How to Navigate the College Admission Process as a Jewish Student

Mandee Heller Adler (Jillian Diamond)

Finding and getting into a college is usually a stressful process, whether you are a prospective college student or the parent of one. But lately, amid on-campus protests and rising antisemitism, there have been more challenges than ever as Jewish high schoolers and their parents try to pick out their future alma maters.

Three Jewish college professionals recently gathered to give advice and answer questions about the process at the Baltimore Jewish Council’s “Parenting Unpacked: College Admissions for the Jewish Soul” event. This Thursday, May 16 discussion and Q&A was the latest in 4Front’s “Parenting Unpacked” series, which provides resources, meeting spaces and a support system for parents of teenagers.

Featured in the event were two Hillel officials: Goucher Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Josh Snyder and Towson Hillel Assistant Director Jamie Aaron. The presentation’s host and mediator, International College Counselors Founder and CEO Mandee Heller Adler, facilitated the discussion and provided additional advice from a more secular college advisory standpoint.

One attendee, parent Justin Myrowitz, noted that his own child is in middle school, but he attended because he was interested in learning more about the college application and selection process.

“I just wanted to know what Jewish life would be like in the future on college campuses. I thought they did a good job discussing it,” Myrowitz said.

“I want [my child] to have that Jewish pride and never be afraid to be themself,” he added.

Here are a few of the key points from the “College Admissions for the Jewish Soul” event that could prove helpful to future college students and their parents alike.

Don’t Hide Your Jewish Background on Your Applications
Given the current situation with the anti-Israel protest movement on college campuses, students might not feel comfortable discussing their religion in their college applications for fear of rejection or discrimination. Adler said that this is a mistake — if anything, Jewish identity could provide a wellspring of inspiration for college admissions essays.

“Should we hide our Jewish backgrounds on college applications? I feel very strongly that we should not,” she said. “Speaking as a mom, my kids’ college essays were all about Judaism. There’s a way you can present [Judaism] that makes you sound like a bit of an activist, because of how much it values learning, dialogue and respecting community.”

She noted that in her experience, current events on college campuses have not affected any students’ chances of getting into their colleges of choice. Both the Jewish students and the Arab or Muslim students she has worked with have done as well as they usually do.

Diana Solomon, 4Front’s senior director, added that Baltimore’s Jewish community offers many opportunities that can help beef up a students’ college applications.

“We have so much for Jewish teens in Baltimore beyond what 4Front offers, but we’re happy to play the role of connector,” she said. “If you are still looking for things for your teen to get involved with, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help point you in the right direction.”

Research Jewish Opportunities on Campus
Looking into your college of choice’s offerings, whether they are Hillel or Chabad houses or other Jewish activities, is always a smart thing to do if it is something you or your child is interested in. But Snyder and Aaron both suggest going beyond looking at a college Hillel’s website.

“I would suggest to the students in the room to follow Hillels on Instagram or other social media,” Aaron said. “We don’t always update our website, but we update our Instagram Stories every day.”

Looking at college social media accounts can give you a more authentic view of what the experience at your prospective college might be like rather than reading a carefully arranged website with posed photos.

Touring college campuses and speaking to campus officials and tour guides can also be helpful, Snyder added.

“If your tour guide is connected to the Jewish community, you can ask them about Jewish opportunities at school,” he explained. “Or if you’re speaking with an admissions officer, you can ask them about the college’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks and the campus discrimination policies if you are interested in that.”

Consider the Jewish Population at Different Schools
Nearly every college in the U.S. has a Jewish student population, with the exception of Christian and Catholic colleges. Adler noted that the latter are doing a surprisingly good job at quashing anti-Israel protests and antisemitic harassment on their campuses, but they may not be an ideal environment for Jewish students otherwise.

Event attendees all received a handout detailing the top 18 schools in the U.S. by their Jewish populations, with a list of both public and private schools. University of Florida, Rutgers University and University of Central Florida topped the list of public universities, while Boston University, New York University and Tulane University were the top three private colleges in terms of their Jewish populations.

“If you ever wondered why all your Jewish friends go to the same schools, it’s because these are the schools that basically have Jews,” she quipped.

Schools with larger Jewish populations could have bigger and more involved Hillel chapters, Jewish and Israeli studies curricula and dedicated kosher options at dining halls. They may also have more experience dealing with Title IX violations relating to antisemitism.

Talk to Jewish Students About their Experiences
One thing that was cut from the presentation was a slide about the Anti-Defamation League’s Campus Antisemitism Report Card, which the ADL put together to assess the quality of Jewish life and safety of Jewish students at colleges across the country. The organization assessed schools based on their offerings for Jewish students, the action they have taken against protests and whether their student governments are pushing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel or other related resolutions.

But while this may seem helpful, it may not truly be reflective of what Jewish life is like at different colleges.

“The ADL is not an indication of the vibrancy of Jewish life on campus,” Aaron explained. “There’s still Jewish joy on college campuses every single day. It might be tough walking in and walking out; there’s still so much Jewish joy on campus that their grades may not indicate.”

Talking to Jewish students about their experiences directly through Hillel or other channels can help students and parents gain a more grounded perspective of what Jewish life could be like at their colleges of choice.

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