It was Nick Wade’s idea to write about being a quadruplet. He went on a college advice website called College Confidential, and in a chat room about college admissions essays, asked whether other people thought this would be a good idea.
A college essay adviser, Christopher Hunt, noticed his question, and replied, in essence, “That’s a no-brainer.” But Mr. Hunt, a former journalist now living in Boulder, Colo., had some advice. “I said, ‘Yes, that’s good, but you can’t just leave it at, “Oh, gee, I’m a quadruplet.” Tell readers how that influenced your life.’”
So Nick did. So did his brothers. It has paid off.
All four brothers, who go to high school outside Cincinnati, have been accepted by Harvard and Yale, among other top schools.
The Wade quadruplets have spent a lot of their lives trying to carve out individual identities. But when it came time to apply to college, they took a different approach: a package deal. After briefly considering submitting a joint application essay, they decided that each would write an essay detailing his experiences as a quad.
In a clever stroke, the four brothers wrote essays that can be read separately, yet are meant to be read together, like four pieces of a puzzle. Each piece is charming and winning on its own, but together, they are even better, and college admissions officers everywhere seemed to agree and were unwilling to pull them apart.
Nick’s begins: “‘Wade. Wade. Wade. Wade,’ shouted my football coach as he called roll at breakneck speed. ‘Here,’ we shouted in unison.”
Aaron’s begins: “‘Yes, Nigel?’ the teacher said. I lowered my head and glanced back at Nigel’s vacant desk.” Even though the four boys look different, when it came to the teachers, the essay said, “We were four boys who shared one face.”
Nigel begins: “0.00000125 percent. The chance that my mother would give birth to quadruplets. 100 percent. The chance that this woman striding towards me and my brothers was about to make me feel like the black sheep.”
Finally, Zach’s essay begins: “‘Change your shirt,’ I said.” (He and Aaron arrived at breakfast wearing the same thing.)
It was not an easy balancing act, said Aaron, a musician with perfect pitch who wants to study artificial intelligence. “Our approach was to establish an identity as one of these quads, and then outside of being a quad,” he said. “I think that really bolstered the way we are perceived. Our own personal aspirations and goals played a role in that, and that’s what made us individuals, as well as being quads.”
The Wade quads are “fertility babies,” conceived through a fertility procedure, a growing part of the college-age population. So it seems likely that admissions officers will tire soon enough of reading college essays about multiples. But for now, they are still a novelty, in the Wades’ case both because they are quads and because their parents managed to raise four exceptionally high-achieving boys.
Their high achievement was no accident, the boys say. When they were younger, their father, Darrin Wade, a software architect for General Electric, would punish disciplinary infractions like lying by making them do situps and push-ups and run around the block. He and their mother, Kim, a school principal, also had them do word puzzles, memorize math tables and write book reports at home from a young age.
Mr. Wade describes his child-rearing philosophy as, “There is no Santa Claus, but there is a God,” which seems to translate into the idea that nothing in life is free, but you will be rewarded for your hard work and good deeds.
The Wade parents met in math class at Jackson State University, a historically black university in their native state of Mississippi. Jackson State would have taken all four on scholarship, Mr. Wade says, but their sons had different ideas.
The Wade children did not take it for granted that they would do so well with their admissions. They all say they were shocked at being admitted to so many schools, especially Ivy League schools.
The young men applied to as many as they could — Nicholas and Aaron to about 20 and their brothers to a dozen or so each — because they were trying to get the best possible financial aid package. Sending four children to college simultaneously is not easy, even for an upper-middle class family like theirs.
So far, Yale has given them the best financial aid deal, they said, and has assiduously courted them, offering to fly them to New Haven to visit the campus, something they could not afford to do before they were accepted. (Yale admitted another set of African-American quadruplets, two boys and two girls, in 2010.)
But they are not sure whether Yale’s offer is a package deal, and whether, if Aaron breaks away and goes elsewhere, as he is considering, that will compromise it. He favors, and has been accepted by, Stanford.
“One of the majors they offer is called symbolic systems,” Aaron said. “I want to go into artificial intelligence. I love how they have this really huge interdisciplinary focus — computer science, cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy, mathematics — I just love all those ideas bubbling together.”
Nigel, who wants to study neuroscience, was wait-listed and Zach, who is thinking of chemical engineering, was rejected by Stanford, so perhaps for the first time in their lives, the interests of one is pitted against those of the others. Aaron was accepted by Ohio State, Miami University (known as the “public Ivy” of Ohio), Case Western, Jackson State, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan, to give just a partial list, and rejected by Northwestern and Tulane.
Nick, the future diplomat, is the only one who has not yet been rejected or wait-listed by a single college. Laughing, he said that he was the least academically prepared, but that he thought admissions officers were impressed by his State Department scholarship to Morocco. It was his first trip out of the country. He studied Arabic and was often called “Obama,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Harvard said it did not have a sibling preference. Yale declined to comment.
The brothers asked that precise details about their academic records not be disclosed. But they said they were all in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. Aaron, the musician, said he was among the top 25 students in his class, and their ACT scores range from the 94th to the 99th percentile.
Their father, known to everyone as the “quad dad,” says there was no great secret to their success: “It wasn’t a choice to be average.”