Choosing a school for an intensively academically-focused child

Exploring an academically-focused child's school fit

Kids vary widely in how academically-focused or oriented they are: while some are highly focused on school and academic achievement, others aren’t. Don’t underestimate the importance of your child’s academic focus on school choice: it can hugely impact the kind of school that’s right for them.

Intensively academically-focused kids are very eager students. They enjoy school, are keen to learn, and are academically ambitious.

Below, we identify key points you should reflect on when considering 10 different school types for your intensively academically-focused child. Note: our aim isn’t to tell you whether a school type is right or wrong for you, but to highlight some critical factors you should consider when making your decision.

To learn about how to choose the right school in general, read the Our Kids’ step-by-step advice guide and our expert tips. To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fitmore academic challengesocial strugglesacademic strugglesintensive learning interestsuniversity preparation, and special needs.). 

Intensively academically-focused kids’ fit in 10 school types

On this page:

School size
  • Small school (150 students or less)
  • Big school (151+ students)

  • Gender
  • Coed school
  • Girls' school
  • Boys' school

  • Curriculum
  • Montessori school
  • Reggio Emilia school
  • International Baccalaureate school
  • Language immersion school

  • Living arrangements
  • Boarding school

  • School size

    Small school (150 students or less)

    If you’re considering a small school for your academically-focused child, ensure it offers enough enrichment and acceleration opportunities to challenge them. Make sure it also has plenty of academic diversity in the classroom, where your child can work with, be challenged by, and even measure themself against other academically-focused kids.

    Of course, “Smaller schools give kids opportunities to be the ‘big fish in a small pond,’ where their successes and abilities are truly highlighted,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Some kids enjoy this, and this can be a valuable opportunity to develop their confidence and self-esteem.”

    Big school (151+ students)

    Many big schools offer high-level courses as well as subject-specific enrichment and acceleration opportunities, which some academically-focused kids find stimulating. Most also have plenty of academic diversity in the classroom, where your child will find many opportunities to challenge themselves in groups with like-minded peers. “Many academically-focused kids enjoy competition in the classroom: they like to measure themselves against peers with high academic aspirations,” says Janyce Lastman, Director of The Tutor Group. “They’re more likely to find this in big schools with big classes.”

    Also, “Due to their large numbers of students, bigger schools offer more opportunities for reflection and collaboration with one’s peers, and to learn from the perspectives of different students, in class and out,” say Ann and Karen Wolff of Wolff Educational Services. Having a larger and more diverse pool of students can be a catalyst for intellectual and creative progress (and even breakthrough insights!).

    That said, make sure your child will be able to register for their desired courses in a big school. While big schools often have a wide range of core and specialist courses on their docket, sometimes logistical issues—such as scheduling and timetables—make it challenging for them to run some courses or for your child to enrol in them.


    Coed school

    Coed schools require your child to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions, which can sometimes be challenging. That said, many kids, including academically-focused ones, find a coed environment engaging. Coed schools can also widen students' perspectives and enhance their learning. “Some research shows that girls and boys often learn, think, and see things differently,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Educational Consulting. “Bringing these two dynamics together allows students to experience the best of both worlds.”

    Also, your child will have a broader scope of social experiences in a coed environment, where they can learn from the experiences of both boys and girls. “Coeducational schools for academic kids give them a safe space to develop the social skills necessary for life in university and beyond,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “Allowing students to navigate boy-girl interactions in school can give them an opportunity to develop these skills in a lower-stakes atmosphere before they enter university and the workplace.”

    Girls' school

    In a girls-only school, your daughter won’t have to negotiate the complexities and pressure of a boy-girl environment. This can help her focus on her studies and pursue her interests free of some potential distractions.

    Also, “Confidence and self-esteem can be significant benefits of girls’ schools,” says Una Malcolm, Director of Bright Light Learners. “A girls’ school may promote a sense of security and comfort, which can allow girls to feel confident in their learning environment and more comfortable taking an academic risk.”

    Of course, since your daughter won’t be learning with boys, aim to give her many opportunities to interact with them outside of school, so she can gain a wider scope of social experiences, where she’ll learn from the perspective of girls and boys.

    Boys' school

    In a boys’ school, your academically-focused son won’t have to negotiate the complexities of boy-girl interactions. This can help him focus on his studies and pursue his learning interests free from some potential distractions. Also, boys’ schools normally respect the differences between boys and girls, which can help your son thrive academically and socially.

    Just make sure any school you’re considering isn’t too focused on “high energy” boys. While your son may enjoy the many group learning opportunities and physical activities offered in a boys-only environment, he may also sometimes prefer to sit quietly and focus on an independent project or read a book. Ensure he’ll have ample opportunity to do this.


    Montessori school

    Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on tasks of interest (with some teacher guidance), which can strengthen their love of learning. Also, during two-hour-plus uninterrupted work periods, your academically-focused child will have the opportunity to work independently on their own tasks, which can bolster their focus and concentration. And, since many Montessori schools don’t have recess, this will give your child more time to key in on their work, pursue their interests, and absorb knowledge. 

    That said, keep in mind that most Montessori schools don't assign grades at the primary level. If your child is fixated on academic achievement and measuring themselves against their peers, they'll likely find this practice challenging.

    Reggio Emilia school

    The Reggio Emilia classroom is set up to promote lots of interaction and group learning, which many academically-focused kids find engaging. Also, “Since it has an individualized approach to learning, a Reggio school will ensure your child can pursue areas of interest and acquire important skills and knowledge,” says Stacey Jacobs, Director of Clear Path Education.

    If, however, your academically-focused child prefers individual to group learning, ensure the school provides plenty of opportunities for them to work on their own. And more generally, make sure the school offers the right overall learning environment for your child: for instance, if they’re likely to benefit from enrichment and acceleration opportunities, confirm these are provided.

    International Baccalaureate school

    The IB is a demanding programme with advanced learning and rigorous coursework, which provides the right kind of challenge for many intensively academically-focused kids. Students who enjoy subject-specific enrichment will relish the opportunity to take Higher-Level (rather than Standard-Level) courses, which provide more in-depth learning. Ask a school whether it offers these courses.

    That said, since their curriculum is restricted to eight prescribed subject groups, IB schools will offer your academically-focused child fewer specialist courses to choose from than most traditional schools. This can be less than ideal for independent and curious learners, who enjoy carving out their own educational paths and pursuing their own interests in school.

    Language immersion school

    The demanding curriculum of language immersion schools, which requires students to learn all or most of their subjects in a second language, provides the right kind of challenge for many academically-focused kids, especially those who enjoy languages and may have a talent for them. Many of these kids also value the opportunity to work in a structured learning environment with motivated and studious peers, who may share a passion for academics in general and languages in particular.

    That said, “Academically-focused children who are curious and unconventional learners may prefer more scope for independent learning than language immersion schools sometimes allow,” says Dona Matthews, education consultant and co-author (with Joanne Foster) of Beyond Intelligence. “For these kids, the best schools are often those that are flexible enough to give them the time and energy to pursue their interests both in and out of school. The added challenges provided by second-language learning can sometimes interfere with this goal and hinder a child’s academic development.”

    Finally, since learning in a second language makes it difficult to negotiate social interaction in class, ensure your child has plenty of time to interact with other kids outside of class—something every child needs.

    Living arrangements

    Boarding school

    Many boarding schools have a broad scope of specialist courses for your child to choose from, to pursue their interests and develop new ones. They also tend to have a lot of academic diversity in the classroom, where your child will find many opportunities to challenge themselves with other kids who enjoy school and have high academic aspirations.

    Just make sure to inquire about a school’s teaching and learning approach. For instance, ask what kinds of independent learning and enrichment opportunities a school offers, as many academically-focused kids benefit from these. Also, ask about class sizes, as smaller classes with low student-to-teacher ratios can help ensure your child won’t get lost in the shuffle.

    Finally, since they’ll be living away from home, ensure support systems are in place to promote their social and emotional development, and that your child is willing and prepared to take advantage of them. Your child will often need to advocate for themselves at a boarding school, and they’ll need confidence and perseverance to do so.

    Intensively academically-focused kids’ school fit: key take-homes

    • Intensively academically-focused kids often enjoy high-level courses, enrichment, and academic diversity and competition, which are more prevalent at bigger schools. That said, it’s often easier to enrol in a wider range of specialist courses at smaller schools, due to the ease of scheduling them on request.
    • Single-gender schools allow kids to focus on academics free from the distractions of boy-girl interactions. A coed environment, though, is sometimes more socially (and academically) stimulating and enriching, since your child can learn from the perspectives of boys and girls.
    • Montessori schools offer highly individualized learning, allowing your child to move through the curriculum at their own pace and focus on tasks of interest, which can strengthen your child’s love of learning. 
    • The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a demanding programme with high-level learning, which provides the right kind of challenge for many academically-focused kids. But since its curriculum is restricted to eight subject groups, it offers less specialist courses.
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