College x

Here’s some guidance on how to give some guidance to a younger sibling applying to college.

Remember your college application process? The ordeal took years, and may have dominated the conversations with your friends for the whole part of junior and senior year. Thankfully, you are beyond that now. There is no need to rehash the memories of anxious test preparation, the silent stress of waiting for decisions and competition with your peers. High school is behind you, so don’t look back.

Unless you have younger siblings, that is. Watching your brother or sister jump through the same hoops you did in their final years of high school can bring up strong, mixed emotions. When you hear that your little annoyance has started freshman year, you can only think of your first day of high school, which, if you are anything like me, was spent cowering in the bathroom and wishing for the day to end.

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The best part of having a younger sibling beginning the college application process is the perspective they will provide you. Imagine that you are able to switch back to the character selection screen of a video game to choose a new fighter. The character has strengths and weaknesses that may be unfamiliar to you, but presents a new opportunity to learn and grow—just like you did.

However, you are not the protagonist this time. Your younger sibling has a range of experiences that are likely very different than yours, which may cause some friction. Keep in mind that as an older sibling, you are not a parent, although you can be just as bossy and controlling as one. Your younger sibling sees you as a role model, not an authority figure, and establishing this boundary can be tricky.

You may have been brainy, artistic and reserved, while your younger sibling is average, athletic and outspoken, so consider that when you try to criticize them for misplacing an assignment or opting for an easier class. They are on their own path to their future, and offering unwarranted advice could lead to an impassioned rebuttal.

While you aren’t a parent, you can act as a loyal friend with intimate knowledge of the other’s curiosities and insecurities. Pass along your little tips, from “Don’t use the bathrooms on the upper floors, they leak,” to “That class is impossible to pass. You’re better off taking an actual art class to fulfill your humanities requirement.” The little things matter just as much as the big ones.

There are some things, especially in regard to the college application process, that you may know more about than your parents. If you are the oldest child of the family, your parents went through the current application process with you for the first time. I remember that my parents were just as clueless as I was when it came time to begin. Now that everyone is well acquainted with the process, jump in and help where you can.

The first thing you can advise your sibling about is their schedule. It’s important to let them feel like they have control of their classes and day-to-day life, but remember that you have some important information about teachers, class sizes and difficulty. When I was in high school, I remember a lot of extracurriculars being pitched to me as “excellent on a college application” or “shows leadership qualities.” Go ahead and fight against these claims as soon as your sibling starts preaching them back to you. If you were in misery, why put your sibling through the same thing? Unless being a vindictive, manipulative older sibling is your thing. Then, by all means torture them!

Second, you can talk to your brother or sister about standardized tests and what they mean. Growing up, I missed the first PSAT date and regretted it for the rest of my high school career. The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is an excellent way to get noticed by colleges for scholarships. Notify your siblings about opportunities you missed, you wish you had taken or you succeeded in achieving, and see if you can help them out on their path to college.

The same advice works in reference to the ACT or SAT. Standardized tests can create a culture of frenzied competition. Students become obsessive over studying and preparation, prioritizing unnecessary studying over other, more enjoyable activities. Seeing a sibling in that familiar pain can be harrowing, so assure them their future is not dependent on the results of one test. Be the friend that you wish you had!

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As far as clubs and extracurriculars go, you may be a good source of guidance for the social scene of each. While your sibling undeniably has opinions on the coolness or popularity of the crowd, feel free to throw in a recommendation or a vote of confidence. Your sibling does lead a life at school that is entirely alien to you, so don’t be surprised if they end up becoming a better debate student than you did.

As high school comes to a close and the actual writing of applications takes place, be as supportive as you can of their selection process. Chances are they were forced to shuttle along with you to campuses across the country or had to hear your incessant bargaining over which school is the best fit. Be patient with them when they are deciding which colleges to apply to, and try to hold back whatever strong opinions you have. They may have picked up some of your ideas of college by observation, so let them have their turn to explore the possibilities.

When it comes to making a decision, the matter should be out of your hands. However old you are, remember the sense of excitement and trepidation that came with the thought of leaving for college. This is your sibling’s shot at a future, so wherever they want to go will likely be the best place for them. When graduation comes around, celebrate your sibling’s accomplishments and relish the fact that you no longer have to vicariously live high school through someone anymore.

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Jack Brandon

University of Michigan

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