What K-12 Schools Look For

December 13, 2023

In the words of veteran Smart City Kids Consultant Adriana Payne, “Every school is looking for a bright enthusiastic learner who will complement the cohort.” And it’s really kind of that simple – except that it isn’t, because as in all facets of life, nuances prevail.  

December is the time of year when you as a parent might begin worrying about the vast number of applicants you’ve seen vying for a finite number of spots in any given school. And part of your worry might be stemming from your question about what schools actually want in terms of students and families they accept.  

As Adriana explains, “There is no one answer. Each school has its own unique set of criteria for identifying students who are on the path to success and who will excel in their school culture.  While some schools might prioritize a ‘well-rounded’ student, others may seek students with specialized learning profiles. That said, all schools are looking for kind and empathetic students who demonstrate a genuine desire to learn. And your family values are as important as the specific strengths of your student applicant.” 

Smart City Kids Founder Roxana Reid goes a little more division specific. “Schools shift their gaze at every stage of child development – there is no one-size-fits-all thing all schools look for at all divisions.  Schools look for students and families whose vision aligns with their own. They look for students who can be successful in their communities – and success is defined differently at different levels.

  • Success in Lower School is met by young learners who can move fluidly through the program engaging in collaboration, navigation of the classroom environment, self-regulation, and the sharing of ideas.
  • When students reach Middle and High School, schools seek students who will balance their needs in a variety of capacities. Perhaps they are looking for students to enhance or bolster programs in athletics – or music, or the arts, or STEM. In the end, it all boils down to fit. The right school should feel seamless to you. You should not feel like it’s going against the grain of who you are. It should feel right. If it feels like you’re fighting against it, it’s not right. Trust your instinct, trust your gut.”    


As you make your way down the path to right-fit schools for your child here are some to keep in mind regardless of your child’s age:

  • Schools are as interested in making the right match as you are.  Be honest in your search and don’t waste your time or anyone else’s by applying to schools that you know in your heart of hearts won’t serve your child or your family well. 
  • Know your learner. Consider your child’s learning profile and look for schools that offer the kind of curriculum, culture, and community you feel would best support him or her. 
  • Consider your family values and ask yourself if they are reflected in the ethos of each school you are seeking.  
  • Don’t overprioritize the experience of others. It’s your child who will attend school. And your family who will join its community. Remember the “why’s” that brought you to a school. Why are you here? What appeals to you about its culture, curriculum, and community? 
  • Schools are looking for partners, not critics. Be positive in all of your interactions. 
  • Through every interaction, convey the respect you have for education and educators.   
In the intricate journey of finding the right-fit school for your child, the search goes beyond a mere checklist. As you navigate this process, it’s crucial to remember that schools are not just evaluating your child; they are seeking a harmonious partnership with families. Transparency, self-awareness about your child’s learning profile, alignment with family values, and a genuine connection with the school’s ethos are pivotal. Your journey should be guided by authenticity, trust in your instincts, and a positive approach. In this pursuit, remember that schools are not just selecting students; they are forming partnerships with families who share a common vision for education. May your exploration be filled with genuine connections and a shared commitment to education!




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