February 15, 2024

Your Guide to Choosing a College

Avi Siegel Director of Teen Initiatives

Choosing the best college for yourself or your child is often stressful and complicated. With more than 27,000 major college options, the attempt to pick the right one, plus the giant price tag attached, can send families into a tailspin. Thankfully, you are not alone in the struggle, and help is available.  

This week, members of our community had the opportunity to hear from experts in the field who demystified some of the challenges surrounding the college decision-making process at our College Decision Making webinar. The panelists were Melanie Talesnick, founder of Admit U Consulting; Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, Director of Campus Support and Senior Educator for Hillel International; and Rabbi Eliezer Rubin, Klatt Family Rosh HaYeshiva and Head of School of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. 

Most families begin the college search process going through the standard list of factors for higher education selection: name recognition, family legacy, geographical region, learning environment, specific majors/minors, campus culture, individual learning needs, and more. For the Jewish population, there may be unique and equally important factors. Those who are observant consider kosher food options and Shabbat and holiday ritual practices. Nearly all Jewish families ask the question of what kind of Jewish life on campus exists. Are there Jewish professionals on campus (such as Hillel or Chabad)? Does the college exhibit vibrant Jewish life? What does the surrounding area offer in terms of Jewish engagement? Will my child be able to build a comfortable temporary home away from home? 

Post October 7, we have seen the challenges grow and shift. In addition to the questions above, most families are asking about campus safety, the number of antisemitic incidents on campus, and the percentage of Jewish students (some parents believe a smaller population is better as the students can “fly under the radar”).  

Our panelists pointed out that antisemitism has always existed as a fabric of colleges — at times we don’t talk about it and at other times we assign value. They also discussed that trends are changing, and that data does not always give the full picture. Today’s thriving Jewish college communities emphasize the co-creation of space with the students and not the build it for them model of generations past. At James Madison University, for example, the small Jewish student population (only 2 percent) are the driving force in building their Jewish environment. We’re also seeing that current juniors and seniors are not significantly changing their decision-making criteria.  

While the process feels more daunting than ever, the truth is that our teens are resilient and that, in most cases, they will be able to adapt and thrive in a variety of college environments. That said, here are some takeaways from our panelists that can help you guide your child through the application and selection process.  

  • Just because a school is labeled among the “best,” doesn’t mean that it’s the best for everyone. Any number of factors play into what makes a fulfilling college experience, and the perfect combination of those factors will vary from student to student.  
  • Before making any decisions, sit down together to clarify your unique interests and strengths, what’s important to you, and what are the values you want your school to embody. 
  • A college’s location is important. Is this somewhere I can see myself living? Is it too far/close from home? It is important to find a setting that aligns with your needs for community.  
  • The need to go beyond academics is crucial. From socialization to political climate, the people you are surrounded by in college can impact your experience. As you tour the campus, pay attention to the students you see. Do you see this as a place where you feel empowered to proudly be your true self? 
  • You can tell a lot by looking at the social media channels of a school (Chabad/Hillel/Greek/President). See what they are posting and how it affects Jewish students.  

Hopefully this information helps demystify the process and relieve some of the pressure you’re feeling. If you have any questions or additional concerns you’d like to discuss, please reach out to me or any of the resources below.


Rebekah Adelson, Director, Hillel GMW
Admit U Consulting 
Rebecca Hindin, Federation’s Day School Initiatives Director
Avi Siegel, Federation’s Teen Initiatives Director  
Israel at War web page
Stand Up to Antisemitism web page


In the Shadow of War: Hotspots of Antisemitism on US College Campuses, Brandeis University — A survey of Jewish students’ perceptions of antisemitism on 51 U.S. college campuses in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. The findings are based on survey data collected from nearly 2,000 Jewish undergraduate students at schools with large Jewish student populations

Hillel College GuideHillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, serving more than 160,000 Jewish students each year at 850 colleges and universities around the world.

Antisemitism on college campusesStop Antisemitism is a grassroots watchdog organization dedicated to exposing groups and individuals that espouse incitement towards the Jewish people and State and engage in antisemitic behaviors.