Will Older Siblings' College Choices Hurt My Own Admission Verdicts?

Question: Hello!  I’m the youngest of three kids. My older siblings were excellent students. They were each admitted to some very selective schools. Obviously, they could each only attend one school, so they had to decline offers from quite a few schools. I will be applying to a few of the schools that my sibs declined.  In fact, those schools are my top choice schools.

 Will admissions counselors look down on my application because my sibs were accepted and decided not to attend?  This is keeping me awake at night.Thanks for your help!

As you’ve undoubtedly realized by now, being the baby of the family is a mixed bag. You probably scored better stuff (technology, bikes, etc.) at an earlier age than your older siblings did because it took your parents some trial-and-error to figure out what was cool … and perhaps because your big brother, who got his first TracFone when he was 15, wangled you an iPhone at 11.  But, on the other hand, you may have headed off to kindergarten with a Care Bears backpack, handed down through your family for a decade, while the other kids showed up with Sponge Bob.

Yet, whatever the pros and cons of your basement spot in the birth order, you don’t have to worry that it will screw up your college admissions process. Many of your target colleges will not even realize that an older brother or sister turned down an offer of admission. Maybe you have heard that college officials check records of acceptances and enrollments from a particular high school over the past five or ten years and this concerns you.  Yes, in fact, this is a common practice. These records  may contain applicant names but usually include only statistics … much like you may have seen on Naviance … noting the GPA, rank, and test scores of applicants from that high school and their admission outcomes.

So, if …

-the college files do list past applicants by name

-you attend the same high school that your older siblings went to

 -your surname isn’t a very common one

 -one of your siblings applied rather recently and was especially outstanding or otherwise memorable …

then it’s possible that a savvy admission officer–especially a regional rep who has overseen applicants from your high school for several years—might put two-and-two together and connect you to the Big One that Got Away.  Even so, this isn’t going to affect you.

Be sure to “demonstrate interest” at all of your target colleges … whether a sibling applied or not. Visit campus when possible; attend programs close to home; exchange emails with admission staff, professors, and coaches, when appropriate.

But … if you’re still worried that a decision made by an older brother or sister might come back to haunt you next year at your top-choice colleges, you can send a personal note to the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school. The note could say something like this:

I first discovered [name of college] four years ago, when my parents dragged me on a college tour with my older sister. I fell in love with the campus right away and remember all the friendly students who didn’t ignore me, even though I was just 13. When my sister was admitted and then chose to enroll elsewhere, I thought she was nuts. So now that I am submitting my own applications, I hope that –if you even remember her at all—you don’t think that I plan to follow in her footsteps. I’m really excited about [name of college], not just due to what I experienced years ago but also especially because of [reason or reasons you love the school]. I look forward to meeting you [when I visit campus again; if you visit my high school; at a local college fair, etc.]

Although you really don’t need to write a note like this to vanquish the ghosts of siblings past, it certainly can’t hurt, and it might help you to establish a connection with your regional rep. It could also allow you to sleep better at night and to refrain from blaming your brother or sister if you don’t get the college news you want … even if you still haven’t quite forgiven them for that Care Bear knapsack!