Jacob was the eldest living son, and he was forced at age 11 to assume adult responsibilities (shared with Wilhelm) for the next two years.
Their poverty kept them from student activities or university social life; ironically, however, their outsider status worked in their favor, and they pursued their studies with extra vigor.
According to Jack Zipes, at this point "the Grimms were unable to devote all their energies to their research and did not have a clear idea about the significance of collecting folk tales in this initial phase." During their employment as librarians—which paid little but afforded them ample time for research—the brothers experienced a productive period of scholarship, publishing a number of books between 18.
They went on to publish works about Danish and Irish folk tales and Norse mythology, while continuing to edit the German folk tale collection.
The university was small with about 200 students and there they became painfully aware that students of lower social status were not treated equally.
They were disqualified from admission because of their social standing and had to request dispensation to study law.
The two brothers differed in temperament; Jacob was introspective and Wilhelm was outgoing (although he often suffered from ill-health).