June 12, 2024
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Five Must-Read Tips Before Applying to Sem

It’s the summer preceding your senior year in high school. Finally, you and your friends can relax a bit knowing that you’ll rule the school. It will be your last year in high school: It’s time to make it count.

Nothing will get in the way of your suave demeanor as you swagger through the hallways on your first day back. There’s just one slight issue you’re grappling with in the back of your mind— gap year decisions.

Yes, as many know, the time for making any application or enrollment decisions for a gap year begins this very summer. As students of the previous year graduate, the new rising senior class now faces their first challenge. Friends, family and the like casually mention gap year applications, and Israel advisers from high school prompt students to begin contemplating their choices. Specifically, girls applying to seminary have a rushed process relative to the boys’ yeshivot.

Relax! Breathe! Try not to stress too much. Take a look at these tips to help you begin your journey:

First, most likely, you’ll end up happy no matter where you go. Unless you deem yourself a very “specific type” of person, all schools offer a dynamic student body and class schedule that allows everyone to find their place. If your first choice doesn’t work out, don’t be afraid to explore other options. I personally applied to three seminaries and ended up enrolling in my third choice. I can confidently say that Hashem guided me on that path; it was the best year of my life!

Second, don’t follow the crowd. This year is a transformative and personal year for each person in their own way. Have the confidence to apply to the schools that best suit you—not your friends. I was the only girl from my high school at the seminary I attended. That factor ended up adding a new dimension to my experience that I otherwise would not have had, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course I missed my friends at first, but after a month or two, the urge to get together wasn’t as strong, and being by myself offered the option of venturing on my own journey.

If going to a school without friends from high school isn’t an option for you, make the school your own by engaging in the aspects that appeal to you specifically. If sitting in the beis isn’t your thing, get involved in chesed opportunities, go on day trips with friends and see the land, invest in your relationships with teachers; there is something for everyone, you just need to find it. You will actively add more meaning to your year if you build upon the direction that inspires you.

Third, listen to your Israel adviser and alumni from your high school who went to the schools before you. You may not feel a personal connection to your school’s Israel adviser, but their advice and knowledge about the application and decision-making process is real and valid. Don’t rule out what they say based on preconceived notions or reputations of the schools that you’re considering. My Israel adviser predicted where I would attend way back at the beginning of the process. I thought, “No way! That’s a bold prediction.” Well … she was right.

To be frank, unless you’re going to Israel to visit, the closest thing you have to getting to know the schools is the pool of important information called your adviser and alumni. Don’t be afraid to ask your adviser who attended the schools you’re interested in. Find their phone numbers and text them with any questions or concerns you have. They can give more specific advice and will be happy to do so. You most likely won’t fully understand the “vibe” of each school until you get there, but asking people who have been through this process before will certainly help.

Fourth, know in advance that you will get out of this year what you put in. It sounds like a cliche, but any and all growth begins with the path you choose to take once you get to Israel. If you’re interested in hanging out with friends on the beach, you will have a very fun year and come out with a great chevra. If you’re in the beis all day and night, you will come out with knowledge and appreciation of Torah. If you begin with an open mind, perhaps you can manage to balance out both. Your growth process will definitely be challenged throughout the year—just look at what we dealt with this past year!—but it’s up to you how to meet those challenges and proceed. I’m not purely talking about ditching class or breaking rules. Rather, it’s about a goal-oriented mindset that should begin from the moment you apply to schools, whatever those goals may be.

Fifth and finally, there is no such thing as a “successful” year. There is no general standard to reach, no dress code post-Israel, no trophies won at the end. The success of your year should only be measured and evaluated by you for yourself. Even if you have an amazing year, yet by the very end feel regretful about the things you didn’t get to do, know that you grew a tremendous amount, even if you can’t see it right now. Growth is personal, not public. Things change during and after your year in Israel. You will see yourself and the world differently, and you might live a lifestyle you never had—nor expected—before.

None of these tips are guaranteed to help everyone, but if you equip yourself with the proper mindset and knowledge before you apply and enroll, it will take a bit of the weight off your shoulders. Most importantly, enjoy every moment of the year because it is an experience of a lifetime … trust me.


Hannah Kirsch just returned from a gap year in Israel and will be attending Binghamton University in the fall.

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