By Joyce Coronel, The Catholic Sun

Before the Friday-night football games, prom plans and yearbook pictures find their way into a student’s repertoire, there’s a path to be discerned. It’s a path walked by eighth-graders and parents alike as they ask themselves where to begin the journey through high school.

Matthew Rylski has spoken with hundreds of parents on the hunt for a Catholic high school during his eight-year tenure as director of enrollment at Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale. In that capacity, he’s developed some lessons on how to find the right fit for an incoming freshman — and the student’s parents.

“Take a tour, go to an open house, do a shadow. It’s amazing. It’s the same thing when people are buying a home — you’re on campus and you get a feeling for a community and it changes your perception,” Rylski said.

Nan Hillebrand, co-director of counseling at Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler, agreed that visiting campus is an excellent way to learn more about a school.

“I would encourage them to come to the open house so they get to meet the teachers. Any events we have, shadowing — just as much exposure as you and your child can get for what the school’s like.”

Each school, Hillebrand said, is distinct.

“They’re all pretty different in terms of the feel even though we share common values.  Each community has its personality and gifts.”

Miranda Maciel, director of admissions and marketing at Bourgade Catholic High School in Phoenix, echoed those thoughts but also counseled parents to visit schools’ online presence.

“I’d say the first thing is to familiarize yourself with each of the schools’ websites and learn their calendar because each one has different admissions cycle deadlines,” Maciel said.

The high school placement test dates this year are Dec. 3 and Dec. 10. Incoming freshmen can take the test at any of the Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Phoenix and have the results sent to the one or more schools they are considering.

“Some schools do have practice test options,” Maciel said. “We don’t because what we use it for is different from what other schools use it for.”

At Bourgade, test results are used as a placement guide and help determine if a student will need extra support or may be eligible for honors courses.

Rylski explained how the test scores are used at Notre Dame Prep.

“While there isn’t a minimum score required for acceptance, it is one of the pieces the admissions committee uses to determine a student’s potential for academic success and possibly a factor in a student not being accepted,” Rylski said, though he emphasized that in the “vast majority” of cases, the scores are used for placement.

“Students that excel and have good grades and recommendations are likely to be placed in honors. Those that show deficiencies may be required to take summer school prior to ninth grade and/or be in a cohort for students with learning differences.”

Mike Ward, director of admissions at Brophy College Preparatory, offered a similar take.

Admission to Brophy is determined by several factors. The test score can be a determining factor but “we base it on a student’s prior work ethic, their achievement in school, the Iowa test scores — we want to look at the whole person,” Ward said.

“Acceptance is going to be on grades and who they are as a human being.”

Maciel urged parents to make sure their son or daughter has a good night’s sleep the night before the test and has a good breakfast the next morning. Beyond that, she tells parents to visit the campuses of potential school picks.

“Even if it feels like you’re visiting four or five schools and that seems like a lot, go and ask those questions, especially if you know your student is either wanting honors classes or might need some support,” Maciel said.

“Getting on that campus and seeing what each school can offer your student and how they’re going to evaluate your student will help put you and your student at ease.”

As far as potential pitfalls in the process to find the right Catholic high school, Maciel said missing scholarship deadlines or not prayerfully discerning can be an issue.

“Saying, ‘This is what we’re doing and that’s it,’” Maciel said. That’s when the decision can turn into a push and pull, with parents not being open and students feeling “afraid or scared or uncomfortable with changing the plan.”

Choosing a Catholic high school for a son or daughter can be a momentous step, so Hillebrand cautioned that it’s important to clarify goals.

“Just being clear about what your expectations are and what your priorities are in your expectations,” Hillebrand said. While the academics at a Catholic high school are rigorous, parents can sometimes come to believe that their student will get outstanding grades, get a college scholarship, and be accepted at a top school. But that dream isn’t always the student’s dream.

“If they’re only going to focus on academics, OK, then that’s realistic. But I think that’s one of the ideas that people have that isn’t always accurate when you get to the real-life situations.”

So, when it comes down to making the call, Rylski recommends a little elbow grease, due diligence and trusting your gut.

“I would say there’s no such thing as doing too much homework in this situation,” Rylski said.

“Honestly, sometimes it’s just a feeling, a feeling like, ‘This is my home. These are my people.’ You don’t get that feeling unless you come and visit, so do your homework and try your best.”


Get to know the Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Phoenix

Bourgade Catholic High School
(602) 973-4000
Shadow days throughout September

Brophy College Prep
Shadow days throughout September, October and November

Notre Dame Preparatory
Shadow days September, October, November, and January 2023

Seton Catholic Preparatory High School
Shadow days September, October, November, and January 2023

St. John Paul II
Call the school to arrange a tour

St. Mary’s High School
Incoming freshmen shadow day Sept. 16; sibling shadow day Sept. 14

Xavier College Prep
Shadow days in October and November

More about the diocese’s Catholic high schools