Catholic schools are an educational option that is available to all Philadelphia families. They require students to apply for admission and charge annual tuition, but financial aid and scholarships are often available. Catholic schools seek to form students to be productive members of the community and call on them to live fully the message of Christ. However, there is no requirement in any Catholic schools that students be Catholic.
A Catholic School Education
Students who attend Catholic schools receive instruction in core subjects including math, science, English and social studies, and also in foreign languages, health, physical education, technology and visual and performing arts. In addition, students take classes on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith and participate in the religious activities and spiritual life of their school. Philadelphia’s Catholic schools have adopted the nationally recognized Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics. While students are not required to be Catholic, they are required to participate in religious classes and events. Many families, Catholic and non-Catholic, find that the schools’ religious focus brings with it extra attention to values and character development. Students are required to wear uniforms.
Students in Catholic elementary schools are assessed using the TerraNova, a standardized test that is used nationally in many private and public schools (but not in most Pennsylvania public schools). As a group, Philadelphia’s Catholic schools have generally performed well on the TerraNova. In 2010-11, students at the city’s Catholic high schools scored two points above the national median on average, and elementary-school students scored nine points above the national median. During that same year, 93 percent of the previous year’s city Catholic high school graduates went on to some form of postsecondary education.
Not all Catholic schools are equal. It is important to review student performance and other factors at each individual Catholic school you are considering before choosing one. For purposes of comparison, GreatPhillySchools asked an independent data analytics firm to develop a method for comparing TerraNova test scores to scores for public schools on Pennsylvania standardized exams. These comparisons are reflected in the “Academics” ratings on GreatPhillySchools.org.
Students must apply to attend a Catholic school. The details of the admissions process can vary. In general, the process for elementary schools begins with an interview and may include administration of an entrance test. Registration periods usually begin in January during Catholic Schools Week, but families are welcome to arrange school visits at any time of year.
The process for secondary schools includes an application, entrance test and interview. The entrance exam is offered on multiple dates from October through December. Admissions decisions are made by early spring. Depending on enrollment, a school may accept late applications until the start of a new school year.
Families should contact the Catholic school their children are interested in attending for information on that school’s specific application deadlines and requirements.
About the Schools
About one in 10 Philadelphia students attends a Catholic elementary or high school. There are 60 Catholic schools in the city, including 11 high schools. Most elementary schools are run by local churches with guidance and support from the Office of Catholic Education of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Most high schools are run by a new nonprofit entity called the Faith in the Future Foundation in partnership with the Archdiocese. A few schools are managed independently, such as St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, Mercy Vocational High School and Gesu School. There also are special education schools: Archbishop Ryan Academy for the Deaf and St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments. (Two other schools that enroll students with special needs, St. Katherine Day School and Our Lady of Confidence, are located in the suburbs but enroll students from the city.)
Most K-8 schools are operated by the local parish: Catholic students living within a parish are expected to attend the parish school, while non-Catholics can apply to attend any K-8 Catholic school. The high schools are not attached to a particular parish and enroll students from across the city. In all cases, it is best to contact the schools directly to learn about their specific admissions policies.
About the Students
The Catholic schools of Philadelphia serve a diverse student population. According to data collected by the Archdiocese in 2011, 50% of students in city Catholic schools are minorities—mainly black and Hispanic. About 30% of students are non-Catholic.
Tuition and Fees
Annual tuition at K-8 Catholic schools is set by each school and ranges, approximately, from $2,500-$3,500 for parishioners (members of the church where the school is located) to $3,000-$4,500 for non-parishioners. Annual tuition at Archdiocesan Catholic high schools is $5,850; at St. Joe’s Prep it runs much higher. Most schools offer monthly tuition payment plans.
In addition to annual tuition, Catholic high schools often require families to pay annual fees for registration, athletics, music, activities and field trips.
Many students receive financial assistance to attend Catholic schools. This assistance is awarded based on financial need and academic performance. At the elementary level, tuition and financial assistance are determined by the individual parish schools. Parents or guardians should start by contacting the school or parish office directly. Additional financial aid for elementary school is available from BLOCS and the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Philadelphia.
In the 2009-2010 academic year, Philadelphia Catholic high school students received more than $11 million in tuition assistance and scholarships. Most of the financial assistance came directly from individual schools and alumni organizations. Additional financial aid for high school is available from the Connelly Foundation and Ellis Trust.