Siblings and the College Search

If you’re a college-bound student with an older sibling who has already gone through the college search, application, and admission process, you most likely fall into one of two categories:

  1. You paid such close attention to what your sibling did, when he or she did it, and how everything works that you feel qualified to advise your peers on the subject. Seriously, we can all call you “The King/Queen of All Things College” – and you have the sweatshirt collection from your many campus visits to prove it!
  2. You paid no attention to what your sibling did whatsoever and have so much stuff going on in your own life that you’re lucky if you notice that he or she has returned home for Christmas break – and usually you only realize that when the fridge is emptier than usual and the laundry pile is larger.  So when it comes to colleges, you feel comfortable telling people where your sibling is enrolled – and that’s about it…

Are those broad generalizations on my part?  Certainly.  But in my admissions career, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of siblings and my informal survey of each one revealed that they typically fell into one of the mindsets I listed above and there wasn’t much gray area – a fact that isn’t really surprising because more often than not, I find that even when siblings are close and get along well, they still have personalities, goals, and interests that diverge.

Still, regardless of your relationship with your sibling and regardless of whether you share interests, there are distinct advantages to paying at least some attention to his or her college search that can help when it comes time for you to begin the process.  Four advantages in particular are:

  1. Getting familiar with the timeline.  No matter where you live or what schools you look at, most colleges and universities adhere to very similar schedules for recruiting and admitting students.  If you make mental notes about when your sibling began making college visits, started working on an application essay, and submitted finished application files, you’ll be able to better schedule yourself when senior year rolls around – especially if you know that you need more time for writing or feel as though you’d like to start doing visits earlier so that you can see more campuses.
  2. Knowing what will be expected of you.  Closely aligned with understanding the college search timeline mentioned above, just the simple act of understanding that colleges require X, Y, and Z of applicants is helpful.  You’ll understand the need to assemble a resume for your academic and equestrian activities as well as ask teachers, employers, or coaches for letters of recommendation.  Depending on how many years there are between you and your sibling, you could even get a jump start on a few things simply because you know they’re coming up and you’re able to plan for them.
  3. Knowing what happens after you’re admitted.  Very often, high school juniors and seniors focus so intently on the college application process that they forget that after they apply, they will be admitted (hopefully!) to several colleges and universities and attend just one.  That’s not the end of the story, however – it’s just the beginning.  After sending in an admission deposit, you’ll need to sign up for orientation and class registration, and select housing – plus shopping for your dorm room, making the appropriate arrangements for your horse at home or at school, etc.  And that’s all before freshman move-in day arrives in the fall!  If you get to watch your sibling go through these motions before you do, you’ll know what to expect – and avoid a lot of stress along the way.
  4. Knowing what college will actually be like.  Going to class, doing homework, taking exams, and playing your sport are all different for college students and the structure of your daily life when you become one will be completely different from what it is now – especially if you live in a residence hall.  You’ll have new friends, a new schedule, and a new set of responsibilities that may seem overwhelming at first.  If, however, you’ve seen what the transition has been like for your sibling, you’ll not only have an idea of what’s coming, but you’ll also be able to avoid any mistakes that they may have made (such as signing up for an 8:00 a.m. class if you know you’re unlikely to get up early in the mornings or blowing through all of your dining hall dollars in the first month).

Now, if using your older sibling as your own personal college-going guinea pig was already a part of your master plan or if you fall into the first category I listed above, then you’re probably already taking notes on the college process (as well as collecting those bookstore sweatshirts).  For you, however, I offer one cautionary note to remind you that colleges and universities are in a perpetual state of flux.  This means that what may be true for admission practices, scholarship opportunities, standardized testing, and other parts of the college application process for your sibling may no longer be true when it’s your turn.  Some changes might work in your favor but others might not and it will be your job to do the appropriate research so that you know what these changes are and how they’ll apply to your college search.  (Spoiler alert: The changes to the SAT are a perfect example of what I’m talking about.)

With that in mind, start taking those notes, kids!

(Need help with the college search from a professional?  Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)


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