My brother is currently a senior in high school, and he is the last of the siblings in my family to go off to college. With my older sister having graduated from undergrad over a year ago and myself in my third year, he’s got a few people to talk to it he’s feeling antsy about the application process.
In the beginning of the semester, I spent a weekend at my home in Boston – coming back to an empty house at noon reminded me that public schools runs until 2:15 pm, and he wouldn’t be back for a while. When he came out later that afternoon, he declared to me that he’s finally decided to apply Early Decision to his top school.
On top of being so thrilled that my brother even HAD a top school (he was never one to express extreme desire or liking towards much, at least he never shared these feelings with me), I couldn’t help but notice the familiarity in this decision; I applied Early Decision to Tufts two years ago!
Though my brother and I have always been pretty close, we never dished out advice to each other. With a three-year age gap, we never really thought one another to be full of wisdom on anything more than just trivial matters. Even still, I figured that since my sister didn’t go through the same process of applying Early Decision, I could be the big sister and help out. Give him some real advice, especially information that reflects our family’s socioeconomic position in a way that a school guidance counselor may not be able to provide.
So I asked myself, how could I help him out the best? I didn’t want to simply dole out the same advice he must be hearing from everyone else, like starting supplemental essays early, having no more than two or three people look at them, having a list of safety schools, having enough time to take the SAT I and IIs, etc. I wanted to offer support in a way no one else could.
One of the biggest concerns for my family when I was applying was: could I stay close enough to home where it was convenient to go back, but also where the area wasn’t too familiar to me? For me, being able to go home is essential, just because that’s how my family life works. I also know myself a little better than my younger brother may know himself (just by virtue of me being a few years older/having actually experienced life away from home), and I know that one of my greatest needs is to be able to decompress away from campus for a bit, when things get rough. Being a first-gen college student from a family of a lower socioeconomic class means I can’t take mini vacations on the weekends to faraway places like some of my peers may do, but I have to tend to the responsibilities that I may also have at home.
Another reason for this was for practicality; sure, being hours away from home might be good in the beginning, but would it be the best thing to do in the long-run? A central part of my first-gen experience, even throughout high school, was to plan things for the long-term. Is it reasonable to choose a school far away? How much more would that cost than staying close? And would you be able to plan for weekends where you need to come back? In our immigrant home, being connected to family has always been essential and a necessity.
Stemming off from that, I wanted to remind him that he has the potential to enjoy himself anywhere, or different colleges can make him happy in different ways. I know for me, researching a school’s advising process and what student feedback on professors was like affected my decision. I know I needed emotional support outside of the classroom (a necessity as a pre-med student), and wanted to be sure there was some sort of infrastructure in place to give that to me. This need for emotional support in some way connects to my desire to get off campus if necessary when academics or extracurricular activities get overwhelming.
Last but not least, I always remind him that he is worth more than just his productivity/whether or not they get accepted to his top school. Every school will have its flaws and I want to be sure he is equipped to handle what comes his way outside of academics. It can be difficult to keep a clear head when your peers come from different backgrounds and don’t have the same problems first-gen students have, especially in terms of finances. It can be rough at times, but that’s also why building communities wherever you go can be a way to combat the negativity that may arise.
I remember the college application process to be one of the most stressful times of my life, and I can still recall the feeling of immense relief once it was over. Do you have younger siblings applying to schools this year? What are you telling them?