By Rebecca Kaplan
July 21, 2008 (USA TODAY) — When Ariella Korn of Buffalo starts college at Hobart and William Smith this fall, it will be like leaving part of herself behind.
That’s because her twin, Elana, will be three hours away at Union College. The 18-year-old fraternal twins have never been separated.
College choices can be “vexing” for twins, says professor Nancy Segal, head of the Twin Studies Center at California State University-Fullerton.
The “going wisdom” is to go to different schools, but “society has to stop putting pressure on twins to separate,” Segal says.
Patricia Malmstrom, director of a consulting service for families with twins, agrees there’s a cultural bias to separate. But both say either choice is fine — as long as the twins are involved in deciding.
Identical twins Kelly and Caitlin McCarthy, 20, decided to stay close. The girls, who will be seniors at Ithaca (N.Y.) College, have been roommates since freshman year.
Both say they have always known they wanted to go to college together. Kelly says she has still gotten the full college experience and made friends, many of whom she and her sister share.
The same was true for Dean Kopsell, 38, of Knoxville, Tenn. He and his identical twin, Dave, were separated in high school after Dave contracted Epstein-Barr virus and had to drop out. They were reunited during Dean’s senior year at Illinois State University; Dave transferred in as a junior and they applied to grad school together.
Both did graduate work in horticulture, and they worked in the same lab at the University of Georgia. They later both got jobs at the University of New Hampshire but now work at different institutions.
“It was nice for the real hard times in my life to have my brother there,” Dean Kopsell says.
But others advocate separation. Louis Keith, an identical twin and president of the Center for the Study of Multiple Birth in Chicago, says it is “absolutely a necessity” for twins to separate in college to develop into individuals.
Shelly and Kelly Ostrofsky, 18, of Houston share that desire for independence. Shelly is going to Washington University in St. Louis and Kelly to Duke in Durham, N.C.
When the Ostrofskys met President Bush at a fundraiser in March, they say even he told them to go to separate colleges — as he said he advised his own twins, Jenna and Barbara, to do. Jenna graduated from the University of Texas-Austin and Barbara from Yale.
Most colleges have no specific policy on twins; some officials say they are considered separately, but most add that they will see if the decisions are consistent.
Admissions representatives at the University of Maryland, University of Texas, Rice University in Houston and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (which accepted quadruplets for the class of 2012) say they read applications individually, but most try to deliver the same decision to twins.
Consultant Bari Norman of Expert Admissions has advised academically stronger twins to apply to schools where their siblings might need a boost. She says she has found that schools generally consider twins as a package.
Some schools have even taken steps to attract twins by offering special scholarships. Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., has a scholarship for twins and triplets that pays 45% of tuition for each child. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College provides $440 per child per fall and spring for room expenses for twins and triplets.
Greg Roberts, senior associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, says his office has on occasion changed the decision of one twin to fit the other.
“We are sensitive to family dynamics and the special bond and rivalry between many sets of twins,” he says. But, he says, they might be waitlisted or denied rather than accepted.