So, you’re at that point where you’re thinking about high school. I can only imagine that you feel a bit (or very) overwhelmed when thinking of all of those steps in the process.

Let me share some five, very simple steps you can take, whether high school is next year or three years away, to help make your decision process easier.

Step One—Identify What YOU Want

All too often families let their wants and needs for high school get defined by others. Or, some families may start the process by jumping right into schools’ websites. But, just like any other major purchase or decision you make, it always is best to start by asking yourself what YOU want.

Not sure what you want? Here are some questions to ask from the student’s point of view:

  • Do I want a faith-based school?
  • Do I want to play sports? If so, how competitively?
  • Will the school meet my special learning needs?
  • Does the school offer fine arts programs and/or classes of interest to me?
  • Is distance from home important to me? Do I need a school with transportation available?
  • Do I want a really small school, or do I like the idea of a larger school?

Of course, there are many other factors to consider. Click here for a comprehensive list of high school search criteria. Once you have asked yourself some of these key questions—and answered them for yourself—you’re ready to take the next step!

Step Two—Gather Information about schools

Using your questions and answers from step one above as a guide, you’re ready to start learning as much as possible about schools. There are many ways to learn about schools, but the best ways are the following:

  • Websites—Schools’ 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.
  • Social media—Follow the school’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts to get an even more up-to-the-minute picture of student life.
  • Brochures—Websites often are more current than brochures, but printed materials give you a different perspective about the school Read the brochure with the idea in mind that this is what the school feels are its most important strengths. Looks for text about classes, programs, or activities that are unique to the school. Keep in mind, though, that while beautiful photos are appealing, but they may not give you much information about the actual advantages of that particular school.
  • Students—You might know current and/or past students of the school. They are the MOST knowledgeable about life at the school. A school with very happy and proud students probably is worth exploring further.
  • Parents—A private school’s parents are one of the best sources of insight into the school. Keep in mind that they are the ones paying for the experience, so they will be very honest about their experiences. Again, satisfied parents should be seen as a good sign!

Step Three—Visit schools of Interest

You’ve gathered information and narrowed your list a bit, so now it’s time to visit. You can arrange an individual visit, or you can attend arranged programs such as information nights, open houses, shadow days, etc. But, consider this like that first test drive of a possible new car!

Click here to read How to Get the Most from a School Visit. In a nutshell, 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. Also, take your list of questions about the school. Seriously, take a written list of questions. Admissions directors really love when families come prepared!

Step Four—Apply to your top schools

You might be asking why this step is included, as it seems pretty obvious. You would be surprised how quickly this step sneaks up on you. Plus, this step still allows plenty of opportunity for you to learn more about the school. Feel free to read Navigating the High School Application Process to learn even more!

Also, be sure to apply for financial aid at the various schools if this is something of interest to you. We soon will be publishing our Guide to Understanding High School Financial Aid here, so check back soon for more information.

Step Five—Pick your school!

Once you’ve received the acceptance letter, you’re almost enrolled at your high school of choice. But there’s still more to learn. 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 or result in a reduced amount of financial aid if you’ve applied for aid.

Obviously there is much more detail behind each of these steps, but there really are only five key steps. If all else fails and you still have questions, contact admissions offices. They’ll be more than happy to help! If you’d have some specific questions about Cathedral or about the high-school application process in general, contact Duane Emery, VP for enrollment management, at Or visit the admissions page on our website,