Saint Ignatius High School

Q&A with Pat O’Rourke: How to Apply

A kid from West Park, and now a triple threat serving as Admissions Director, Latin teacher and Head Hockey Coach, Pat O’Rourke ’90 offers some advice for families this fall during the high school search and application process.

O’Rourke graduated from Saint Ignatius High School in 1990 after attending St. Pat’s grade school in West Park. He then returned to his Alma Mater as a hockey coach in 1997 and started teaching Latin in 2001. In 2011, O’Rourke became the Admissions Director but has continued to serve in his roles in the classroom and on the ice in order to stay involved and connected with the students.
 
“I only teach one class per year now (Latin I), but it is one of the highlights of my day every day. I hope that I never fully leave the classroom.”
 
He and his wife Lisa belong to St. Angela Merici Parish in Fairview Park and have three sons - Jack, who is a junior at Saint Ignatius, Bobby, who is in 6th grade, and Paddy in 4th grade.  
 
We sat down with O’Rourke to ask him for his advice to prospective families as they consider which high school to attend and being the application process.

 
Q: What is the first thing someone should consider when looking at high schools?
I think everyone should look at choosing a high school as if they were making a major investment in their child's future, because that's what it is. Whichever school best meets your child's needs - and that includes social, academic, spiritual, artistic, and athletic needs - is the place they should go. 
 
Q: How and when should I start the application process? 
Fall of 8th grade year is when it all starts to really get going. The most important three things to do are
  1. To visit different schools' Open Houses
  2. Take the test at a couple of different schools
  3. Take a visitation day at all of the schools you're considering. 
All of those things basically happen between September and November of the 8th grade year.

Q: What can my son to do prepare for the Admissions Test?
While you don't have to prepare for the Test, many families do, so I would say you can go online and Google "HSPT Prep" and look for practice books, or you can attend any of the various classes at schools around town to at least familiarize yourself with the style and types of questions being asked on the Test. Our test is hosted at Saint Ignatius on September 22.
 
Q: What kind of tuition assistance is offered at Saint Ignatius? 
This is probably the thing that we do best here that is least known. We have a pool of $5-6 million annually for tuition assistance and our goal is to make Saint Ignatius affordable for any student who is qualified academically to go here and who has it in his heart to become a Man for Others.
 
Q: What important deadlines do I need to be aware of? 
Really as long as you have all of your materials in by about January 20, you'll be fine. Our Committee meets for one week, typically in the first week of February, to go through all of the applications and choose the next class. The financial assistance deadline is this year is on November 9.
 
Q: Are there different applications for public and private grade schools? 
Yes, there are. Catholic school students receive their applications in their 8th grade classes in mid-January. Public school students receive an application from us on the day they take the test here.
 
Q: Are there ways my son can get involved before he is in eighth grade? 
Yes, we do have some programs for grade schools students. For an extensive list, check our website, but the biggest one by far is SEP, our Summer Enrichment Program, which has been around for over 50 years and is really the best way to get to know the school, its students, and its teachers. SEP meets for three weeks in the summer and costs $495, which includes breakfast and lunch every day. SEP is only open to 7th grade students and takes place the summer before their 8th grade year. Each year, about 70% of our freshman class are SEP alumni.
 
Q: How important are grades when it comes to the selection process?
Grades are very important because while the Test is a one-day thing and anyone can have a really good or really bad day that day, grade school grades show consistent effort over months and even years. We have a good rapport with many of the grade school teachers out there, so their grades and their recommendation letters especially carry a lot of weight with our 12-person Committee.  In some ways, I would say grades and teacher recs are more important than the test, so be nice to your teachers!
 
Q: Will my son fit in? How do I know if Saint Ignatius High School is the right fit for my son?
The only way to really find out if your son will feel comfortable here is to bring him down here for something like SEP or one of our Grade School Language Programs and certainly for Open House and for 8th grade visitation, which we call "Wildcat for a Day."  I can't guarantee that everyone here will 100% love the place, but ask around, ask your friends and neighbors, people whose sons go here or have gone here - I'd be willing to say we have a 98% satisfaction rate or so. In general, it's a very positive and happy place to be, and that goes not just for the students, but for the teachers as well. I know I drive into work every day excited and energized to be here. 

Probably the biggest question to ask yourself about "fit" here is, does my son seem open to doing service, to helping others out. Because that is a big emphasis here and it pervades just about everything we do, including clubs and sports. We really do strive to be Men for Others, and if that doesn't appeal to your son, he'll probably think we're all nuts down here. But I've seen it since 1986 myself, and I can tell you, it is real and frankly, if you're faced with a choice in life of either being a positive person or a negative one, why not choose positive all day long? 

But, I'm paid to say nice things about the school, so my best advice is to ask around, to bring your son down here a couple of times, and to let him find out for himself. I'm pretty confident he'll like what he sees.