College choice is a matter of much discussion in the College Counseling Center at SAR High School and tailoring that choice to the religious life of our community is perhaps the greatest challenge confronting observant Jewish students. While many are enticed by the choice of college as an opportunity to select the ‘best’ (most selective) college, after reflection that broad choice narrows down significantly to focus on colleges that are the ‘best’ fit, ones that offer lifestyle options that more seamlessly match the traditions of our community.
While each year the options for Jewish life on campus broaden and colleges are adding kosher meal plans one-by-one, the heart and soul of a Jewish community is not merely the dietary requirements of our community; it resides in the day-to-day experiences of our students. The opportunity to venture beyond the twenty or so colleges that are known to have vibrant Jewish communities is enticing; yet, realistically, our students who select these options often find themselves confronting unsustainable and unacceptable lifestyle choices. Parents look to the college counselors for support in the perplexing, seemingly daunting, process. Students, on the other hand, are more adventurous, more inclined to experiment and more confident that they will ‘make it work’ on diverse campuses. It is not unusual for students to go to Israel for a year and return deeply concerned about the campus they have selected. Perhaps the year of maturation, living independently for the first time and/or the religious connections reinforced during that intense experience have transformed their view and tempered their certainty.
At SAR, our guidelines for college selection include a strong focus on the Jewish community. Students are encouraged to spend a regular Shabbat on campus instead of or in addition to an organized Shabbaton experience. We suggest that our students connect with other observant students on campus, not merely SAR graduates, but also those who represent a cross section of Jewish students. Since daily life does involve tefillah and kashrut among other things, dining as well as joining in the daily communal experience sheds light on the life of students. Given the luxury of a strong Jewish community both at school and at home, it is sometimes difficult for students to imagine life in the secular world of college. Respecting diversity and seeking to interface meaningfully with those from other communities are values that SAR nurtures, but we do so within a context of a meaningful Jewish communal experience. We see the Jewish community on campus as both a support and a guide through the college journey, a journey that represents the passage from adolescence into adulthood.
The ‘Right Jewish Fit for My College Experience’ is truly the most serious consideration students have as they seek to match their intellectual, social and ultimately career goals through their college experience. The SAR college counseling team is acutely aware of the important role we play and are committed to helping our students through this process.