• Dr. Thom

Identical Twins but Identical Applicants?


Dr. Thom with James and Patrick Golden, 2009

I am a father of twins. Most people’s eyes get saucer-like when I tell them that, like I just admitted to being a sword swallower. (To be fair, my eyes were pretty saucer-like when my wife informed me that we were expecting our naturally occurring twins. I was out of town at an admissions retreat and when she asked me if I was sitting down, I should have been honest.) Sure, going from a family of three to five in one swoop took some adjusting, but twins (and other multiple birth configurations) are significantly more common today. In fact, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, twin birth rates have increased 75% since 1980, with rates of of triplets, quadruplets (and other multiple births) increasing at an even greater rate.


Our identical twin boys are very close with each other, sleeping in the same room together even though they have their own rooms. They don’t communicate telepathically (at least I don’t think they do) but they are often on the same wavelength in other ways. They were born with a best friend, and I love being their dad.


As a college and admissions expert though, I have always been fascinated by the college-going behavior of twins. A good friend of mine, who is a college counselor at a very large high school in Minnesota, has been tracking college enrollment choices of twins for several years. He notes a consistent pattern over the last 10 years in which fraternal twins will attend the same college at a much lower rate than that of identical twins. In fact, he observed at his school that identical twins attend the same college about 70% of the time, as compared to 25% of the time for fraternal twins.


What most people don’t think about though is what happens inside an admissions office when a set of twins does apply. Twin applicants generated the most consistently interesting decisions of which I was a part during my over 20 year admissions career. Should both students get the same decision or not? Some admissions offices prefer for twin applicants to receive the same decision. Admissions officers genuinely care about their applicants and the idea of a household receiving differing decisions for each sibling is tough to imagine. In that instance, if one of the twins is academically a better fit for that college than the other, how do you do that?


This is what makes a holistic admissions process so interesting on the inside, and so confusing on the outside. How do you quantify differences between two applicants who are often so similar, as in sharing a large portion of their DNA? How can you split that hair, err genome?


Well if you ask me, and any other parent of twins, I will tell you that even though my sons look a lot alike, there are some important differences that become clear if you pay enough attention. Over time, you become attuned to their quirks, their interests, and their tendencies. Not better or worse, but different. Admissions officers spend years and thousands of hours learning how to similarly pay enough attention to the differences between applicants. Not better or worse, but different in terms of fit for a college community. I can’t speak for all parents of twins, but my wife and I really work to treat them as individuals, encouraging different sports and activities and calling them by their names (never “the twins”). I hope that an admissions officer would treat them as individuals as well.


The key is to let your student tell their story (whether they are a twin or not) in their application and let the reviewing admissions officer do their work. You can only control the inputs to the process, not the outcomes.


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