Jan 14, 2015

Following in your brother’s footsteps or why siblings make similar enrollment decisions

GW offers one of the most generous sibling scholarships.

The College Board and Harvard University recently studied the college enrollment decisions of 1.6 million sibling pairs of SAT-takers.

And what they discovered won’t be too much of a surprise to anyone with working with multiple college-bound students in a single family.

In a nutshell, the study found that younger and older siblings’ choices are very closely related.  Over two-thirds of younger siblings enrolled in the same “type” of institution as their older sibling (two- or four-year), while 31 percent of the younger siblings applied to the college their older sibling attended.

And about 20 percent of younger siblings actually ended up enrolling at the same college as their older brother and sister.

While the positive relationship between older and younger siblings’ college choices could be seen across different demographic groups, it was noticeably stronger among siblings who resemble each other in academic skills, age or gender.

And although the results seem intuitively correct, Joshua Goodman, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, along with co-authors Michael Hurwitz, Jonathan Smith and Julia Fox, of the College Board, could only hypothesize why this might be happening.

One explanation could involve “legacy” policies, where colleges are more likely to admit students from the same family or offer tuition discounts to family members.

The Peterson’s website suggests that there are at least 128 colleges offering sibling discounts:  “On average, schools with this kind of ‘deal,’ reduce tuition by approximately 20% per student—that is, if both are enrolled at the same school.”  

At George Washington University, a “Family Grant” cuts tuition in half for a qualifying younger sibling who has a brother or sister enrolled and who would otherwise be charged full tuition.  McDaniel College, in Western Maryland, offers a $2000 grant applied toward the second family member’s tuition.  

And for twins and triplets, FinAid.org has compiled a separate list of colleges that reduce costs for "multiples."

Other explanations for mutual sibling preference could involve lowered information costs in terms of completing forms or sharing information about applications and financial aid.  There would also be a greater awareness of living accommodations, insider information on professors, or just plain familiarity with campus layout.

And as one commenter pointed out, “There’s also the prospect of arriving on campus with ‘instant’ friends.  If the younger sibling gets along well with the older one, then the older sibling’s friends will accept the younger one into the group.”

Regardless of the reasons why this is happening, researchers suggest that the results of the study may help counselors improve the “targeting of college choice interventions.”  

In other words, don’t be too surprised to find the older sibling’s college on the younger sibling’s list!  And be less surprised if s/he ends up enrolling there!

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