I have three very different kids, still young, but all hopefully destined for college someday. Because of the nature of my profession, I am regularly asked where I want my kids to go to college. It’s still early and there’s still plenty of time for them to decide where to go. But it makes me wonder if they will all find a perfect, unique fit or if one will follow in the footsteps of another sibling and go to the same school. Experience has taught me that the college choices of one child will ultimately affect the decisions of the others.
Many family influences shape where kids apply to college. When I worked on the college side of the admissions field, I was floored by the loyalty and passion alumni had for their alma mater. When it came time for their kids to apply to college, so many of them desperately wanted their kids to follow in their footsteps – and not just one child. All of them.
Often, families follow the template forged when their first child went through the college application process. By the time the youngest sibling comes along and applies to college, it is sometimes easier for all involved to just follow the well-traveled path. However, plugging in the same colleges and the same expectations doesn’t always work. One size does not fit all when it comes to college.
The challenge that all of us have as parents is understanding our kids as individuals. The college process is the ultimate test for us to find a balance between what we want as parents and what our kids want for themselves. We need to make sure we aren’t projecting our dreams on our kids. On the other hand, we also need them to explore good and realistic college options.
Families need to approach the college process with a fresh plan for each child:
- Bring the younger kids along when your older kids are visiting colleges. This can help them get a sense of what they like and don’t like.
- Visit other colleges. Comparing the newly introduced colleges to some of the colleges visited with an older sibling ensures they will keep an open mind.
- Academic interests should be fully explored. Even if our children end up going to the same college, it’s rare for them to pursue the same major. A student’s undergraduate major often changes at least once in college and it does not have to match up perfectly with a set career for them to be highly successful.
- When it comes to performing on standardized tests, no child is the same – not even a set of identical twins. Just because an older sibling took one test over another doesn’t mean it is the best test for the rest of the kids in the family.
- There are multiple approaches to the college process. What works for one child, may not work for another.
But there are plenty of instances when two children from the same family end up at the same college. As long as the younger child is choosing the college for more reasons than just having an older sibling there, they will be able to carve out their own niche.
In full disclosure, I attended the same college as my older brother (the photo above was actually taken at my own graduation). Even at a small liberal arts college with only 1,600 students, our very different academic and extracurricular interests had their own space and freedom to grow. But we were three years apart and had very different personalities. I never thought growing up that I would end up attending the same college as the brother I fought with every single day until I was 16. This process is full of wondrous surprises, though.
Looking back on my college enrollment, I struggled mightily trying to decide where to enroll. My parents kept quiet on this final decision. When I called my brother for advice, he told me not to follow him but to follow my heart.
My brother was right. His message is clear and still rings true today. We need to encourage our kids to be themselves every step of the way, including applying to college. Sometimes this translates into them attending a college on the opposite side of the country and other times being true to themselves means attending the same college as their older brother or sister. If they can separate their family’s expectations and experiences from their own, they will end up at the right college for them.
That’s what happened to me, and I hope my own kids feel supported when the time comes to do the same – whether it’s creating their own path or re-paving a familiar one. Going to college is about choice. If we teach our kids how to make thoughtful decisions, they will always live up to the most important expectations – their own.