By: Shuie Berger  | 

From Yeshiva to Yeshiva

Everyone told me it was going to be hard. Everyone told me it was going to be rough. I heard it so many times. “You know college is going to be a lot of work.” I always knew that to be true, but I really had no idea going in. Being pre-med, I was told countless times by my brother and many others that it was going to be a metaphorical hell for me. Especially from my background. Because I was coming from the Yeshiva system, I  would have to work harder than others to succeed.

While the students on campus come from various backgrounds and upbringings, many of them share a similar feature: a high-level secular high school education. Many of the “in-town” high schools and many other schools across the US and all over the world offer various APs, high level classes, extra-curricular activities, and many other secular educational opportunities for students. Whether it be clubs, events or internships, many of these schools enable the students to take full advantage of their opportunities. Additionally, there are many schools that can offer the type of Judaic studies that a student might prefer, without skimping on secular studies. The balance is quite marvelous, and very admirable in today’s fast-moving world. However, not every high school imparts the same skills and knowledge nor do they all provide the same opportunities. 

I grew up in Atlanta, a relatively small Jewish community. There are not many options that give those secular educational opportunities without sacrificing the Judaics that I also highly desired. There were two schools, a yeshiva that was strong in their Judaics, but their secular curriculum was not to my standards, and the other was a more traditional modern orthodox school that offered more of a secular education, but the Judaics were not what I was looking for. These were the only realistic options for me, aside from going out of town, which was not really an option for a naive, socially-driven 8th grader. I ended up at the Yeshiva, and my parents told me I would have to make up the secular studies at a later time.

Well, college is that later time. I tried to take a math course at a local college after Israel. There, I was utterly lost and the prospect of hard work frightened me. I was not ready for college. I had no idea what it was like to have  a burdening workload. My high school had not adequately prepared me for college, nor, more specifically, for pre-med classes.

Being in a high school that focused primarily on Judaic studies, the rigor I required for secular education was simply not there. Because they felt that learning Gemara was most important, we only started learning secular studies at 3 p.m. and finished at 6:45 with breaks, followed by night seder for over an hour, finishing after maariv at 9 p.m. The schedule allowed for over five hours of Judaics with less than 3.5 hours of secular studies. Because of the rigorous Judaic studies, we were not allowed to have homework, which led to our day-to-day lives being set for us. Consequently, I never learned how to manage my time or develop a work ethic. These are the two most important things I believe I missed out on. Most other schools provided necessary workloads to force the students to learn time management and cultivate a work ethic. Being that I wasn’t taught how to manage my time working on homework in high school, I continue to struggle in college to figure out how to balance my personal life with schoolwork.

I do not doubt that other graduates from my high school felt prepared for college and are very successful. They might be reading this right now, questioning my experience based on the fact that they have had much success in college and beyond and felt that they received a satisfactory secular education. I do not doubt their experience. There is most certainly a subjective angle to the high school experience. I am sure that, if desired, it was possible to be sufficiently educated, as others were. However, in hindsight, I did not go that extra mile and I did not feel I received an adequate education required for me that I may have had at another school. Don't get me wrong. I loved high school. It was so much fun, and I learned a lot in Gemara and other Judaics, but I would have benefitted from a more solid secular education.

I know I am not alone. I have spoken to others that went through similar high schools, and they agree that a strong work ethic and time management skills would have come in handy and they are forced to learn it now, when it counts more. There are many who come from these types of backgrounds and many who feel similarly. 

I want to reiterate that my experience is mine and only mine. There may be others who feel similarly, but I am in no way blaming my high school, my parents, my friends or the university.

And please don’t get me wrong. I am not asking the school for extra time or an easier workload. I am not saying that it is unfair that I came in with fewer skills or that others need to be given more work. 

And I want to be clear about the reason I wrote this article. You may be wondering: why would I care about some guy’s high school experience? Why is he telling everyone? I wrote this for a few reasons. I wrote this as a way to inform other struggling students –– who feel extreme pressure having had no previous experience in an onerous and rigid environment –– that there are many of us, many more than you think, and you are not alone. Many struggle with these aspects of college and there are important resources that can help. I also wrote this for the whole student body, to inform them that there are a lot of kids who did not receive the advantages they received and that they should be appreciative of the opportunities they had in high school. Your schools have helped you without even realizing it. And maybe that struggling kid sitting next to you in class never learned the necessary skills and they could use some help and advice. Thirdly, I wrote this for the small chance that high school students will pick this up and I want to tell them to take advantage of what they can do in high school. It matters much more than you might think, and it is important to realize how integral these tools are for life. Having a demanding high school experience can equip the students with the work ethic and time management skills that make the college experience much less burdensome. Going from Yeshiva (to Yeshiva) to Yeshiva gave me invaluable learning skills in Gemara, but never underestimate the importance of a solid secular education.

Photo Caption: Stressed student

Photo Credit: Unsplash