The exam historically held in January was moved to give "parents and guardians of elementary school students more time to identify schools and research financial aid resources to make more informed decisions about the most appropriate high schools for their children," the diocese said in a written statement.
The new date was announced Tuesday along with a pair of policy changes for the Catholic school system that includes 36 high schools, serving 21,936 high school students in Cook and Lake counties, according to its 2015/16 annual report.
Maria Hawk, regional director of secondary schools for the archdiocese, said most students have a good idea which school they prefer ahead of the test, often by attending athletic camps, shadow days, open houses and more.
"The decision to move the test date to December was not in response to having more time to visit and learn about schools, rather it was made based on the need to provide families with more time to review financial aid options," Hawk said late Wednesday.
According to Illinois High School Association's policy, Catholic schools may not make any offers of financial aid until a student is accepted. The earlier test date will result in an earlier acceptance date, which will then lead to earlier financial aid packages being offered, she said.
Other changes include mandating that Catholic high schools provide decisions regarding these financial aid awards, including merit and needs-based scholarships, after acceptance but prior to registration.
Hawk said this decision was made as a result of feedback from surveys and focus groups, which suggested making one standard practice when it comes to financial aid and scholarships. Indeed, many Catholic schools were already offering such information prior to registration.
But others made such information available later in the process, making it difficult to compare offers. Some families also lost their non-refundable registration fee as a result, she said.
"Under the old system some families anticipating a higher financial aid award registered their child only to find out at a later date that the amount the school granted was not enough for them to be able to pay the tuition costs," Hawk said.
Finally, high schools will also be now required to gather emergency contact information of parents and guardians two weeks prior to the Catholic high school entrance exam. This will allow the school to notify parents if the exam is canceled due to inclement weather.
All of the changes came "after a months-long study and consultation with parents, Catholic elementary and high school leaders and other interested parties," the statement said.
“By changing our recruitment practices, parents will be able to better evaluate their options and select the high school that best fits their child’s needs,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of the school system that also includes 193 elementary schools serving an additional 57,524 such students.
High school merit-based scholarships are often tied to testing at a particular school, and prospective students can pre-register for the entrance exam at their first-choice high school beginning Nov. 18.
But pre-registration will remain open up until the date of the exam. The entrance exam fee is $25 per tester. Each high school establishes its own make-up dates for students unable to attend the Dec. 2 exam.
The total enrollment for both high schools and elementary schools operated by the archdiocese was 79,460 in the 2015/16 school year.