I would love to make this more complete and would appreciate input from Stern or YU students on their experiences in the comments section. If there are any other questions you feel it would be helpful for me to answer, I'll be happy to do that, too.
Here is the link to this post so that you can easily email it to others.
My name is Chana. I am currently a sophomore at Stern College for Women, a member of its Honors Program, an English major and hopefully a Judaic studies major.
What is Stern like? I shall attempt to answer that in as honest a way as possible.
CAMPUS: Stern does not have a campus as other colleges do. It cannot boast the beautiful spacious green rolling plains or quads of other colleges; it is not contained, its own community; instead it is an urban campus, two buildings amidst the many in Manhattan. There is "the Stern building," namely 245 Lexington Avenue and "the new building," 215 Lexington Avenue. Both buildings are relatively small. Do not expect brand-new equipment or dazzling interior design; you will not not find it. The buildings are functional, nothing more. At the moment, "the Stern building" has been renovated so it features an absolutely beautiful new outside facade and interior (with lovely couches and white chairs plus a new lobby.)
The "Stern building" has the following amenities: A cafeteria in the Basement, a library, small (Judaic and secular) on the 2nd floor in addition to a copy machine and a media room (small but functional), the Koch Auditorium on the 2nd floor (this is where you eat Shabbos meals when you stay in), a computer lab on the 3rd floor, gateway to the science labs on the 5th floor, a Beis Midrash on the 6th floor, and construction on the 7th floor in an attempt to create another Beis Midrash.
The "new building" has the following amenities: A cafeteria called "Le Bistro" in the Basement, escalators that break down frequently, rooms with about five computers on the second and third floors.
Both buildings have elevators; unfortunately the flow of traffic means that security personnel are needed to man these elevators during peak periods. You can only get off at floors 3, 5, 7 and 10. At times, this can be frustrating. In terms of security, you are issued an ID card upon your first day; you are supposed to keep this card for the following 4 years. This card is your cafeteria card and library card as well. Every day you show your ID card to security in order to enter the building (yes, sometimes they are lax and you can get past them, but it's not the best of ideas.) You will have to set up your account with the library; each semester someone will put a little star-sticker on your card to indicate that you are registered and can take out books for that semester.
There is a shuttle system between the Beren campus and the Wilf Campus (uptown, where the guys are) and it is free for Stern/ YU students. Shuttles usually (but not exclusively) depart from Brookdale, one of the dorms. (This is excellent as you avoid having to take the subway to Washington Heights, you can get to many of the events quite easily, and you can use their library, which has every book you won't find in the Stern library.)
LOCATION: The location is prime. You are in Midtown Manhattan, the heart of New York City. This is the city that never sleeps, the city that boasts fireworks and sparkles and magic and fun at all times. No matter what you want, it's here. There are plenty of kosher restaurants (Eden Wok, Eee's, Circa, Milk n'Honey, Vegetable Garden, Cafe K, to name a few; here's a list of addresses) in the nearby vicinity. You are walking distance from the New York Public Library and the Mid-Manhattan Lending Library (5th and 40th-41st). The New York Public Library is an excellent place to study; you are permitted to bring your laptop computers. You will need to get a library card for the lending library and an ACCESS card for the New York Public, both of which are very easy to obtain. You are also walking distance from Broadway, which boasts, you guessed it, Broadway shows! Everything that is exciting, scintillating and interesting happens on Broadway. Comedy clubs, karaoke bars, shows and shops are close by. There's a Borders on 2nd and 32nd. The Barnes and Noble where you can buy textbooks is on 5th and 18th street (it may be cheaper to order them from Amazon.) There's another Barnes and Noble on 5th and 45th (or around there). Subway stations are very close by; there's an excellent site called Hopstop.com that can provide you with directions anywhere and everywhere in New York. You'll need a MetroCard to ride the subway; that is easily purchased.
DORMS: Stern has different housing options. They are:
- Schottenstein (29th Street)
- 35th Street
- 36th Street
- Windsor (Independant Housing)
Most freshmen and sophomores dorm in Brookdale. Brookdale has rooms of 4 or suites of 5. A suite has two little "rooms" within the larger room. You have your own bathroom and have to provide your own toilet paper and other toiletries. In the regular room, everyone wants the "alcove." Rooms are shaped in an L, you want the bed that is in the shorter part of the L. It gives you the most privacy. There are 4 desks in the room, one of which is located in the kitchen, you may not like that one. Brookdale has 20 floors. The Shabbos elevator is quite annoying because it stops on every floor on the way up and on every floor on the way down. There are stairwells; that's a better option. Brookdale has a CafStore called Milners which sells items such as Chinese food from Eden Wok, assorted parve candies, muffins (occasionally), toilet paper, laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies. You use your ID Card (henceforth called CafCard) to purchase these items. There are two lobbies; the back lobby, where boys are supposedly not allowed, is where the TV is. There's a little outside area attached to that back lobby, also several vending machines. There's a Bais Medrish on the 2nd floor; it is not so well-stocked.
Schottenstein has single rooms. It is a quieter dorm and reserved for upper juniors or seniors. It boasts a CafStore which has much more candy and a greater variety than the Brookdale one. It has a Beis Midrash. There's an East Wing and a West Wing with a crossover bridge, also an elevator and a large laundry room, comparatively speaking. Only 6 floors, I believe. It's on 29th street, close to the shul where some choose to daven on Shabbatot. The lobbies are beautiful; they feature very pretty armchairs, tables and lamps. Apparently you can walk or sunbathe on the rooftop.
35th Street is a gorgeous new building with amazing apartments and a penthouse. It features marble bathrooms, an oven, what seems to be a built-in fridge and otherwise utterly beautiful living arrangments. This is generally reserved for Juniors and Seniors. It's the closest to the "Stern building" on 34th Street, so even though it does not have a CafStore or a Beis Midrash, you are close to the Stern building (which is open till one in the morning and has a Beis Midrash.) Its advantage is its location and the fact that you can cook there/ live in gorgeous surroundings.
36th Street is the new building. It also features single and double rooms. The bathrooms are collective; there are large rooms with bathroom stalls and showers. It has a very large interior lobby and a little garden. It's the second closest to the "Stern building" on 34th Street, so even though it does not have a CafStore or a Beis Midrash, you are close to the Stern building (which is open till one in the morning and has a Beis Midrash.) Its advantage is its location.
Windsor features independant housing or apartments on 31st. I don't know much about it except that it's reserved for seniors and it must be fun to room in your own apartment.
For all the dorms except 35th and perhaps Windsor- you're supposedly not allowed a gas-range or other kinds of electrical appliances for fear that you'll burn the dorm down. Ha. I know many whose rooms contained the legal refrigerator and microwave but who also had an electric kettle, a gas range, toaster oven, sandwich maker- you name it, we had it. Just be careful. Don't burn the building down.
Oh, and there are firedrills at midnight, which leads to a mass exodus of girls in robes or pajamas shivering in front of the dorms.
SOCIAL LIFE: This very much depends on you. Stern is large enough for every person to find their niche and their group of friends. There are all kinds of people, people who are religious and observant and completely committed to Judaism, people who are unobservant and irreligious and who are shomer Shabbat, French people, Moroccan people, Russian people, a couple Israelis and of course Americans. You have the people who are here or in Sy Syms because they simply want to get a job; you have the people who are here because they're interested in what they are learning. Every spectrum of Judaism is represented to a greater or lesser extent. There are very good people here, very kind people; they exist and you can find them. There are people here who go out and Saturday nights and enjoy clubbing; there are people who are part of TAC (Torah Activities Council) and sponsor/ attend Tuesday night learning sessions. You'll find your people.
YU HONORS PROGRAM: See here for a longer discussion. So far the classes I have taken in the program have been rewarding. See here for some examples of Honors Program lectures.
FTOC: First Time On Campus students are treated royally- they get to go to a Broadway show for free, have a fun dining experience, go ice-skating and do other fun things- all for free. If you're an FTOC, you'll be contacted/ there will be signs posted everywhere.
CJF: The CJF is the Center for the Jewish Future. This is President Richard Joel's brainchild. I know them in connection to the programs they sponsor, amongst which are QUEST, Counterpoint and spring break/winter break programs. They aim to spread the spirit of Judaism to others by creating future leaders. The QUEST program is a leadership training program for guys and girls; it teaches you how to facilitate discussions that don't descend into pointless flame wars or shout-outs, how to interact with teenagers and actually run programs at high schools (they fly you out to do this once you are ready.) Spring break and winter break programs take you to Guatemala to help build houses for orphans or to Israel to help rebuild after the war in Lebanon. Counterpoint is a program that takes you through the UK over the summer; you go where you are needed and give shiurim/ run programs as necessary. Torah Tours occur over holidays, guys and girls go to different places to liven up the atmosphere/ give shiurim. Overall, it sounds quite fantastic.
TAC/ SOY: TAC is the Torah Activities Council and it exists and operates on behalf of Stern (and Sy Syms, I believe.) SOY is the Student Organization of Yeshiva and operates for Yeshiva University. The two of them often join together to fund or sponsor events. On the Stern campus, TAC has weekly learning opportunities on Tuesday nights via T3 (T Cubed). They have different lecturers or people to give shiurim each time and often accompany the lecture with food (from Dougies.) TAC and SOY both sponsor events for the schools on a whole (this also may take the form of speakers or lecturers.) SOY is known for the SOY Sefarim Sale.
SHABBAT: Shabbat at the dorms can be quite the interesting experience. You sign up at either of the cafeterias and pay a sum of $10 for all three meals. After Wednesday, you have to pay $15. The Orientation Shabbat is huge; everyone stays in, it's very crowded, we daven at Congregation Adereth-El on 29th Street. Meals are in the Koch Auditorium in the Stern building on the 2nd floor. Shabbos night you have disturbingly oily soup with knaidels or matzah balls, some kind of salad, grilled chicken with a strange orange sauce, broccoli or potato kugel and then cupcakes for dessert (with sprinkles!) All the drinks are diet. Depending on the amount of people, there are either small circular tables where you can hang out with friends or large rectangular tables where there is no room and you have to squeeze your way and pray to God to find a seat. Each Shabbos has a theme or is sponsored by a different club (after Orientation Shabbat, you'll have TAC/ SOY shabbat, Yachad Shabbat, Chemistry Club Shabbat, etc). After lunch, you can walk to the lake or go back to the dorms, where there are snacks of various kinds (popcorn, cookies, sour bears, jellybeans) and hang out with friends or play games (Apples to Apples is a favorite.)
On most of the Shabbatot in the year, YU pays for guys to come down (they stay at the Bedford Hotel on 42nd) and make a minyan. This minyan either happens in the cafeteria (if there's a small amount of people) or in the Schottenstein Cultural Center. These guys are notoriously termed "sketchy;" it's assumed that if they come down here for Shabbos they are looking for girls. I was warned away from them all on my first Shabbos. They're not all that bad, though; it really depends on the Shabbos. Sometimes they're here for perfectly legitimate reasons. Plus our food is supposedly better than theirs. Some Shabbatot are officially understood to be the ones where the guys and girls check out the scene, and when you say scene in YU/ Stern, that can only mean one thing (the dating scene). These Shabbatot are the TAC/ SOY affairs and the YU Israel Club Shabbat. If you don't want to be part of this, don't stay in that Shabbat.
As long as you're with friends, Shabbat at Stern can be fine, even fun. Since I'm one of those insanely proud people who doesn't ask people to have her over for Shabbat, I spent most of first semester there; that's not too fun. You can, incidentally, waitress on Shabbat and earn money doing that (something like $70, half on your CafCard and 30ish in a check, unless you're on a Work-Study program, in which case you get it all in cash.) You email email@example.com in order to apply for a job (do it early, at the beginning of the week.)
There are nice people in New York and they'll have you over; so will your in-town friends once you acquire some. It's all good.
JUDAIC STUDIES: These are brilliant. However, I can only speak for my level of ability. I happen to be taking the Advanced Classes, and have enjoyed them very much. I attended an event for the Basic level and was incredibly disappointed. The arguments being presented there were infantile and very flawed. In terms of the Advanced Classes, however, here are the teachers I have taken and how I would describe them.
Rebbetzin Sarah Greer: (2 credit class) The woman is brilliant. She is extremely learned, studied one on one with Nachama Leibowitz (and does not flaunt this), is very humble, and enjoys the midrashic/ aggadic side of Judaism. The sources she incorporates into class are highly enjoyable for anyone who enjoys magic or imagination as the majority of them are midrashic approaches. I learned more in her 2-credit class than I did in comparable 3 or 4 credit classes. She lives in Connecticut and takes the train in once a week. She expects excellence. Assigns one paper per class, but it is a research paper and you have to WORK. You have to look up all the sources even if you don't plan to use them all, and you need to prove that you have done this. Does not appreciate fluff. You have homework assignments for the first four or five weeks of class, and this is not regurgitation homework, but rather interpreting a new source (attached). The questions are hard.
Rabbi Kenneth Auman: (3 credit class) Also brilliant. He teaches halakha- the class I took with him was Women in Halakha. He does not approach matters from a feel-good hashkafic approach, but a strict halakhic approach. He gives you many, many sources/ texts, most derived from the Gemara. You learn these in class, and it's wonderful because you then learn where every idea derives from. He is well-spoken, thoughtful and prefers to say he doesn't know something rather than giving over idiotic answers. A distinguished gentleman, and the pulpit rabbi of a Young Israel somewhere in Brooklyn. Also on the RCA. Multiple-choice tests (murderous) and an essay-esque final. He gives back points on the multiple-choice tests if you can effectively argue your case.
Dr. Grunhaus: (3 credit class) She prefers a categorizing approach to Navi or Chumash. I took her Jeremiah class. We received a sourcebook and often had to prepare sources for classes in addition to looking through various perakim. The class was arranged by theme/ topic. She likes to categorize midrashim, explaining why one midrash and another fall into different "types," enjoys dissecting and analysis of material.
Rabbi Mordechai Cohen: (3 credits or 5 credits, depending on the class) I took his Job class. Thus far, He favors the analysis/ dissection approach. Good class for analytical people. We're learning different philosophical and psychological-ethical approaches to Job, incorporating various sources. He expects 2 papers, one of them 20 pages long. A lot of preparation/ effort is expected in class. Gives quizzes to test your knowledge of the material. A soft-spoken, nice man. His syllabus/ quizzes are in Hebrew. His Parshanut class is often spoken of in tones of great awe. A very open-minded man, someone who enjoys those who think outside the box.
Rabbi Shmalo: (2 credit class) He apparently teaches at Michlala. This semester I took 'The Kuzari' with him. He completely immerses himself in the mindset of the author of whatever text he is teaching and attempts to teach the text from that point of view. So we're not comparing 'The Kuzari' with Rambam, but rather learning what R' Yehuda Halevi's viewpoint was. A bit of a method actor; he says that the highest compliment he was given was by a girl who thought he completely subscribed to the philosophy of the moment (the one he was teaching at the time.)
SECULAR STUDIES: This depends on your major. There are many Bio Majors, for instance, and I would assume this means the Biology department is up to par/ fantastic. I'm an English major. The English classes are not comparable to those given at other colleges. This in a large part is because there are no classes FOR English majors WITH English majors, which limits the demands the teacher can make on the class, as not everyone will have the same background. The teachers are kind and sweet and often very smart, but I don't think they can necessarily teach to capacity simply because of the varied backgrounds of the students. Also- for some reason they have a policy not to teach texts in translation, which upsets me. We won't read Russian literature (as an actual class) because it's in translation.
Professor Nachumi: (3 credits) I took Professor Nachumi's class for Freshman Honors Seminar (a mandatory class for all Honors Program students; you cannot take other English classes concurrently.) She reminds me a bit of the lady at the center of Mona Lisa Smile; she believes in the empowerment of women. She is a smart, interesting woman with a desire to study the female viewpoint in literature. She sees Stern as an ideal place to accomplish this, as obviously this is an all-girls school. For example, we read Her Eyes are Watching God and Mansfield Park (in addition to other works) and did considerable work focusing in on the heroines of such work. She knows her students and knows what they can give; she pushed me to work harder than I would have otherwise. She sometimes focuses on controversial material. Not for the closed-minded.
Rabbi Dr. Richard Weiss: (4 credits w/lab) He teaches Biology for Non-Majors in addition to more advanced Biology courses. Bio for Non-Majors was a great lecture class. Rabbi Weiss consistently makes reference to TV shows he grew up with and somewhat corny jokes (some are good), but he's a really lovable, kind man. He's very detailed, going over information extensively, writing key points on the board, utilizing slides and slideshows and obviously speaking aloud. He prepares you for his tests (which are multiple-choice) and is very fair. If you can convincingly argue your points in terms of why you selected particular answers on his tests, he is willing to give back credit. The only time he misses class is when he has to preside at funerals, as he is also a pulpit rabbi. There's a Bio Lab component in addition to his lecture; I took that class with Professor Luers, but she will not be there next year.
Professor Manfred Weidhorn: (3 credits) Professor Weidhorn is an excellent English teacher, probably the best one I've yet had. I took his Milton and the 17th Century class and loved it. He lectures and has a very firm opinion as to which answers are right or wrong, often this has to do with a way of wording the answer, so even if you are right, he will tell you that you are off target. This really doesn't matter because he's very knowledgeable and that's key. He begins his class by firmly asserting that you cannot impose Western morality upon texts and cultures that were conceived long before such morality rose to the fore; more importantly, you cannot impose the Orthodox Jewish morality or mentality upon these texts. For that, I will be forever grateful to him. I was cackling. Very impressive command of material, texts and random quotes by important political figures. Uses acronyms and mneumonics to help students, has an extensive typewritten list of literary terms that I found useful. The kind of teacher 99% of people would hate and I adore.
Professor Carol Silver: (3 credits) Professor Silver is also an English teacher; I took 'Survey of English II' and 'The Romantic Period' with her. She has lovely silvery-white hair and is a very interesting woman. A lecture class which includes quite a lot of historical background, mostly for our own edification rather than for testing purposes. Very knowledgeable; her speciality is the Victorian Period. She encourages discussion and likes students to add their input. Very kind woman, very entertaining; her tests are very straightfoward and she assigns one paper per class (a research paper). She brings cookies or candy to tests.
Dr. David Shatz: (3 credits) I took his 'Ancient and Medieval Philosophy' class. A lecture class, some will not like it because his style is not the most animated, but I learned quite a lot from him. His tests are difficult (or they were for me); they feature three parts, one of which is pure memorization of philosophers and their philosophies, then short essay questions and then a longer essay. He's a very kind, funny, entertaining and smart man. He's very interested in your understanding the material. Also, he's one of the most respected in his field; he's edited and coauthored lots of books and he teaches at Columbia University.
EXTRACURRICULARS: These are quite good. There are a lot of clubs, and that is nice. I was involved in
Fencing: This was quite enjoyable. There are three weapons- sabre, epee, and foil. I am a foilist, and it was quite fun to learn how to fence and attend competitions. There is a time commmitment Mondays and Wednesday nights from 7:30 to 9:30. Also, a lot of Sunday competitions. You have to be up quite early, get your whites and kit together, come meet in the gym, go on the bus to wherever your destination might be, fence and come back home.
Newspaper: There are two, 'The Observer' and 'The Commentator.' I prefer The Commentator but next year the most competent girl I have ever met is going to be in charge of The Observer, so it all might work out well. The Commentator's system and hierarchy is very well-entrenched; The Observer's is not. Hopefully that can be changed. Girls can write for the commie; this is somewhat infrequent, however.
YU Medical Ethics: The YU Medical Ethics Committee is a student-run organization that features interesting lecturers (on the YU staff or from without) who focus on the Jewish viewpoint on Medical Ethics (whether this be organ donations, surrogacy, DNR and euthanasia, anything and everything controversial happens here.) This is one of the only places you are going to hear the Jewish viewpoint on Medical Ethics. I love it. Apparently the brainchild of Yonah Bardos, huzzah for him.
Debate: On Sundays, therefore only with a few schools. I'm not really involved because it clashed with fencing, but it was quite fun the one time I went.
Drama: Stern has 'Showcase' which is a talent show (by girls for girls) during first semester. You can do whatever you like- act, sing, dance, play an instrument; it doesn't matter. During second semester, they have (or had) a play. Reuven Russell was the director. The play was...interesting. It was an original piece by a YU student; it's pretty cool that we get to perform original material. I met some really nice people while participating in it, as well, and on that account, it was all good.
There are quite a lot of other clubs that I cannot speak about from personal experience: QUEST, YU Israel Club, Chabad Club, French Club, Russian Club to name a few.
Would I recommend Stern? If you enjoy Judaic Studies, yes. If you want the Judaic studies, yes. If you can supplement your secular studies and will take advantage of the location, yes.
What don't I enjoy at Stern/ what can be fixed?
- The Uptown Effect- I miss out on some really excellent teachers because they only teach uptown. It's sad; I've been told I would love their classes.
- The Seminary Issue- This was more frustrating during first semester, by second semester I didn't care anymore. During first semester, everyone was inquring as to which seminary you went to the year before this one; if you hadn't gone to one, you had to deal with looks. I didn't enjoy the looks.
- The Dating/ Marriage Issue- Yes, it's an issue. No, it doesn't have to rule or ruin your life. But gods. There are times where I want to tear out my hair.
- The English Issue- I want classes that are specifically geared and tailored for English majors. I'd also like a literary journal. I can dream...
That being said, I would not recommend Stern to everyone. You have to be a certain type of person to enjoy being here- and there are many types of people here, so there's no question that you can find your niche, if you are so interested. However, if your talent lies in a specific subject, you're not that interested in Judaic studies and don't want to be obligated to participate in a dual curriculum/ core, don't come here. Go to your Ivy League school or your state school or wherever you want to be; don't come here and feel sorry for yourself because it's not what you expected. Know what you're getting into, commit and have a ball, and everything will be wonderful.
All right, enjoy!