Twin brothers Paul Caroline and Peter Caroline of Louisburg began their higher education at Vance-Granville Community College and will soon continue that education at two of the nation’s top universities.
Both received full QuestBridge scholarships, Paul to the University of Pennsylvania and Peter to Stanford University. According to U.S. News & World Report, Stanford is the country’s most selective university, accepting only five percent of applicants, while Penn has the 14th lowest acceptance rate.
The brothers have attended VGCC for the last five years through the Franklin County Early College High School program, allowing them to simultaneously complete high school diplomas and college degrees, tuition-free. Each is graduating this month with both an Associate in Arts degree and an Associate in Science degree from the community college.
Looking back on his experience, Paul said that his favorite classes at VGCC were his math, science and Spanish classes. “I enjoyed all of my science courses, because my instructors always related the information we discussed in class to applications in the real world,” he reflected. “After each lab or lecture, I looked at certain parts of daily life in a new light and tried to think of ways to make connections with what I learned. I often found myself running home and excitedly telling my parents things that I learned in class, like the fact that you can boil water without heat, or that green beans are actually fruits!”
Likewise, Peter most enjoyed science classes like Chemistry and Biology, along with American Literature. “They’re all some of the most difficult courses I’ve taken, but I feel they’ve helped me the most to learn and improve academically and personally,” he said. “Plus, they were fun; the experiments were levels beyond what I’d do on the high school campus. Meanwhile, the discussions in English about literature, history, and life in general made me think deeper about situations and information.”
When they were high school sophomores, the Carolines became aware of QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization that connects the nation’s brightest students from low-income backgrounds with leading institutions of higher education. They each received an email, inviting them to be involved in the program because of their strong academics. Peter recalled, “Here was this organization I had never heard of promising me free tuition to an Ivy League school; of course, I thought it was too good to be true or there was some catch. But I forwarded it to my mother, talked to my school counselor, and applied my senior year.”
Both were accepted into the program. They received free essay coaching and tips about applying to colleges. QuestBridge allowed them to apply early to 38 prestigious universities for a chance to receive a full, four-year scholarship. Each participating student ranks up to 12 universities. “If a school at the top of a student’s ranking list does not wish to award that student a scholarship, then the application would be sent to the next school on the list, and so on,” Paul explained. There was no guarantee that a student would be “matched” with a university on their list, he said. “There were over 14,000 applicants in the QuestBridge National College Match Program, and only about 700 received scholarships.”
Eventually, the long-awaited news came to both twins. “I remember I was on the VGCC campus when I found out,” Peter said. “In Franklin Campus Building 5, I was reading a book in the VNet room (where the most comfortable chairs are) and I got a text from Paul, saying: ‘I got into Penn :)’. So after that I rushed to the lab and checked my QuestBridge account and saw I got into Stanford. Both used the exact same three words to describe their feeling at the time: “I was ecstatic.”
While the brothers had been attracted to some of the same four-year schools, Penn was only on Paul’s list and Stanford only on Peter’s. Now, they will head off to universities on opposite ends of the country. “I think that these schools will be a perfect fit for each of us,” Paul said. He intends to study Molecular and Cell Biology at the Ivy League university.
“I have always liked science, because it can explain how things work,” he said. “I ultimately chose to study biomedical sciences after hearing about the advancements in the field in 2014 at a seminar in Washington, D.C., called the Congress of Future Medical Leaders. I began reading medical journals in my spare time and trying to make sense of them. After several weeks of reading journals and Googling words that I didn’t know, I was able to understand the material and make suggestions based on the conclusions I had drawn. I really liked this kind of research, because it delved into cell and molecular biology, which is aimed at understanding small processes related to living things.”
Paul said he was drawn to Ivy League schools, “because of their rich history and traditions, academic rigor, and strength in research. I was also intrigued by the idea of living in the city, because I had always lived in suburban and rural areas throughout my life. Since I am generally a quiet person, I think that going to Penn, which is known as the ‘Social Ivy,’ will help me develop socially.”
For his part, Peter has been “obsessed” with Stanford since his junior year. He plans to study Biology and Biomedical Science at the large California university. “There are a lot of people, but it’s greatly different from North Carolina,” he said. “I think I enjoy the sciences and cardiology so much because it offers real solutions to problems in the world. Specifically for cardiology, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the country and it’s only going to progress without research and efficient policy. I think I can do my part to make a difference, so after school I would like to pursue a career in research and as a cardiovascular surgeon.”
High-achieving brothers might be expected to be quite competitive with one another. According to Paul, they are “competitive, although in a lighthearted sort of way.… We enjoy seeing each other’s achievements, which have always seemed to alternate from time to time. I think that this sort of supportive competitiveness has made us strive toward excellence. Instead of having a negative effect, it gives a sort of standard to maintain in all that we do.” Peter does not see them as focusing on competition. “We sometimes joke with each other about whose grade was higher or who did best in a certain class, but more than anything, we push each other to succeed together,” he said. “We both believe in each other’s abilities and are always learning from each other, so it’s more like we’re teammates than competitors.”
Both say that their family has always instilled in them the value of education. “Since elementary school, my parents have not only encouraged me to do well in school, but they have also searched different areas in order to ensure the quality of the schools that my brother and I attended,” Paul noted. Similarly, Peter recalled that family members encouraged them to be “leaders, not followers.”
The twins say that their community college experience has prepared them well for the next steps in their journeys. Both students have earned President’s List honors at VGCC, and Paul was VGCC’s recipient of the North Carolina Community College System’s Academic Excellence Award for 2017.
“The most important way that VGCC classes have prepared me for attending a four-year university involves expectations in the classroom, as well as the nature of assignments,” Paul said. “Once I had a feel for the rigor and expectations of VGCC classes, I was able to engage in a new level learning which goes beyond completing assignments, and begins to reach into the process of asking new questions, conducting new research, and having new discussions.”
Peter added, “Using VGCC and Early College as a means of getting through college quickly wasn’t why I enrolled. I came for the knowledge, experience, and relationships that would make me a stronger college student and better person. Vance-Granville has given me opportunities to succeed, ideas to challenge and cultivate, and knowledge in a variety of subjects. I think at Stanford, I will be a student that will definitely leave an impression on the school, and hopefully, my environment.”
“Peter and Paul Caroline are true scholars,” said Evelyn Hall, VGCC’s college liaison for Franklin County Early College High School. “These super-seniors bring inquisitive minds and add thoughtful reflection to every class they complete. Their commitment to achievement extends beyond the classroom to service as well. Paul tutors VGCC students in a number of academic areas, and Peter serves as a mentor for our FCECHS students. Always seeking excellence as their singular ideal and aim, Paul and Peter also bring positive energy to all around them. It has been a joy to witness their growth, and I look forward to hearing about many successful endeavors and discoveries in their futures.”