Dublin High School Class of 2010 Alum Sarah Wolfish Graduates in 4 Years with Joint Degrees from Columbia and JTS
In this follow-up to Dublin High School Class of 2010 graduate Sarah Wolfish’s article about the first few months of college you’ll learn about the hard work that is inevitably woven into the fabric of pursuing a passion.
In the case of Ms. Wolfish, you’ll discover it is possible to earn two degrees from Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary in four years, while landing internships and finding time to socialize outside of class. Behind the students labeled gifted or talented what you’ll often find is a story of hard work, dedication and a burning desire to learn and grow.
OneDublin.org: Before understanding how you completed two degrees in four years, what were the programs you completed?
Sarah Wolfish: “I attended two schools full-time as part of a dual degree program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. I had two sets of general ed requirements, as well as requirements for the separate majors. At Columbia, I double majored in Political Science and Economics. At the Jewish Theological Seminary I majored in Midrash, which is the intersection between Jewish Law and Jewish Folklore.”
OneDublin.org: How did you have a life while completing a dual degree program and multiple majors? What was your course load?
Wolfish: “Most people end up taking courses over the summer to make it work. What I ended up doing was taking 7-8 classes per semester, which is a very heavy workload for college, normally you take 4-5 classes. I was strategic about the make-up of each semester. I made sure that if I took a class like computer science I would balance it with a literature class so that problems sets and labs required by one class and essays required by another would be due at different times. I really had to think about how to balance my workload. With the exception of my freshman year, I was also able to secure an internship every year.”
OneDublin.org: Did you ever hit a wall where you weren’t sure if you could keep up the pace you set for yourself?
Wolfish: “I loved what I was doing, all my classes were amazing, both the topics I was studying and my professors. At Dublin High School I had a similar experience, taking five AP classes in my senior year, so I’m used to having a full workload. I don’t really know how to deal with free time!”
OneDublin.org: What did you learn about time management and priority trade-offs after taking such an intense course load. What did you learn about yourself and what you are capable of?
Wolfish: “For the first time ever in college I did reach a point where I realized I couldn’t do any more, a point I never quite reach in high school. Columbia taught me that I’m capable of more than I believed was possible. I learned a lot about myself and what I can achieve. There were moments though. When I was studying for the LSAT exam during my senior year, which most students take after graduating, it was very intense.
“Dublin High School prepared me well because I was used to a crazy workload. At Dublin High I surrounded myself with people that were going through the same experience, taking multiple AP and Honors classes, so I got through it with the support of friends that were facing similar challenges. During my time at Columbia and JTS I also surrounded myself with other students that were on a pre-law track or in the joint program. We created a really supportive community where you help each other, vent to each other, share study guides, and stick together through the all nighters in the library. Having a supportive community is so important in high school and in college.”
OneDublin.org: With your workload and internships did you have time for other activities?
Wolfish: “Yes, I joined a sorority in the second semester of my freshman year, Delta Gamma, and participated all four years as well as being a residence advisor for two years. I held two positions, vice president of membership education on the executive board for a year and vice president of programming for a year. I was also on the JTS student council for three years: sophomore class president, vice president of finance and vice president of internal and social affairs. I also participated in the Law Society and the Order of Omega Honor Society, but my main out of class involvement was with my sorority and student council.”
OneDublin.org: How did internships help you decide what what you like and don’t like about a future career?
Wolfish: “I interned for Goldman Sachs for about two weeks during the summer of 2011 when the investigations were happening, and was actually in the office when federal investigators came in! That was an intense experience for me and made me realize that the finance world wasn’t for me. I wanted something more personal and that was doing more good in the world, and that wasn’t just about money and market values. I only lasted 10 days, felt my morals were being compromised, ended up leaving and came back to Dublin to work with Mayor Tim Sbranti. That short internship experience helped me learn what I don’t like.
“I decided to try and do an internship during the school year and found a cool organization call Praxis Insights run by Abe Lackman. Praxis is a governmental and educational consulting firm. A lot of local governments and schools, especially higher education institutions, hire the firm for help with policy decisions, research, advice on issues. Among their clients were NYU and Columbia as well as school districts. We were hired by the National Catholic School Association to research the impact of charter schools on parochial schools, because they tend to be in direct competition with each other. We confirmed their suspicions with a research project that pulled together data and statistics on how charter schools impacted their enrollment numbers. We ended up getting into a legal battle with KIPP, which is a large charter school operator.
“The reason I got the interview for that internship was from the videos of me speaking on behalf of Dublin High School during the debate about the charter high school in Dublin.”
OneDublin.org: How did the experience at Praxis shape what you wanted to do going forward?
Wolfish: “I’ve always been passionate about public school education, I’m a product of it and really believe in the system, but am also aware of the issues with the system. Working for Praxis showed me the academic side of supporting public education, the interplay of politics and economics, and how important economics is to understanding any kind of policy-oriented topic. That internship is the reason I started studying economics, and also guided me towards non-profit politic internships.
“My next step is going to law school and while I will likely end up in corporate law, I plan to maintain a strong connection to volunteer work in the education community. I’ve applied to JD-MBA programs, which combine business school with law school, and have been accepted into a number of top programs including Harvard and Stanford and am finalizing my decision.”
OneDublin.org: Students don’t always realize that pursuing law is a post graduate degree and that you have to complete an undergraduate degree first. For students interested in pursuing a law degree, what advice do you have?
Wolfish: “When I was in high school I didn’t realize that you don’t study any law during your undergrad years. I was lucky to take a few constitutional law classes during my time at Columbia, but for the most part you focus on a major unrelated to law like political science or history. I’ve known since the fourth grade that I wanted to be a lawyer; I’m in awe of the legal system, and view our constitution as almost a religious document, it’s so beautifully written and I’m fascinated by it. We studied Jewish law at JTS and while the content is different the concept is similar in that you have to use the text to make a point. I’ve always loved and been fascinated by that way of thinking. Both Columbia and JTS cemented my desire to pursue a career in law, I get an adrenaline rush by doing the readings and thinking that way.
“I think some people go into law school because they want to be a lawyer but they don’t think about what it takes to be a lawyer and that’s when you get students that drop out. Law school is difficult to get into and you have to enjoy reading and thinking about rhetoric to get through it.”
OneDublin.org: How was your faith and understanding of Judaism impacted by complementing your Columbia experience with the Jewish Theological Seminary?
Wolfish: “When I went to high school there weren’t many Jewish students, the Tri-Valley in general doesn’t have a huge Jewish community, so I went to Jewish summer camps and joined youth groups to find a Jewish community. During my junior year of high school I went abroad to Israel for a semester. I’m actually a reformed Jew, my family doesn’t keep the Jewish laws and we’re a bit more relaxed about the doctrine. Going to Israel opened my eyes and made me realize I didn’t know that much about Judaism and it bothered me. I knew that if I didn’t force myself to learn more I likely wouldn’t do it on my own because it’s easy to get caught up in college with courses, clubs, internships and social events.
“When I heard about the Columbia-JTS joint program it was perfect because I didn’t have to give up going to an elite institution while also studying Jewish law.
“I’ve always loved school and academia and going to JTS taught me a way to connect to Judaism beyond the culture, and to connect to Judaism in an academic way. A huge part of Judaism is studying, you are supposed to study to Tora and Talamud, and JTS exposed me to both in an academic setting.”
OneDublin.org: Talk about how your junior year trip to Israel affected you, what was different from the perception shaped by the media?
Wolfish: “I’ve been to Jordan and Syria, as well as Israel, and all three are beautiful, breath-taking countries. I think people focus so much on the conflict, racism and hatred that they forget that these countries are not only extraordinarily important historical sites but are also home to some of the most beautiful sites in the world. I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot and the beauty in those countries is unparalleled.
“The most surreal moment during the trip was spending five days in the Israel army. We were put with Israel teenagers, I was seventeen years old at the time, because in Israel it’s mandatory – everyone Israeli citizen has to join the army at the age of eighteen. While we’re juniors in high school picking colleges, Israeli teens are picking what they want to do in the army. Spending a week in the army, getting a taste of basic training with Israeli teens, made it real for us. While we were doing this for fun it was real for them. One day we played a game of hide and go seek to learn how to camouflage yourself in the desert and after the activity a commander reminded is that while it was a fun game for today, it meant hide or die in a real situation.
“It’s easy to dehumanize a soldier but these were just kids, just a year older than us.”
OneDublin.org: What advice do you have for students like yourself that dream very early on of attending a prestigious school? What can they do to increase the odds of achieving that dream?
Wolfish: “For applying to undergrad programs I recommend finding something that you really care about, whatever that is, and show a commitment, skill and role of leadership in that area. The reality is that there are many amazing students in our country, and the process is getting more competitive every year, so you really need to have something that makes you stand out.
“Applicants are all going to have high GPAs and will have served on leadership, music, drama or sports, but if you’ve shown a true commitment to something you are serious about I believe it helps you stand out. The admissions officer needs to believe that you will be passionate and make a difference, and that you won’t question your place in a community of equally passionate students.
“In my experience at Columbia and JTS every student came with a passion, something they would be willing to sacrifice and work hard for. Working hard is much easier when that hard work is in pursuit of a passion.”