At the age of six, Ranade was sent to a Marathi school in Kolhapur, and in 1851, when he was nine, he was transferred to an English school. Ranade completed his schooling at the Elphinstone Institute, Bombay. His academic performance was so good that within a year he was admitted into the prestigious Elphinstone College, Bombay .
Ranade was a scholar. He spent hours reading with utmost concentration, not stopping to relax or socialize.Ranade was among the 21 students who appeared in the Matriculation Examination held in Bombay in 1859. He achieved distinctions in all his degree courses, commencing with B.A. Honors in 1862, M.A. in 1864 and LL.B. and LL.B. Honors in 1864 and 1865 respectively. Almost throughout his academic career he was a scholarship-holder. Ranade became a proponent of the Vidhava-vivaha Uttejaka Mandali (Society for the Encouragement of Widow-remarriage) founded in 1845 by English and Sanskrit scholar, Vishnushastri Pandit. Ranade was also actively involved with the Prathna Samaj, which was similar to the Brahmo Samaj movement in Bengal. Ranade gave the Samaj his best in forwarding social reforms like inter-dining and inter- marriage, widow re-marriage, upliftment of women and the depressed classes. Ranade helped found the Indian National Social Conference to function like the social wing of the Indian National Congress. The Conference aimed at educating women, prevent child marriage and oppose the dowry system. In 1881 he was given the position of Special Sub-Judge in Poona which gave him the opportunity to come closer to the poor farmers and assist in settling land related disputes. While in the Legislative Council, Ranade wrote the "Rise and Fall of the Maratha Power" with Chatrapati Shivaji as the key figure. The same year he published an "Introduction to the Satara Rajas" and "The Peshwa Diaries." Ranade studied the economies of Switzerland, France, Italy and Belgium and made comparisons with the Indian economy. He felt the fragile state of the economy was because of the over-dependence on agriculture -an occupation that suffered from drawbacks like floods, droughts, famines, heavy taxation and inadequate irrigation facilities and relief measures during famines. Ranade stressed on the development of indigenous small industries. He forwarded the idea for the establishment of agricultural banks by the Government, to give loans directly to the peasants. From 1893 to 1900, Ranade served on the bench of the Bombay High Court where he took several steps to the liberalize the Hindu Law with regard to women's rights. Ranade died on January 16, 1901 of now common ailment angina pectoris.