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Admissions 102: Smart Alternatives for Unconventional Learners

College Life Guide coverClasses. Exams. Study halls. Had enough of high school? If you’re a student who doesn’t flourish in conventional school settings, seeks additional academic challenges, wants to explore Jewish education more fully, or just needs a break from years of sitting at a desk and looking up at a teacher, check out some of these alternatives:

See if your high school has a “dual enrollment” agreement with a local university or an arrangement with a community college that will offer you high school credit while you take college classes. Perhaps you can take a “History of Israel” course for social studies credit, or a Hebrew language class.

Explore Early College High Schools, which allow students to accelerate through a high school curriculum and take college courses as juniors or seniors. Some participants graduate from high school with both a diploma and an associate’s degree. Programs exist all over the country (typically in urban areas) and include Newport-Mesa Early College High School (CA), University High School of Science and Engineering (CT), and Brooklyn College Academy at Brooklyn College (NY). Early College for ME pays for tuition, fees, and books to enable selected students from the state to take one or two community college courses during 12th grade. Look at for more information. Some independent schools, such as Boston University Academy (MA), offer similar opportunities at four-year colleges.

Look into the unique “early entrance” programs offered for students as young as 14 years old. Simon’s Rock College of Bard (NY) and Mary Baldwin College (VA) both seek out intellectually promising teens who are ready for the rigor and independence of college work.

Find out if the college you’re interested in allows students to attend after three years of high school—assuming your high school does offer the opportunity to graduate early. Colleges don’t often advertise this option, and only a select group of individuals qualify, but if you show significant signs of maturity and academic accomplishment, it’s worth asking about the possibilities.

Ask your synagogue or Hebrew high school if you can get college credit for taking their courses. The Jewish Community High School of Gratz College (PA), Judaica High School of Broward County (FL), and Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies (NJ) are among at least ten Hebrew high school programs that offer Judaic Studies courses leading to college credit, either through the Advanced Placement program or through partnerships with local colleges and universities. See

Consider enrolling in a distance learning course. This learning is typically done online; video and audio technologies and chat room “conversations” allow faculty members and classmates to connect. In such a class, professors may deliver text or audio “lectures” and have web-based discussions with students. Hebrew College ( in Massachusetts has a specific online Hebrew language program for high school students. You could ask your high school if it would grant you independent study credit for such a course.

Think about “deferring” your entrance to college. This increasingly common occurrence finds students pursuing competitive athletic competitions, traveling, performing community service, learning from internships, or even working full time. “Taking a break” for a year after twelve years of formal education allows you to assess your individual goals and priorities, and might enable you to discover a talent, take risks, and develop a broader world perspective—so most colleges are eager to approve deferral requests. Moreover, as a whole, students who defer report feeling “recharged,” more confident, and motivated as they enter college. If you’d enjoy a Jewish experience, investigate “Tamarim—The Netzer Year,” a ten-month leadership training program in Israel for Reform Jewish high school graduates ( or one of the many programs listed in's database.

To learn more about alternatives to traditional education, talk to your guidance counselor and parents, speak to students who have taken different routes, or approach your teachers—especially if you want to study a particular subject during a deferral year or via an online course. With the Internet at your fingertips, it’s easy to seek out programs; you’ll be amazed at what you find on search engines when you type “gap year,” “colleges without walls,” “dual enrollment,” or “online Jewish studies.” Just be sure to investigate unfamiliar programs you find online. And remember that if Jewish life on a campus, traveling with Jewish students, or keeping kosher is important to you, be sure to ask the admissions officers or program directors about religious life before you enroll.

Why wait? The sooner you begin researching and asking questions, the sooner you can push your desk aside and begin to follow your dreams.

—Sherri Geller, co-director of College Counseling at the Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Massachusetts and a member of the New England Association for College Admission Counseling Governing Board


Union for Reform Judaism.