Parent’s Guide to the Sibling Dynamic in College Admissions

As fans of TLC’s series Jon & Kate Plus 8 know far too well, every child is unique—even if you have twins and sextuplets! As summer provides you with an opportunity to reflect on how much your children have grown and developed into young adults, you may be dealing with the dynamic of sibling rivalry. I hope the following provides a quick guide to help you manage your role as parent when your children apply to college.

Should I bring a younger child on a campus visit or a college fair to accompany their older sibling?

Although it can be fun and cost-effective to schedule a campus visit as a family, unless the other sibling is in high school, having a younger sibling can be a distraction to you as well as your older child. A child’s attention span is very different from that of a college-bound high-schooler. If you must, I don’t encourage them to go on the campus tour or sit in on the information session. Instead, find a quiet, safe place (library, bookstore, admissions office lobby) where your younger child can be occupied with a book or game.

My daughter’s older sibling currently attends (or graduated from) a college that she is interested in applying to. How will that factor in her admissions decision?

This really depends on the intimacy of that college’s admissions process. If a college has an intimate application review process, it is likely that a currently enrolled or recently graduated sibling may have an impact on a current student’s application. There are even schools where an admissions committee will consider how the older sibling performed academically and how involved you are in parent-volunteer programs and even your contributions to the parent annual fund. On cozy campuses, faculty and administrators take pride that an institution’s knowledge about a family’s relationship with the college community can make an impact– either positively or negatively– which may affect how a younger sibling’s application is reviewed.

At colleges with large applicant pools, the presence of an older sibling in the student body will have minimal impact. As a parent, you hope that if both students are similar, the second can expect a similar admission decision. But a college’s applicant pool can change drastically from one year to the next– which usually explains why an admissions decision is very different. As a parent, it is important to make your younger child aware of these external factors.

What if I have two children applying to the same college at the same time?

Admissions deans at selective colleges are keenly aware of the dynamics within a family when one child is admitted and the other is not. Thus, if both children have similar academic and extracurricular accomplishments, you can feel confident that, barring any significant differences in the students’ essays and interviews, both children will receive the same admission decision. On the other hand, if there is a significant difference between the applications of the siblings, don’t be surprised if the admissions decisions reflect that disparity. Don’t assume the stronger sibling will help the weaker applicant, especially in a highly selective admission process. It is possible that both of your children will be waitlisted or even denied. A wise guidance counselor or expert independent college counselor can help you understand these details before your children start applying.

Each child is different

To the outside world, it is amazing that the Gosselins manage to see their multiples as individuals. But Jon and Kate know that each child has his/her own personality. Keep in mind that while one sibling aspires to attend an Ivy League school, the other may not want to attend college at all. When this happens, take a step back, be supportive, and ask why each child has those goals. If you feel that your child is not living up to his/her potential, it is important to turn to an expert for help– but try not to compare one child to another. Learning to embrace the differences among your children is the one of the many challenges and joys of being a parent.