It's that time of year again when, as the UCAS deadline hurtles towards hordes of innocent 17 and 18-year-olds, the media is awash with stories of declining numbers of student places, bright teenagers without a single offer and the impact of tuition fees on higher education in Britain. I had thought I had put the dreaded curse of university applications behind me almost three years ago, until, like many of my fellow cohort, my younger sibling began the process and I had to relive it all over again.
Like many others, my younger sibling and I studied at partner schools, enjoyed similar social opportunities and faced exactly the same level of parental coercion into doing our homework. As such, it was not surprising that when considering universities he was drawn to some of the same institutions as I had been two years earlier. In the end I obtained a place through clearing whilst my higher-achieving brother went on to an institution I had been rejected from. This rendered the possibility of our attending the same university obsolete, although it made me think about how things might have been had we ended up at the same place.
Many of my friends whose siblings have not yet accepted places at university are facing the possibility that their brothers and sisters may choose to study in the same city, even the same institution, as them. Some view this with dread and apprehension and others with excitement at the potential doubling of parental care packages available to them within the year.
Stories about siblings studying together at university in the UK are fairly infrequent, suggesting that university preferences are influenced by other external factors. However, this may be set to change. Many state secondary schools offer sibling places automatically or, in the case of independent schools, fee discounts for siblings so it's fairly common for several if not all the children in one family to attend together. Now, several English universities are following suit, offering discounts of up to £1,000 to the brothers and sisters of international students already studying here. Will it be long before this arrangement is extended to home students?
Of siblings who did attend the same university as each other, most are insistent that their choice was motivated by their love for the university as much as a need to follow in the family footsteps. Anne Murphy, whose five children all attended Durham University, simply said that her children liked the university and had been attracted to it because of its "collegiate system, academic excellence, traditions and sporting opportunities." Her youngest daughter added, "I feel that being the fifth sibling to come to Durham serves to show what a wonderful and special place Durham truly is."
Similarly, the Ogunsanya quadruplets, who all gained Master's qualifications at the same time at Warwick University, admitted that being able to study together had been a real bonus. Tobi Ogunsanya, one of the three siblings to study an MSc in management, explained, "The fact we all chose to study at the University of Warwick was a natural decision... We are a close-knit family and were all attracted by the strength of the courses on offer."
Ultimately, there are pros and cons to studying at the same institution as your brother or sister at any level of education. Lots of students worry that they will spend all of their time living in their siblings' shadow. My younger sibling's friends know me only as his sister, just as my friends have always known him as "Abbie's brother". By the time we get to university, it would be nice to think that we could celebrate each others' achievements rather than fear that we're being judged against them.
Ever since GCSEs, my younger brother has been getting better grades than me. During A-levels he was constantly being made head of such-and-such a society at school, passing his music exams and captaining various sports teams, whilst I struggled to manage my workload alongside my extra-curricular activities. However, I can honestly say that by the time he was accepted, with top grades, into his first choice university I felt nothing but pride. This is, in part, due to me feeling confident in my own abilities and successfully settling into university in a rather windy corner of England where I don't feel the pressure of being held up for inspection and found wanting. I wonder, though, if I would feel differently knowing that, just when I'd got it sorted, my clever little brother was going to come along and upstage me.