I'm a sibling, get me out of here: Studying at the same university as your sibling

University is traditionally a place where you can fly the nest and assert your independence, away from the confines of family life. So what happens when you end up at the same university as your nearest and/or dearest?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Helen and Katherine Burch discuss the pros and cons of having a sister on campus. They remain on speaking terms. So far...

Katherine is a second year

The bad...

"You can't just follow your sister to university," one friend told me. Oh yeah? Watch me...

Of course most people who go to the same university as their siblings do not go there because their family member studies there, myself included. They choose it for the course or location. This may sometimes be the same because you and your siblings have similar interests, or you may just end up there. Still, it can be very annoying when people assume that you are a clingy younger sister unable to go anywhere alone.

If you have the good luck or bad luck, depending on your point of view, to look like an identical but slightly younger version of your sibling, people will immediately come up to you going “awww it's miniature Helen.” But however cute you may look to them, pinching your cheeks whilst telling you this is not appropriate and actually quite painful. Also, while ordinarily my sister and I get on well, I can't help feeling that if we ever did fall out, she would have rather a lot of information to blackmail me with.

The good...

One great thing you have is someone to confide in who won't gossip about you (well not to your friends but possibly to your parents). As much as I love university and the close-knit world you live in there, it can sometimes be a bit intense and every little thing that happens can spread like wildfire. So it can be a relief to have somebody to talk to who won't repeat what you say to everyone you know.

Personally I love meeting new people. And having a sister around, you will have your sibling’s friends to provide a different group of amigos for you to hang out with. This helps you encounter people from other years who are not doing your course who you otherwise would not meet. Also it's very advantageous to have an instant group of friends when you arrive as a Fresher.

...and The useful

Another great thing about going to the same university as your older sibling is the food. It's a bit like having your mum around to cook for you. When all the other first years are living off of pasta having run out of money, you can go round to your lovely sibling’s and have a full roast dinner, made even better by the fact it is not from a microwave or pub.

Helen is a third year

The bad...

“I thought the wine had hit me hard and I was going mad,” said one person on my course after seeing a strangely different, ultra-smiley version of me bouncing around an end of year ball and believing they were starting to hallucinate.

As Katherine has mentioned, this was exactly what we had expected. Due to our similarity, Katherine quickly got used to grinning and waving maniacally at people she didn’t know, just so they didn’t think I’d ignored them. However, I did receive one different response. “I wish you hadn’t warned me off your sister,” said one charming boy, with no hint of a joke. “She’s hotter than you”. This lack of politeness proved why I’d felt the need to tell him to keep away with the ferocity of a pitch-fork wielding farmer.

The good...

However, I discovered quite a few benefits of having your sibling at the same uni as you. The whole of campus suddenly starts to feel like your front room. You begin to wonder how that stranger got in, and give them a long, territorial stare, before you remember that they have to fill their water bottle from the uni dining hall too. Attending a freshers’ event alongside real, hyper-excited freshers can be fun, jogging memories of how you felt before transforming into a jaded, world weary, second or third year.

While adding to your slight sense of superiority that you are obviously far above any old event that has ‘fancy dress' and 'cheap shots’ in the title (yet still jumping up and down in the front row wearing a pair of glittery angel wings slightly askew). This self-satisfaction quickly disappears when you’re bogged down in essays that actually matter towards your degree, growling “I can’t go out, some of us have REAL work,” as your sister sashays off to another pub.  

There is also a strong possibility that you may get on better now that you aren’t forced to inhabit the same few square metres. You may find it easier to forgive certain annoying habits, such as their penchant for German rap music, when you don’t have to be in the same house. If you really can’t stand each other and have been forced to attend the same location due it being the best place you have been accepted, or specialising in your course, then don’t worry about running into each other all the time; you will almost never meet. Even in the small Cornish town that we inhabit, Katherine and I have met each other only once without arranging it. Different years and different friends mean that you would have to be incredibly unlucky to have a timetable and nights out that coordinated with each other. 

...and the useful

Finally, if your sister or brother shows a selfish urge to take a gap year, remind them that student finance gives far larger maintenance grants to students who have at least one brother or sister at university and a household income of under £50,000 per annum. And you thought your annoying younger sibling would never be any use...

Katherine and Helen Burch are in their second and third years respectively at the University of Exeter.