How to Choose the Right Catholic High School for Your Children

I suppose twenty-eight years involved in small Catholic schools qualifies me as an experienced educator. Or at least it has provided me with plenty of experience in listening to parents and their children on the subject of “How to Choose a School.” Or perhaps “How Not to Choose a School.”

Experience might bring some wisdom about things but it sure does bring a great deal of pain. Like Agamemnon’s war prize, Cassandra, I find myself similarly cursed with a sort of knowledge of the future which brings no good because it is not believed until the events themselves have come to pass.

As we learn from Herodotus,

It is the most hateful thing for a person to have much knowledge and no power.

How often do I hear the words of a parent regretting this or that educational choice made ten years earlier, but the unfortunate consequences of which have only recently played out. One parent laments,

I wish I had not sent her to that school.

And another,

I only wish I had known about a better school when my kids were still young enough to attend.


The school was so good when I attended it, I assumed it was the same now!

Related image

The correct choice of a school is difficult. And, unfortunately,  the consequences of a bad choice are difficult to undo.

The most common criteria that I hear from parents for choosing a school are something like the following (divided into spoken and unspoken criteria):

Common Spoken Criteria for Choosing a High School

1. I want my child to be happy, so I want her to make the choice of where to attend school.

2. My child likes sports, so we are looking for a school with a wide variety of athletic offerings.

Image result for sports curling

3. My child wants to be an artist so we are looking for a school with a strong graphic arts program.

Image result for teen artist circles

4. My child wants to be a doctor so she is particularly interested in AP chemistry and Biology offerings.

Image result for teen doctor steth

5. My husband went to St. John’s (which has a proud tradition of over 120 years!) and I went to St. Gertrude’s, so our sons will go to St. John’s and our daughters will attend St. Gertrude’s.

6. We think that technology in the classroom is important.

7. My child learns in his own special way, so we are seeking a school which is able to accommodate his way of learning.

Common Unspoken Criteria for Choosing a High School

1. I want my child to attend a school which will benefit my own self image among my own colleagues and social peer groups.

Image result for affluence wealthy high school

2. I want my child to attend a school which either reflects my own socio-economic class or which might even place my child in contact with a more affluent class.

3. Although being a Catholic is important to me, the main concern that I have for my son is that he will be successful.

For what it is worth, I will offer ten criteria for choosing a high school that I think are a little more substantive.

Ten Criteria for Choosing the Right High School

  1. The school explicitly proposes the formation of the mind as its chief mission.
  2. The school claims to know how the formation of the mind is achieved through a non-elective course of studies.
  3. The school holds Theology as the Queen of the Sciences.
  4. The school curriculum is essentially different from the secular high school curriculum, even in math and science.
  5. The entire reading list is excellent. There is not a single work that students are compelled to read which is objectionable, senseless, or even simply mediocre.Image result for catcher in the rye
  6. The school day and schedule allows for a regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
  7. The school actively promotes the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
  8. The faculty appears to be educated with the same education that the school aims to impart.
  9. After spending a day visiting classes a parent would himself like to attend the school.
  10. The school community, board, faculty, parents and students support the vision of the school.

Now I am certain that you can think of some other criteria that are important as well, but these ten rise to my mind quickly. No school is perfect, but a parent needs to select a school for his children based on solid principles. This is the kind of choice which he is not likely to regret later.

About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www., former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
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23 Responses to How to Choose the Right Catholic High School for Your Children

  1. Stephanie says:

    Great Article… so true. And the effects of a mediocre school in the area of truth, goodness and beauty, is
    displayed after graduation.

  2. Rebecca Pettigrew says:

    I’d love to have a shareable list of age-appropriate books recommended for each grade, K-8 and for 9-12. I have offered criticismand recommendations based upon my own limited knowledge, but would greatly appreciate a tried and true list of excellent books for developing excellent and virtuous young people.

  3. mike urban says:

    best. ever. blog on a Liberal Arts education and how to discern the right choices. People will still elect to have their children pick or choose for the wrong reasons and later regret it but with the truth presented to them as you have done, they will be completely armed and know, after reading, how best to see through the chaff.

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  5. Is there such a school anywhere?

  6. Regular Catholic Joe says:

    These are terrific aspirations but unrealistic for the 99%+ majority of Catholics not living in South Euclid, Ohio.

    The scant offerings nation-wide make so for most of us that we need to do the best we can with what is available in our area: provide substantial formation at home, work with the school of our Diocese (supporting our Bishop according to the command of Saints like Ignatius of Antioch), and most of all Do Not Fear — trust in God with Faith his Providence. Jesus has overcome the world!

    • As the article said, “No school is perfect, but a parent needs to select a school for his children based on solid principles.” While there may be few schools that meet all 10 criteria well, we can still apply these principles when looking for a school for our children.
      If the diocesan school contradicts these principles – and many of them do – we are not doing much good supporting such schools as they are. If anything, we should be working to change them.

  7. madelineblalock says:

    What do you if you can’t find this?!?

    • Jess says:

      Madeline, one option is to see if you can get to a Regina Caeli Academy!

      • Lisa says:

        Yes, I second that! Regina Caeli Academy! It’s authentically Catholic, classical, affordable, and accredited. The unique hybrid program provides added structure and support to homeschoolers. For me, it has proven to be the best of both worlds. Their high school program is particularly excellent- formative and academically challenging.

    • Karen says:

      Don’t be afraid to homeschool! It is the best decision my husband and I ever made. Mother of Divine Grace distance learning program is accredited and offers an excellent Catholic Classical curriculum, parent training and classes, real-time face-to-face online classes, educational consultants to guide you through the program, and report cards. It has been a joy for our entire family to be a part of this school. The school has given my children a vibrant and informed faith, and has prepared them very well for college (Thomas Aquinas College). This is a sacrifice that you as parents will never regret!

  8. quidproquo says:

    If these principles are clear in parents’ minds, then they will begin to demand this kind of education from schools nearby. (I think it’s helpful to pretend you live out in pre-government, pre-diocese territory, and think of education as being accomplished by the effort of the parents, who pooled together their money to hire a teacher and build a schoolhouse on somebody’s land. You find like-minded families and do what you can to approach the goal. Homeschooling is always an option, or a co-op, or just form a posse and take over your local Catholic school!)

    Even articulating these principles out loud to your children is so formative. Tell them, “We have a duty as parents to procreate and educate our children. We have accomplished the procreation part for you, now what are the principles that guide the education side of things?” Show them this list! This will help them to clear the cobwebs of ‘education is career-prep’ or ‘what do I like to do’ and begin to think of their education as a formation of their mind to make it a sharp and ready tool for learning truth. Just knowing the true reason why we do anything guides our daily efforts even when the circumstances are less than perfect.

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  10. Anne-Marie says:

    Our parish school remade itself into such a school at the K-8 level several years ago, and we’re working toward adding a high school. Rebecca Pettigrew, its curriculum plan includes a long list of books by grade, starting on p. 49:

    Click to access The_Educational_Plan_of_St._Jerome_Classical_School.pdf

  11. polylogism says:

    Mr. Langley, could you at some point explain what an education in beauty is? An education in truth seems comprehensible and academic enough, but how is an education in beauty supposed to work? Many seem to say that concentration on the arts in school is for the purpose of awakening wonder, making students realize metaphysical realities, and preparing them to accept the existence of God and more of their education. It might seem that an education in art is for the sake of ordering the passions since people say that is what good art does. Is that right? Should students learn to make beautiful things in order to do it throughout their lives? Can you make the case for this mysterious aspect of the education you promote?

  12. John Clyatt says:

    Beauty must be considered alongside and equally with the two other objective transcendentals, truth and goodness. Hans Ur Von Balthasar says, “Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from the other two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were an ornament of a bourgeois past – whether he admits it or not – can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” If we are to do our earthly part alongside and blessed by the Holy Spirit we must provide an education in beauty. What is that education? Just like truth and goodness as well as all other academic endeavor it is a manner of learning, practicing, and applying the language, techniques, and skills of beauty. This does mean everyone is capable of being a great artist, musician, or craftsman. Rather it is learning what is composition, balance, contrast, perspective etc. in the visual arts; in music reading music to a minimum level and at least a basic understanding of melody, melodic shape, harmony, rhythm, and tone color. Exposure to learning an instrument and as a fundamental, learning to sing. Those who claim to be tone deaf are more than likely not, but learning to match pitch may be very difficult for some. By learning even rudimentary beauty language the mind and heart are opened to a deeper experience and understanding of the beauty of God. I often tell parents that our school does not so much teach what is biology, chemistry, history etc. but rather who is biology etc. The same goes for beauty. It’s hard to get to know someone if you can’t talk to them. I hope this helps a bit.

  13. Thank you for the information on how to choose the right catholic high school. I like your idea to find a school where the parent would like to attend classes. This can at least put the parent’s mind to rest seeing as how the classes are engaging even to themselves. Thank you again for the information.

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