Featured image from gafcp.org


Four out of five days a week, my little brother’s second-grade teacher said, you’d find Eli in a sweatshirt. Even if it was fairly warm out, he’d be wearing the overpriced, university-logo-emblazoned, by-now-sort-of-smelly piece of clothing I had brought back for him after my first year at Cornell.

My little brother has his heart set on my school. I wish it would stay that way, but maybe it’s for the best that he’s probably going to grow out of his infatuation. I have six younger siblings, and I would hate for any of them to feel pressured to follow in my footsteps.

Still, for now his love for my school seems like innocent fun and games. He’s decided he wants to be an archaeologist, or an anthropologist, or an astronomer (I took an astronomy class as an elective and suddenly he developed an interest), and every so often he’ll ask me about my school’s archaeology program and we’ll spend a while perusing the department’s website.

His teacher also told me that any time my school’s city or state is mentioned in class, he excitedly brings up that his sister goes to school there. He’s always asking me when he can visit and telling me about how he’s going to play football here one day.

It’s nice to have one of your siblings so interested in your life. It’s also nice to be going to a school that provides you with a life that’s interesting. All the same, I’m a little afraid of those realities creating pressure down the road.

Listening to my brother dream about attending my school reminds me that I used to dream like that, and then I grew up and realized that admissions is a stressful numbers game and ultimately, any experience is what you make of it.

All the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve grown up have been valuable ones, and most of the lessons have been happy ones, too. But I’m not the idealistic little kid I used to be. There was a time when I wouldn’t have even understood the concept of legacy siblings.

I’m optimistic, though, that if I continue to have conversations with my younger brother – and all my siblings – being a legacy sibling can be really beneficial.

My oldest younger brother, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to think so. He visited me at school once and made a joke about it being a good backup school, and that was the end of the conversation about him attending college here.

I pressured all of my siblings to consider coming to school at what would, by the time they attended, be my alma mater. I was mostly joking, though, because I know that they might have reservations about both applying and attending.

I remember that when I asked my brother why he didn’t want to apply, he said, “Because I couldn’t get in. Or, even if I did, it would just be because family has gone here.” As much as I hate the idea of a legacy sibling as an admissions crutch, I see where he’s coming from.

On one hand, your younger siblings – or you, if your sibling already attends college – might feel more afraid than usual of a college rejection letter from a school that offered an older sibling an acceptance.

On the other hand, it’s hard to deal with an acceptance if your sibling already attends school at the college in question. You’ll always be questioning just what it was that pushed you over the edge into the pool of admitted students. And you’ll be relatively certain that your legacy status played a role.

How are you supposed to feel about a situation like that? Family pride is great, passing the torch is great, and shared experience is great. But the stakes seem so much higher when there is so much fodder for comparison and speculation.

I rationalized it to my siblings (the younger ones, who weren’t already certain they didn’t want to go to school where I did) this way: “Who cares if you get into the same school as me? I’m already better than you at Mario Kart (and I still think you’re awesome).”

Joking aside, it’s stressful to be a legacy sibling, too. Nowhere is that more evident than in my relationship with my sister, who is a really chill person by nature. When I asked her if she thought she might ever attend my school, she said, “Yeah, why not?”

I had to laugh, knowing that “yeah, why not” wouldn’t always fly as a rationale for choosing a college (although that might be nice). But her noncommittal response made me realize a stress that had been lingering since I started applying to colleges.

If you have younger siblings, you want them to look up to you. You want to have a good relationship with them and you can’t help but want them to follow in your footsteps a little bit. Part of what made me so nervous about applying to colleges was in fact the legacy that I was leaving my family.

Admissions is a complicated process in and of itself, but it also has the power to complicate your life even after you log out of the Common Application website. Having or being a legacy sibling, I’ve learned, can be really tough.

At the end of the day, though, the important thing is not to let any one factor – whether it’s family, friends, finances, or just plain fear – color your entire view of a school or an application. Most colleges boast a “holistic” admissions review process. Shouldn’t you give yourself the benefit of a holistic application process?

Allowing oneself to destress may or may not run in the family, but during admissions season it can be difficult for anybody. Talking to your siblings about it, whatever your respective roles, can really give you some insight and hopefully allow you to say, “Yeah, why not?” to chilling out a bit.

Sarah Chandler

Sarah Chandler is a junior at Cornell University studying Performing and Media Arts and Psychology.As much as she loves writing for CollegeVine, she'd rather be astral projecting or watching The Office. She has too much fun writing bios like these for her own good.