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Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask

To read all the posts from this week:  HDYDI: Choose, Afford and Love Catholic SchoolMaking Catholic School AffordableCatholic Schools Have My Heart (Says the Convert).

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.

10 Questions to Ask, applying for Catholic school

  1. 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.
  2. 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…
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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!

20 Comments

  1. Anne on January 28, 2014 at 8:10 am

    As a former Catholic school teacher, this is an excellent list. I wouldn’t have thought to ask about the financials or the master plan, but it really would give insight into the health of a school. I’ve worked at (and attended) some very well meaning start ups, but well meaning doesn’t always guarantee that the school will be able to be as effective as it hopes.

  2. Deme @ House For Five on January 28, 2014 at 8:49 am

    This post is beyond helpful, Kathryn! I wish I had been armed with this for our school visit just a couple months ago! We are happy with the catholic school we’ve chosen for this year but our move was so rushed that our search/questions were rushed as well. Maybe I need to pay a visit to our Admissions office for a few follow up questions before next year’s registration period. Which is totally sneaking up on me!

  3. Nicole on January 28, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I can see several of these questions even helping when looking into other programs that I would want my children to attend or participate in. Thanks for the list!

    • Kate on January 28, 2014 at 9:51 am

      I agree. I was thinking that many/most of these questions I’ve used when applying to undergrad and grad school. I will say that even some of the most highly rated/ranked schools don’t know how to effectively answer ‘how will the school expand/improve in the next five years’ — one top 10 school actually drew a blank. Then they answered that it’s their reputation that matters, and that they don’t need to change a thing (!)

      I ultimately went to a Catholic undergrad and knowing about religious on campus and how religion is infused, or not, in the school was important to me. Both sisters and priests taught classes and not just theology.

  4. Cathy on January 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Great list!
    I would add one more question that probably falls under the “financial” or “fees” category – What, if any, additional financial obligations are parents responsible for? When our oldest 2 were in Catholic school years ago, parents had to sign a “fund-raising contract” – if your child/family didn’t meet the minimum sales requirement/quota for a particular fund-raiser (set by the school), the parents were responsible for making up the difference. This could really hit a family with multiple children hard.

  5. Beth (A Mom's Life) on January 28, 2014 at 10:06 am

    What an excellent list of questions!

  6. Karen on January 28, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Oh don’t you know that I’m leading off with question #1!!!!! I will not let my kids down like my parents let me down!!

  7. Delene on January 29, 2014 at 1:24 am

    Thank you for this list. What a help! We are moving to WA state after 3 years in Germany with the US military. I’m trying to find the right high school and elementary schools for my kiddos and am feeling a little anxious about the whole process. I’ve managed these moves many times before, but this one is the hardest.

  8. Colleen on January 29, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you so much for this list! I love how passionate you are about Catholic schooling. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone but that doesn’t mean we don’t want our Catholic Faith to be integrated into their everyday school lives. We are just beginning the school search for our little ones and are looking at a new school for my 11 year old step daughter b/c the Catholic school she’s in now just isn’t living up to our standards. I will definitely be taking this list of questions with me when we visit schools in the future!

    • Kathryn on February 2, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Great point, Colleen! And I hope the questions help in your search.

  9. HDYDI: Choose, Apply & Thrive in Catholic School on January 30, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    […] read all the posts from this week:  Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, Making Catholic School Affordable, Catholic Schools Have My Heart (Says the […]

  10. […] read all the posts from this week:  HDYDI: Choose, Afford and Love Catholic School, Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, Catholic Schools Have My Heart (Says the […]

  11. Mia on May 29, 2014 at 10:47 am

    This post is just great!! We are still two years away from our first starting at our parish’s Catholic school so I am so happy you put together this list! I will definitely put this to use when we start the application process. Thanks so much Kathryn!

    • Kathryn on May 29, 2014 at 11:20 am

      So glad to hear that Mia!

  12. Christina on June 5, 2014 at 5:46 am

    Kathryn,
    This list is fabulous. Thank you so much for writing this post (gosh you think of everything). We recently learned that our Catholic school is closing and I was just sitting down to write out my list of questions for our 3 prospective school interviews this week and happened across this post.
    Sadly, I have to add questions about Common Core now. Although our Bishop has spoken out against it, we find that some schools have let some of those standards trickle in through a back door.
    blessings!

  13. christine on January 26, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Wow, this is a fantastic list. We’ve had children in Catholic schools for 11 years now, with the youngest heading to kindergarten next year. I never asked a single one of these questions. Partly because we had been in the parish for 4 years before our youngest started, so I knew the answers to many of them. But partly because it never crossed my mind. Thankfully, we are in a school that is wonderful in all of these aspects.

  14. […] Kathryn from Team Whitaker helped us get our thoughts churning. Here’s her most helpful post on 10 questions to ask when applying to Catholic school. Here’s her equally helpful follow-up of 5 questions Catholic school parents should be […]

  15. […] Kathryn from Team Whitaker helped us get our thoughts churning. Here’s her most helpful post on 10 questions to ask when applying to Catholic school. Here’s her equally helpful follow-up of 5 questions Catholic school parents should be […]

  16. Charles J. on January 31, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    Having grown up in a fringe-of-the-suburbs Catholic school… and having a sister who teaches at one in an even more rural area… I would like to infuse a little bit of a warning into the usefulness of the question about how many children continue to the next level of Catholic education.

    That is… there isn’t always a Catholic high school available within what the parents consider a reasonable distance, and different parents may have different standards for this.

    In my case, our diocese had/has four Catholic high schools, but the nearest was located 15 miles away from my elementary school (and 30 miles from my house, as we lived in a rural parish that did not have its own school). When the high school reps came out to talk to us and our families, over half of the families at the elementary school simply said “no, it’s too far away”… without any consideration of any other factors. I believe about 20-25% of my elementary class went on the Catholic high schools. Only one other current student (out of about seven hundred at the boys’ high school – our diocese has one boys’, one girls’ and two co-ed, but the single-sex ones were the closest to us) came from my parish, and he was two years older than me; I only know of one girl from our parish in my age group that did Catholic high school (she was one year ahead of me; her father was the director of our parish’s religious education program and mine was the Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus) we went to the two schools’ combined dances together). And our parish church (the church’s address is 27 miles from the high school) was the furthest away among those listed in the high school’s student directory.

    In my sister’s case, she lives in a rural area where the Catholic elementary school (at which she teaches and, hopefully, my nephew/godson will be attending once he is old enough) is the only non-public elementary school in their city (which has a population of roughly 100,000 and is the largest city in the county). The major city which is the diocesan see is seventy-five miles away. I don’t know that there is a Catholic high school available closer than that, which may mean that going on to high school may be completely unfeasible.

  17. […] read all the posts from this week:  HDYDI: Choose, Afford and Love Catholic School, Applying to Catholic School? 10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, Making Catholic School […]

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