5 steps to take in choosing a private school

By R. Duane Emery, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Cathedral High School

Choosing a private high school is one of the biggest and most important decisions parents can make. To keep from being overwhelmed by the process, here are five simple steps to take, whether high school is next year or three years away:

1. Identify what you want

All too often families let their wants and needs for high school get defined by others or jump right into schools’ websites before first thinking about the following:

Do I want a faith-based school?

Will my child want to play sports? If so, how competitively?

Will the school be able to accommodate any special learning needs?

Does the school offer fine arts programs and classes?

Is distance from home important to me? Is transportation available?

Is the school big enough to offer all the programs we want? Is it small enough so my child will be known individually?

2. Gather information

Once you’ve decided about what is most important to your family, school websites are the absolute best place to find information. Check out the admissions pages, but spend some time looking at other pages to see the schools in action. Look at announcements to get a feel for day-to-day life at the schools. Check out the news and publications. Additionally, you often can sign up for newsletters and/or events via these sites.

Follow the school’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to get an even more up-to-the-minute picture of student life.

Websites often are more current than brochures, but printed materials give you a different perspective about the school. Read the brochure with the idea that this is what the school feels are its most important strengths

Current and/or past students of the school are the most knowledgeable about life at the school. A school with very happy and proud students probably is worth exploring further.

Likewise, private school’s parents are one of the best sources of insight into the school. Again, satisfied parents should be seen as a good sign!

3. Visit schools of Interest

You can arrange an individual visit, or attend programs such as information nights, open houses, shadow days, etc. Be sure to get a tour of campus, preferably while school is in session so that you can see classrooms in action and get a true feel for the school’s day-to-day culture.

4. Apply to your top schools

This may seem pretty obvious, but it’s easy to miss a deadline. Once you apply, there is still plenty of time to learn more about the school before you would need to accept an offer of admission. Also, be sure to apply for financial aid at the various schools if this is something of interest to you.

5. Pick your school!

Once you’ve received the acceptance letter, there’s still more to complete the process. Many schools have special programs for admitted students. Some have scheduling nights. Expect to hear from teachers and/or students from the schools you’ve been admitted to. You might even wish to revisit the school to get your very specific questions answered. Once you’ve decided, don’t forget to enroll by the published deadline so that you are guaranteed a space in that freshman class. Enrolling late could jeopardize your space and/or could result in a reduced amount of financial aid if you’ve applied for aid.