Ride attended Portola Junior High (now Portola Middle School) and then Birmingham High School before graduating from the private Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles on a scholarship. In addition to being interested in science, she was a nationally ranked tennis player. Ride attended Swarthmore College for three semesters, took physics courses at University of California, Los Angeles, and then entered Stanford University as a junior, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English and physics. At Stanford, she earned a master's degree in 1975 and a PhD in physics in 1978 while doing research on the interaction of X-rays with the interstellar medium. Astrophysics and free electron lasers were her specific areas of study.