When Elena Light ’13 first visited Yale, she ran into a different kind of competition than the typical applicant. “I came to Yale and my twin sister said, ‘I’m applying here. Sorry.’ I told her, ‘No you’re not! It’s my favorite school.’”
Elena’s decision to separate from her twin is not an uncommon one. For many Yalies who are one of a pair, coming to college offers a chance to become their own person. Katie White ’13, whose twin brother chose to attend Claremont McKenna College, found the experience liberating. “Throughout your whole life, part of your identity was being part of a twin. You’re a unit,” Katie says. “In high school my name wasn’t just Katie, it was Katie and Sam, the White twins.”
Elena agrees that being viewed as a dual-unit could be frustrating. “[My sister and I] were very different people and everyone knew that, but we were still grouped together,” she says. Now that she’s in college, “It’s nice to know that people still remember my name, even if there’s not the novelty of being a twin attached,” she says.
Still, most twins find it just as challenging to adapt to college life without their “other-half.” While most of her friends complained of a lack of “alone time,” Sarah DeLappe ’12 was dealing with the opposite problem. After years spent doing everything in sync with her twin, whether that be co-editing the school newspaper or eating breakfast, her sister’s absence from her life in campus multiplied feelings of homesickness. Olivia Rogan ’12, a triplet whose brother attends Harvard and whose sister attends the University of Pennsylvania, found that the separation from her siblings was a relief when she first came to school but wonders if she would prefer their company at school now that she’s adjusted to life here.
Some Yalies find that their twins’ alternate trajectories go beyond choosing different schools. Both Katie and Olivia dealt with an additional separation when their brothers took gap years. For Katie, who had originally planned on taking a year off with her brother, this change raised new questions. “It’s tricky when you have separate lives but are still basically on the same track. We no longer have the bond of being sophomores in college,” she says. “I’m happy for him, but I still wonder if taking a gap year is something that I should have done.”
Despite some speculation about what life would be like had they chosen to stay together for college, none of the students interviewed questions that Yale is the right fit for them. It can be easy to think that just because two people are twins, they must be attracted to the same activities and majors. But for many at Yale, this is not the case.
Autumn Von Plinsky ’13 always knew that she and her twin brother would split up for college because of their divergent interests. She concentrates on the sciences and arts, while he explores music production at Georgia Southern University. “I’ve had a very positive experience [at Yale], and I wonder if he were to come here, would he have the same resources at the tips of his fingers?”
Elena and her twin have also found that the decision to separate suits their different academic focuses. Elena’s time here has allowed her to pursue art history while her twin has engaged in public policy at Georgetown. “We both went places where we’ve been given the best opportunities for our individual pathways. What really validated that Yale was the right fit for me was when [my sister] visited and said, ‘This is perfect for you!’”
Indeed, this extra assurance, as well as the chance to reconnect over a weekend, is a welcome occurrence. Most twins try to visit each other at least two or three times a semester, and upon such visits, Sarah has discovered that other Yalies are often unable to contain their excitement about this “double vision.” “It’s a little bit like you’re a circus freak,” she says. “It’s kind of this weird sitcom thing.”
Elena, who occasionally forgets to tell her friends that she’s a twin, also encounters screams across Cross Campus when her sister visits. “Being a twin you automatically get all this attention — ‘You’re a twin? Let’s talk!’ I’m always like, ‘I’m Elena. I’m not your random fantasy of a beer commercial twin,’” she says.
As far as their relationships with other students are concerned, being a twin only helps to strengthen these bonds. For Elena, who was accustomed to having her sister as a moral study buddy, some friends have morphed into “replacement twins.” For Sarah, the attachment to her twin has led her to form similar ties. “I tend to expect a lot out of friendships and to surround myself with really close friends because that’s what I’m used to,” Sarah says.
But whether or not we know that fellow Yalies are one of a pair doesn’t really matter. As Katie White says, at the end of the day, the fact becomes just another interesting bit of trivia, one more thing that rounds out who she is. “Now, even if people know that I have a twin,” she says, “being a twin becomes like playing squash — it’s just one of a set of things that makes you unique.”