The college search is rough on everyone, but if you are looking for a college where others share your religious beliefs, it might require a bit more research on your part. My College Guide recognizes that there are some special concerns that face college bound Jewish students – and we’ve got a few questions you might want to consider as you evaluate whether or not a college is the right fit for you!
What about Hillel?
Does the college you are interested in have an active Hillel (or some sort of equivalent)? The majority of colleges, even church-affiliated colleges like Georgetown University, have an active Hillel, though it may be small in size. Find out who the staff are, the specifics about the activities and services, as well as social events to meet other Jewish students. Speak with both the staff and students actively involved in the Hillel to get a better idea of the way things are run and how your Jewish faith will fit in to your college life!
What about the holidays?
Take a look at what services are offered on Shabbat and the high holidays as well as the facility in which the services are held. Can you bring your family or other guests?
Are there any Jewish studies courses or majors?
If learning about your Jewish heritage is important to you and you are toying with the possibility of a Jewish major or minor, you will want to see how many courses are offered on the topic each semester – and if you can major or minor in Jewish Studies.
Is it possible to study in Israel?
If you foresee a trip to Israel as part of your not-too distant future, you might want to see if your college will allow you to study abroad in Israel in exchange for college credits! Every college is different but some do have Israel programs for college students so it might be easier than you think (and definitely worth looking into). Keep in mind that Birthright Israel does sponsor free trips to Israel for Jewish young men and women between the ages of 18 and 26. Although these Birthright trips don’t typically provide you with college credit, they are a fantastic (and free!) way to visit the country of your heritage.
Is there a kosher meal plan?
If you want to keep kosher, your best bet is usually the meal plan offered by many of the Hillel chapters on college campuses. If that’s just not available, see if the colleges that you are interested in have either a specific kosher food meal plan or, at least, kosher food choices.
What is the percentage of Jewish students on campus? Of course it’s fine to make friends with other students from different backgrounds and cultures, but it’s also nice to have common ground with students that celebrate the holidays just like you. Knowing the percentage of Jewish students on campus can help you decide how comfortable you will feel based on the numbers. You can find the number of Jewish students at the majority of colleges simply by checking out the Hillel website.
How does your college handle holidays?
Most colleges do not close for the high holidays or any other Jewish holidays. However, if you miss classes on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, most schools will understand and your college professors usually won’t schedule exams on these days. If you are more observant and do not plan on attending classes on other holidays, such as Sukkot, Shavuot, Passover or Simchat Torah, you should check with the schools in which you’re interested to see the policy for making up work and/or exams that may be missed.
Remember: the best way to get a feel for a college is to make the college campus visit! Don’t be afraid to ask your questions, get the population statistics from the Hillel website and college admissions, visit the Hillel on campus, and talk to some of the Jewish Student Union members.
It might also be worth trying to stay on-campus for the Shabbat and attending the service at the Hillel, particularly if you intend to do Shabbat services while you are in college.
Know that you can make a successful transition to college, keep your Jewish identity, make new friends, and gain a college diploma!