Oh, how I wish we had asked some of these when we first began our Catholic school journey. Because sometimes, you just need to get real with the Admissions Director.
Here goes, the ten questions every Catholic school parent should ask prior to application.
- What’s been your worst discipline problem and how did you handle it? Their answer will tell you two things: 1) how honest they are about the problems that exist and 2) how they crack down on misbehavior. Both are extremely telling of the kind of environment you’ll be stepping into. This is also a great question to ask an existing school parent. Their answer might be slightly more entertaining. It’s also the very first question I ask. It lets them know you’re serious.
- How much debt is the school carrying? This is the kind of question only a family with a development officer as a parent asks. My husband wanted to know the nitty gritty. How much of our tuition dollar would be spent paying off old school debt? And, if the school was growing (which it should be!) how does the school plan to pay for it? We wanted to know how much debt would limit future growth. Trust me, this is an important question. Which leads us to…
- What are the school’s plans for expansion in the next five years? Just because the school has a wait list doesn’t mean it’s all that and a bag of chips. Where a school chooses to funnel its resources can tell you loads about its priorities. Are all grades being considered, or just the youngest students? If it’s a thriving Catholic school, they should have a master plan and discussions on how to achieve it. As a prospective parent, you have every right to know in which direction the school is headed. After all, you’re likely to be both the benefactor and the beneficiary.
- Explain the religion curriculum. Is it a class or is it integrated throughout the day? Are there special religion-focused activities in which the kids participate (saint project, pro-life activities, Marian focus, etc.)? Does the school offer confession during specific liturgical seasons? All these questions give you a better sense of whether the school is Catholic in practice, or in name. For us, that was extremely important.
- Is a priest or religious sister on staff? If not, how else are children exposed to religious vocations? One impetus for our change of schools was because of the presence of religious sisters (holla to the Ann Arbor Dominicans). They may not be feasible in your area, but just because religious aren’t on staff doesn’t mean your children can’t be exposed to holy orders and religious life. Equally important and related is: how often is school Mass? Most schools in our area have weekly school Mass and some offer Daily Mass when kids hit high school. What’s the norm for your school?
- What service projects does the school adopt, both class and school-wide? How service-minded is the school and how do they foster among the students? We want our children to have a heart for social justice and canned food drives are nice, but we desired more.
- What is the technology agreement and rules the students are required to abide by? This question becomes increasingly important as your children hit middle- and high-school. If the policy is clearly articulated, how do the students sign on? And, when a student violates it (and oh, they will) what are the consequences? How does it fit the indiscretion? And, how are you notified?
- How do you communicate with parents – text, email, e-newsletter, website, etc.? This tells you how quickly the school is adopting technology, how well they use it and how easy (or not) it is to find out information regarding classwork, curriculum, upcoming events and extracurriculars.
- Please provide a comprehensive list of fees. Nobody wants to be surprised about an unknown activity, gala fee, school supply or re-enrollment fee. Getting a list of all fees, in advance, helps you plan for the financial impact on your family’s resources.
- Could you connect me with an existing school family I can visit with about future questions? Hopefully the school has a mentor program that pairs newly enrolled families with veteran families. That is a definite bonus. However, it’s equally beneficial when you’re looking at various school to connect with other families who are already enrolled. What do they love? What do they wish would change? Do they plan on sticking around for the long haul? Why or why not? An existing school family can be an invaluable resource, but be choosy about who you interview and keep in mind their answers have bias, just as your questions might.
- BONUS: What’s the percentage of graduating eighth graders who attend a Catholic high school? And, if in high school, what’s the percentage of graduating senior who go on to enroll in college? This gives you a sense of how much emphasis the school puts on religion and academics. How are the students achieving, attaining scholarships and making a difference in the world?
While technically not a question, definitely check out the school’s website BEFORE taking a tour of the school and asking your questions. That way, you’re familiar with the school’s mission, the faculty, the admissions process, the curriculum and its online presence. Walk into the admissions office as an informed school parent and you’re much more likely to walk out a happier prospective family.
One final thought. For us, extracurriculars have been important – sports, arts, leadership. And, while I didn’t list that as a question, I still think it’s one worth investigating. It depends on your child’s interests and areas of strength. I will say, though, for us the more important question was this: what are you doing to prepare my children for sainthood rather than how can my kid get an athletic scholarship?
It’s 100% possible you may not like the answers to all these questions, but identify your deal breakers and you’ll find the right school for your family. Happy asking!