By Talmidah X
It starts at the end of 11th grade, when in the midst of recuperating from SATs and APs and getting ready for finals, you begin to hear snatches of conversations. “So do you think I would like seminary Y?” or maybe the more assertive “Oh, I am definitely going to seminary Z. My sister’s best friend went there and she loved it!” With these words, the process of choosing a seminary officially begins. Below, I am outlining my own experience of the Israel decision-making period and hope to give you a greater understanding of how to navigate the process.
Meetings with the Israel guidance counselor are arranged at the beginning of senior year. Even if you think you know exactly where you want to go for seminary and already have everything planned out (maybe you and a friend already agreed to be roommates!), it is recommended to still meet with your school’s Israel guidance counselor. These advisors are usually very well informed about the different seminaries, and they might think of other programs that fit you even better than the one that you originally thought of.
During November, the Israel schools send their most dynamic rebbeim and teachers to visit schools and convince potential students to come to their seminaries. Sessions are held in which the school’s representative will typically talk about the seminary and give a d’var Torah. I found these sessions to be informative, with the representatives being straightforward about what their schools expect from their students and what they are willing to provide to them. If you are undecided between two (or more) different schools, do not be afraid to ask the speakers what the difference is between their school and the other ones during an information session with the seminary. I did this with both of the schools I looked into, and the answers the representatives gave helped me to decide which school was my first choice.
When choosing a seminary, remember that it’s all about the fit. Just because you hear from people that a certain seminary is wonderful does not mean it is the right one for you! Ask those same people what makes that seminary so wonderful and if they would recommend it specifically for you.
I know a few girls who were very influenced during the decision process by the stereotypes associated with the different seminaries. Beware of stereotypes! A seminary that is “too frum” for one may be “too liberal” for another. Personally, I tried to ignore what I considered superficial descriptions. Not once did I hear a stereotype convey any sort of positive message about an institution. Do your research and trust your gut instinct about what is best for you.
How do you choose a seminary? This is a very individual question. The main factors that girls looking at potential seminaries take into account are hashkafah, level of learning, and location. Hashkafah is the most personal factor, and it should be discussed with your parents and your Israel guidance counselor. It is critical to make sure that the schools to which you are applying are acceptable to you and to your family on a religious level. Do you want a program that offers courses in Gemara? Do you mind a uniform? It all depends on what you are comfortable with.
Not every seminary will have you sitting and learning for most of the day. Some incorporate a lot of chesed and touring into their daily schedules, and they may have art, dance, and music programs. Some girls prefer to attend a seminary in Yerushalayim, because they feel that this location will really enrich the experience of living in Israel. Others prefer to be away from the social aspect of Yerushalayim and instead choose to visit there often on Shabbatot and chagim. There is a wide variety of seminaries available, and there is a program for every girl.
Applications are due in early December, and they usually require an essay about why you want to spend a year in Israel. Soon after the applications are submitted, more representatives from seminaries come to conduct interviews for their applicants. Some words of advice on these interviews:
1. All the interviewer really wants to do with you is schmooze. This is supposed to be a two-sided conversation; the school representative is just trying to get a greater sense of who you are.
2. Dress with care. While it is important for the interviewer to note that you came in looking neat and presentable, it is going to have a larger impact on yourself. Wearing extra-special clothing or actually running a brush through your hair can do wonders for your sense of confidence and maturity, and that can only help you in an interview.
3. Don’t sweat the learning part. Usually, a Tanach is opened and you are asked to read some pesukim chosen at random, accompanied by a meforesh or two. You cannot prepare for this. When the interviewer asks you to read, take a deep breath and do it to the best of your ability. The learning part of the interview may have relatively little to do with your acceptance, as the school will determine your academic history mainly by looking at your transcript and talking with your principals and teachers.
Acceptances usually arrive in January or February. It is exciting to receive acceptance letters and to have a more concrete idea of where you will be going next year. The excitement of acceptances is somewhat dampened by rejection letters, which can be hurtful. A girl who is rejected can start to ask herself why she just isn’t “good enough.” These feelings are amplified when her friends and classmates ask her if she was accepted (and sometimes this personal question will be screamed across the hallway for everyone to hear).
Except for a few close friends, I did not ask my classmates about their acceptances. I decided that it just was not worth the possible embarrassment. If you are not accepted to a seminary that you applied to, do not lose hope! It is likely that the seminary is not the right place for you anyway. Have a positive attitude, and talk to your Israel guidance counselor and your principals to get advice and support.
After sending out acceptances, Israel schools give students some time before they have to decide which seminary they will be attending. I would suggest using this time wisely, and not pushing off the decision-making until the night before the deadline. Making a hurried decision is never optimal.
Sometimes you can have as many as ten classmates who decide to attend the same seminary that you have chosen. It is nice to arrive at a new school with some people you know and maybe even feel pretty comfortable with. However, if you are the only person from your school going to a seminary, that’s great too! It’s a rare chance to be able to go somewhere and start off with a clean slate.
Mazal tov! You have made your decision about next year! Attending a seminary is a start to shaping a wonderful future for yourself, and although spending the year in Israel has become an expected event for our community, it is still a privilege and should be regarded as such. So get excited for an amazing and wonderful year ahead of you!
“Talmidah X” is a high-school senior living in the Greater New York area who plans to attend seminary in Israel.