Selecting the Proper School for the "Proper" Jewish Girl
By Sarah Sirota
Summer’s ending and it’s that time of year again; time to read countless books, write papers, and attend class. But that’s the easy part. The difficulty lies in finding a place to do that all in. Jewish girls everywhere are faced with the challenge of finding the college that’s right for them.
There are many different options available and girls must decide where they and their ‘Jewishness’ will be most comfortable and most successful.
Touro boasts a women’s-only division, known as the Lander College, which offers small classes and a Jewish atmosphere. The college has two branches, one is located in New York City, on 60th St. between 10th and 11th Avenues; the other, on Avenue J in Flatbush. They are a place where woman can partake in a challenging academic program, while simultaneously continuing and strengthening their Torah education and commitment.
Samantha Danzig, a student, explains why she chose to go there; “I went to Touro because it was financially affordable. It was a nice small atmosphere as I was accustomed to during my life schooling. I felt it was important to be around Jewish people. I never had boys in my class before and was scared to start in college.” Rachel Rynderman, another student, shares similar views; “I wanted to go to college but since I come from a very Bais Yaakov (Orthodox, mostly Charedi, Jewish school) background, I wanted an all girls, Jewish environment.”
Others attend Touro for different reasons. Aviva Love explains, “I figured out how to graduate in three years and it just seemed like a better plan to save the tuition money for grad school.”
Stern, which serves as the women’s division of Yeshiva University, and stands on Lexington Avenue in New York City, is a much larger institution and thus offers more diversity. The school’s purpose is succinctly stated on its website, “The rigorous Stern College curricula prepare women for careers, graduate study, and leadership in their communities while embodying the unique concept that the values of Judaism are relevant to the general culture of Western civilization.”
Devorah Leah Isenberg shares her reasons for choosing to attend. “I wanted to go to a Jewish college, to avoid the co-ed atmosphere and all the other assorted issues that come up in a regular college. I also wanted to get the best education I could, on par with what I would get in a regular mainstream college. Stern was the only school that fits those two criteria.”
Women’s only colleges are thriving because many students do not want to learn in a co-ed environment. For some, it is because that’s the way it’s been throughout their elementary and high school years. Having grown up that way, it is what they are comfortable with. Sitting in a classroom filled with boys would be both distracting and “scary”, as Samantha Danzig describes it. For others, high religious standards keep them from mingling with boys. In their eyes, getting to know someone from the opposite sex should only take place while dating for marriage, and not in the casual environment of the classroom.
However, not everyone feels this way; therefore, there are also secular colleges that have large populations of Jewish students. Brandeis University, situated in Waltham, Massachusetts, has a student body that is 61.7% Jewish; that is 1,900 Jewish students. This massive number is due largely to the fact that the school is the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored college or university in the United States. The university itself is named after the first Jewish Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Dembitz Brandeis.
Rachel Sharon Wachtel, a student at the university, explains her choice. “I knew that I could either be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, but I wanted something different from my high school and where I grew up and I wanted to challenge myself.”
With the advancement of technology, another form of education has become popular, virtual schooling. Colleges around the country offer online degree programs, and Jewish ones have jumped right into the game.
Touro University International, more commonly known as TUI, offers an interactive learning process that can be done at home, at one’s own pace. Chaya Hoch, one of their virtual students, shares her reasons on why she selected the program. “I chose TUI because it was good for my schedule and the best curriculum for my degree. Also, it was the only option [online] where I could transfer to a school and get my Israel credits transferred.”
The concept of virtual study has both its advantages and drawbacks. Chaya Hoch explains, I feel I’m missing out in the sense of being in a classroom setting, hearing others’ questions and growing on them, and hearing the teacher teach, instead of me teaching myself. But in that way it’s also cool; I’m learning so much more because not being spoon-fed.
Choosing the right college is not an easy thing. It requires plenty of research, but above all, demands that the student know herself. How does one choose what’s best for them if they don’t know “them”? For this reason, many students spend a year in Israel upon graduating high school. In this new setting, far away from home, they are given the opportunity to learn more about themselves, their priorities, and thus, which college would suit them best.
Even then, it is not an easy process. Some students find themselves transferring to a different college after the first or second semester. Melody Yaghoubi explains her story. “I decided to go to Stern because they would take my Israel credits, I would be in a Jewish environment, and it was the only school I could go to that my parents would let me dorm. Then life happened. I hated it. My sister in law was in Touro, so she persuaded me to come join. And I came to like Touro, I didn't have to take any math or science classes, and they have campuses in Israel if I ever think about going back.”