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Understanding Philadelphia’s Catholic Schools

Understanding Philadelphia's Catholic Schools

Catholic schools are an educational option 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 school that students be Catholic.

There are 60 Catholic schools in the city, including 11 high schools, and nearly one in 10 Philadelphia students attends a Catholic school. According to data collected by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2011, 50 percent of the city’s Catholic school students are minorities, mainly black and Hispanic, and about 30 percent are non-Catholic.

Most elementary and middle 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 Catholic school.

Most Catholic high schools are run by a nonprofit entity called the Faith in the Future Foundation in partnership with the archdiocese. These schools are not attached to a particular parish and enroll students from across the city. A few schools St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School and Mercy Vocational High School are managed independently.

There are also special-education schools: Archbishop Ryan Academy for the Deaf and St. Lucy Day School for Children with Visual Impairments.

In all cases it is best to contact the schools directly to learn about their specific admissions policies.


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 the school.

Philadelphia’s Catholic schools have adopted the nationally recognized Common Core State Standards for 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.


Academic Results

Students in Catholic schools are assessed using the TerraNova, a standardized test used in many private and public schools nationally (but not in most Pennsylvania public schools). As a group, Philadelphia’s Catholic schools have generally performed well on the test.

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 our Academics ratings.


Tuition and Fees

Annual tuition at Catholic elementary and middle schools is set by each school and ranges from $2,500 to $3,500 for parishioners (members of the church where the school is located) to $3,000 to $4,500 for non-parishioners.

Annual tuition at archdiocesan Catholic high schools is $5,850; at independent Catholic schools it can run much higher.

Most schools offer monthly tuition payment plans. In addition to annual tuition, Catholic schools often require families to pay annual fees for registration, athletics, music, activities and field trips.


Financial Aid

Many students receive financial assistance to attend Catholic schools. This assistance is awarded based on financial need and academic performance. At the elementary level, assistance is determined by the individual parish schools.

In the 2009-10 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.



Office of Catholic Education of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 215-587-3700.


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