the Week. With poem of the week, there is a theme applied to which the girls can write about, but writing about the theme is not mandatory. The poems that are submitted are read and voted on by a selected group of 6th graders, and then from the poems that make it on to the 2nd round of voting, the Poem of the week is chosen. All Poems of the Week and other favorites are put into that month's edition of the Literary Magazine. The Lower School Writing Center is a program through which the Lower School girls can express themselves through multiple activities focused on creative writing.
Other families who chose the National Cathedral School for their girls are the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers, the Firestones (Mary), the Wilsons of Wilson sports, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.