As I wrote back in December 2016, when you’re making a ranked list, it’s essential to do it right.
After months of collecting data and crunching the numbers, we’re proud to present the Forward’s innovative and comprehensive guide to the best colleges and universities for Jewish students.
From the outset, our goal has been to be as thorough and transparent with our formula as possible. We’ve surveyed and spoken with dozens of parents, students, campus professionals and alumni in order to get a comprehensive picture of what Jews take into consideration when they look for a college.
To be clear, this is a guide not to the “Jewiest” colleges, but rather to the best campuses for Jewish students. Of course, Jewish life looks very different to each Jew: Some students we spoke to cited accessibility to kosher food and synagogues as a top concern, while others spoke of their commitment to social justice and pluralism. We believe our scoring process has something for every Jew, whether you’re Orthodox and from Long Island or a Jew-ish kid from Arkansas.
The Rankings, Explained
There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States — and every school in our list of 171 campuses is a good choice for Jewish students, no matter where on the ranked list it might reside. Our rankings are based on over 50 different factors and a total potential score of 100 points. The maximum score any school received this year was 85.33; our top-ranked school was Emory University. The average score was 51.55 and the median was 51.00. As this is the first year of our guide, we limited our listings to schools that were ranked in the top 100 by U.S. News & World Report, schools that were in Hillel International’s list of the top 60 by Jewish population, and other universities that we know have thriving Jewish populations. We hope to add more universities in the coming years.
The Jewish Life Score
As you might expect from a guide for Jewish students, the biggest category — 40 points of 100 — was assigned to Jewish life. We took into account a multitude of factors, including the availability and diversity of Jewish institutions on campus, the presence of nearby synagogues (both for praying on High Holidays away from home and for Sunday School jobs to make some extra money), active Jewish student clubs, attendance at Shabbat services, the presence of an eruv, the availability of kosher food, options for a Jewish studies degree, Jewish scholarships, Jewish Greek life, the size of the Jewish population and, of course, anti-Semitism. We focused on both the sacred and the secular, and we were tough: There were no perfect scores, and only a handful in the high 30s. The average was 18.52.
Anti-Semitism is notoriously difficult to define, let alone quantify. To track anti-Semitism, we have chosen to rely on data compiled by the AMCHA Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that documents anti-Semitism on college campuses. While AMCHA has sometimes been criticized (including in the Forward) for its political stances, it provides by far the most thorough public documentation of campus-based anti-Semitism in all its permutations — allowing us to more comprehensively draw comparisons among all the campuses we tracked. However, for the purposes of this guide, the only things we are counting are anti-Semitic incidents that AMCHA categorizes as “Targeting Jewish Students and Staff,” which include cases of physical assault, harassment and promoting anti-Semitic imagery, like swastikas. The guide does not count harsh criticism of Israel or the promotion of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as anti-Semitism for the purpose of this guide — though BDS is tracked in a different category.
The Academic Score
Thirty points came from two academic factors: acceptance rate (as a proxy for selectivity) and the student-to-faculty ratio. We chose these two variables because we care about individualized attention as measured by the student-faculty ratio in addition to the prestige status of the institution. Several schools received a perfect score in this category.
The Israel Score
Twenty points were assigned based on factors relating to Israel activity on campus, including the average Birthright trip size, active Israel clubs across the political and ideological spectrums, Israel study abroad options, Israel studies programs, and the presence or absence of a formal BDS resolution in the student government or in student referenda. The more vibrant and active the Israel scene, the higher the score.
The Cost Score
Affordability is important. Ten points were assigned based on the average cost of attendance (price of tuition, fees, room and board) for schools on our list, giving credit for their average freshman aid package. Our algorithm rewards schools who keep costs down for everyone and don’t exclusively rely on financial aid packages comprised primarily of student loans.
Where does the data come from?
Our information came from a variety of sources. Most of the data about cost and academics is available publicly on universities’ websites, as well as in the college guides U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review. Information from Hillel International’s college guide was also indispensable. Other information was gleaned from the websites of the major Jewish religious denominations, Greek organizations and campus political and religious groups, as well as from the Association for Israel Studies and the AMCHA Initiative.
But the most crucial, unique and insightful information came from Hillel, Chabad and OU-JLIC directors and staff throughout the country who shared information and anecdotes about life on their campuses. We are very grateful for their generosity and dedication.