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Engineering freshmen Julia and Leila Pikus wrote about their experience as identical twins on their respective applications and were admitted through early decision.

For as long as they can both remember, Engineering freshmen Julia and Leila Pikus have done everything together.

Julia and Leila — who are identical twins — describe themselves as having the same set of friends, the same academic interests and the same personality.

So when it came to submitting college applications during their senior year of high school, Julia and Leila were set on at least one thing — they wanted to attend Penn together.

Applying to Penn as a twin or as a student with an older sibling at the University provides some advantages comparable to the benefits that legacies receive, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda wrote in an e-mail. While siblings alone do not qualify as legacies, Furda wrote that the Admissions Office values some of the deeper connections to the Penn community that these students bring to the table.

For applicants like the Pikus twins, Furda wrote that “we prefer not splitting them up, if possible.” However, he added that “we also need to review them as individuals and will not pull one student into the class because the sibling is going to be admitted.”

Julia Pikus said Furda’s preference is a good one for a school like Penn. Pikus explained that she and her sister — who wrote about their experience as identical twins on their respective applications and were admitted through early decision — would have felt “lost and upset” if one had been accepted and the other had not.

“I think that any set of twins who apply to the same school would be upset if they were split apart,” Pikus said. “Colleges should definitely be sensitive to those concerns.”

College freshman David Spelman, who is part of a rare set of triplets at Penn, agreed. While Spelman described himself and his two brothers as “pretty independent,” he said they all felt a strong connection to Penn from the start of the admissions process.

“If we hadn’t all gotten in, that would’ve been an awful day,” Spelman said. “It’s a tough situation if one sibling is at one end of the spectrum [academically], but I feel that admissions offices should try their best to accommodate them.”

According to Furda, however, there have been instances in the past where one twin has been admitted and the other has not.

Last year, College freshman Whitney Mash — whose fraternal twin Elizabeth is now a freshman at Johns Hopkins University — was “really hoping that both of us would be accepted to Penn.” After Mash learned that she had been waitlisted at Penn and that her sister had been rejected, though, reality hit.

In hindsight, Mash — who was taken off the waitlist near the end of last June — feels that being separated from her sister has been a positive experience.

“I once thought that a school should look at the package instead of the individual, but now I think that it should be the individual, not the package,” she said. “It’s been good to be here on my own.”

For siblings in general, the desire to attend Penn together often stems from well-established connections to the University.

“If Penn is concerned about accepting students who definitely want to attend, then I think that applicants who know the school well through an older sibling are great candidates,” said Wharton freshman Jennie Pechman, whose older brother Michael is a Wharton senior.

Wharton and Engineering senior Nicholas Stevens, whose younger sister Amanda is a College freshman, added that attending Penn with a sibling can provide extra levels of comfort and community. Amanda and Nicholas generally see each other on campus once or twice a week — which both feel has made Penn feel more like home.

While some who see compelling reasons to give siblings a leg up in college admissions, others oppose the practice.

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at public policy think tank The Century Foundation and author of Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in Colleges Admissions, said acceptance to selective institutions should be based on individual merit alone — and no other factor.

“A preference based on family relationships is completely divorced from individual merit,” Kahlenberg said. “We need to consider individual achievement, not mere accidents of birth.”

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