The top 10 things you need to know to thrive on campus as a Jewish student.
Picture this: You’ve just wrapped up your best summer yet. Whether you spent time at camp, studying abroad or working, you had an amazing few months free from homework (hopefully) and got to create the best memories with friends and family before heading off to college.
If you’re an incoming first-year student, I’m sure you’re feeling the butterflies in your stomach, excited to start your college journey but nervous for what the road ahead might look like. If you’re returning to campus, you’ve got some time in school under your belt, and you’re looking forward to diving deep into cool classes and hanging out with friends.
But, regardless if you’re a new student or a returner, coming to campus in August can be daunting, and your fall semester can be tough. Have no fear, though, because here are the top 10 things you need to know to thrive on campus as a Jewish student. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
First, a little bit about me. I’m Nate Strauss. I’m a breakfast food aficionado, Parks and Recreation super fan and a devoted yogi. I’m also the director of Jewish Student Life and IACT coordinator for Israel Engagement at Michigan State University Hillel. What does that mean? It means I spend each and every day working with college students to create vibrant and innovative Jewish experiences on campus.
So why am I writing a Top 10 list for you on how to thrive on campus? Because when I was in college at Michigan State, I wandered for a few months before I found the places I belonged. I would have loved a few tips to get my fall semester off to a great start. This list can help lead you toward the best resources and tips for your college experience, so let’s get on with it!
My top 10 tips, in no particular order:
- You aren’t locked into your major or minor.
Don’t worry, if you go through a semester of classes and end up not liking your major or minor, you’re totally allowed to switch. Some students wait until the end of their sophomore year to decide on what they want to study, and that’s OK. If you want to add a Jewish studies minor, switch from journalism to business, or go for the bachelor of science degree instead of a bachelor of arts, you can do whatever you need to set yourself up for the best experience possible. And remember, you should be studying and working hard, but know that your future is what you make of it, so if you don’t like something, don’t suffer through it for four years.
- Go to the first Shabbat dinner of the semester.
Whether your school has a Hillel, Chabad, Jewish Studies department or local synagogue, odds are that the other Jewish students on campus will all congregate at Shabbat dinner. This is a great way to meet other students, reconnect with friends and experience Jewish community while away from home. Most Shabbat dinners are free to students and are welcoming of everyone, so if you’re nervous to go alone, bring a friend! One of my favorite parts of working for Hillel at MSU is getting to welcome students back to campus during our first Shabbat dinner. We pack our dining room full of students and have a great time eating delicious food and getting to see everyone. A simple online search should help you find a Shabbat dinner on your campus.
- Explore a new part of campus during week 1.
Even if you’ve been on campus for three years, take your first week back during fall semester to eat in a new dining hall or go find a hidden courtyard that you’ve never been to before. For freshmen, take week one to familiarize yourself with campus, the different areas that your classes will be in and where campus resources like a health center or tutor services are. I hereby give you permission to use Google Maps on your phone to help you navigate campus AND I can tell you that if you ask students walking near you for directions, they’ll be excited to help you find the building you’re looking for.
- Start thinking about your Rosh 2k18 plans.
The High Holidays fall really early this year and that can be stressful if you’re trying to figure out when you’ll fit in Tashlich between your classes. Start thinking about whether you’ll want to go home for services or if you will need to stay at school for classes or homework. If you do choose to miss classes, get in contact with your professor as early as you can and talk about this absence. If you need help, contact a Jewish resource on campus and they can assist you. Some of those resources (Hillel, Jewish Studies departments, etc.) will even have a premade letter written for you to give right to your professor that explains the holidays. If you can’t go home, there are many options for you to attend a service or go to a dinner for the holidays while at school. Don’t worry, your matzah ball soup needs will be met if you stay on campus.
- To rush or not to rush?
A common interest that many freshmen and sophomores have is whether or not to join a fraternity or sorority. Recruitment for these Greek Life organizations start quickly after school begins, so it’s important to think about whether you want to pursue joining before you move to campus. Many students love being a part of Greek Life and many also have wonderful college experiences without being involved in a fraternity or sorority. I chose to be more involved in organizations like student government, the Jewish Student Union and Homecoming Court, but my sister joined a sorority and we both had/are having amazing experiences at school. It’s completely up to you.
To rush or not to rush … don’t rush to the decision; it’s completely up to you.
- Respond to emails and FB messages.
Get in the habit of checking your school email at least once per day. Your professors, RA, student organizations and other university-affiliated people will email you with important info and opportunities that you shouldn’t miss out on. I’d suggest putting your school email on your phone so you can check it easily. Also, remember to check your Facebook messages every once in a while. I use Facebook messages to reach out to new students all the time, and while some respond, a lot do not. When someone reaches out, even if you are not interested in the opportunity they’re offering you, always respond. In college, communication is a major key to success, so start your year off on the right foot and build this important habit.
- Yalla! Let’s do Birthright Israel!
Believe it or not, college is a great time to go on Birthright Israel! Not only can you find a trip specific to your campus (hello new friends and amazing Instagram pics with your school flag all over Israel), but you can also go on a trip during a school break when you don’t have to worry about homework or a job. Most campus Birthright Israel trips leave after finals in December or May, and some will even leave in August before school starts. I didn’t go on a campus trip when I went on Birthright, and it might be one of my biggest regrets in college. I had a great time, but there’s something so special about having a big group of new friends when you come back to campus. To find out more about your campus’ trip, go on Birthright Israel’s website and see what dates are open for your campus. Additionally, let me know if you’re looking for a campus trip, and I’d be happy to help set you up with the right experience. But don’t worry, if college isn’t the right time for you to go on Birthright, the Jewish Federation offers Detroit community trips geared for young adults ages 22 to 26. So all-in-all, you have a ton of options to get a great Israel travel experience.
- Develop a routine for your week.
With classes, meetings, studying and finding time to eat and sleep, your life in college can get hectic. Consider creating a routine that includes everything you need to do on a weekly basis. Include all your classes, time to go to the gym and any weekly meetings you attend, as this will help you find the best time to study, a steady and consistent bedtime (which is super helpful, even if it is pretty late), and time to relax and take care of yourself. I would also suggest you schedule in time to go to office hours with your professors. Office hours are the best way to get help on classwork, ask questions and build meaningful relationships with your faculty members. It’s easy to put them off until the last week of classes, but the earlier you start attending office hours, the better you will do in your classes and the more on-top of things you’ll feel. If it helps you, I would also suggest finding your go-to study space. This is proven to help with your homework and can often lead to better grades and a stronger understanding of your class materials. Might I suggest your campus’ Jewish student center or main library?
How To Find Your Campus Hillel
The Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan serves Jewish students at 10 universities and college across the state. This includes Alma College, Albion College, Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Kalamazoo College, Michigan Technological University, Northern Michigan University, Saginaw Valley State University and Western Michigan University. To learn more about Jewish life at these campuses, visit h-cam.net, call (517) 332-1916 or email
Hillel of Metro Detroit serves Jewish students at Lawrence Technological University, Oakland Community College, Oakland University, University of Detroit Mercy, University of Michigan Dearborn and Wayne State University. For more information or to learn more, visit hillel-detroit.org, call (313) 577-3459 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michigan State University Hillel serves students at MSU in East Lansing. To learn more, visit msuhillel.org, call (517) 332-1916 or send Nate an email at email@example.com.
University of Michigan Hillel serves students at U-M in Ann Arbor. To learn more, visit michiganhillel.org, call (734) 769-0500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Prioritize YOU!
Your physical, mental and emotional health is so important. If you aren’t feeling your best, your academic and social experiences in college could be affected. Even though you are away from home, there are many resources to help you, including a student health center, counseling services and student organizations devoted to helping students feel their best. It is so important that if you need it, you know about the resources that can help you, so do a little bit of research on what is available to you as a student.
Additionally, if you see a therapist, psychologist or other medical professional regularly at home, you make a plan to either go home to see them or you find an option while at school. Many health professionals will have recommendations, so let them know where you’re going to school and they can help you set up the best plan that works for you. Remember, you’re at college to learn, expand your horizons and have a positive experience. If you need help, there are so many ways to get it.
- Remember: The Jewish community will always be there for you.
Whether you’re the most active Jew in the community or you rarely interact with your Jewish peers, remember that we’re here for you. If you’re going to a campus with a lot of Jewish students or one with only a handful, community can be built anywhere. It is always helpful and meaningful to have a group of peers to support you and build you up while at school. College can be scary, and there can be some challenges for Jewish students on campus, including anti-Semitic incidents or anti-Israel sentiments. Remember that you are not alone and that there is a support system on campus to help you with whatever you need.
Also, getting involved in the Jewish community on campus can lead to new friendships, exciting opportunities and fun programming. So whether you seek out the Jewish community on campus or you ignore my Facebook messages asking if you want to get coffee, remember that the community is ready to support you in any way they can, whenever you need it. @
Nate Strauss is director of Jewish Student Life and IACT Coordinator for Israel Engagement at Michigan State University Hillel. This story first appeared on myjewishdetroit.org.