Elizabeth and Lauren Bradshaw, twins born just two minutes apart, are headed to college this fall. When I met the 17-year-olds on a sunny June morning, like many high school graduates, both wore t-shirts proudly proclaiming the colleges they plan to attend.
Unlike most grads though, Elizabeth and Lauren were able to take advantage of some quite unusual, exciting, and challenging opportunities enroute to their high school diplomas. Their interesting journey started long ago: these intelligent and vivacious girls were homeschooled from kindergarten to 12th grade.
During high school, they helped build out office suites to house their mom’s co-op classes, they packed nearly six years of credits on their transcripts (including about a dozen dual-credit college courses each!), and both of them have completed several prestigious internships.
Elizabeth is headed to Purdue University with a National Merit Scholarship from the Siemens Corp. Although she was offered a full-ride scholarship to University of Alabama, in Huntsville, she turned it down in favor of Purdue, where she plans on majoring in aerospace engineering, and is considering a math minor.
Lauren is headed to the University of Virginia, where she will major in biology on a pre-veterinarian track. She received scholarships for public speaking from National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She also received a National Merit Scholarship from the Siemens Corp.
Both sisters are eagerly anticipating their future adventures, excited to experience college full time, and grateful as they reflect on how homeschooling has prepared them for their next chapter.
When I sat down with them to hear more about their experiences and their perspective, our conversation was filled with laughter, vivid memories, and insightful comments.
How long have you been homeschooled?
Elizabeth: Since the very beginning! But officially, mom would say we started homeschooling when we were 4. Our love for learning from an early age created a natural progression that grew into homeschooling.
What are some of your favorite memories from homeschooling?
Elizabeth: When we were little, we did a TON of field trips. One of our favorites was the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. We went to Stratford Hall to visit a museum about fossil hunting, and then we went to some local cliffs looking for shark teeth. In Gore, VA, we found even more fossils.
HSLDA photo/Sandra Kim
Lauren: I found a part of a brachiopod on one of our fossil-finding trips, and it’s now in a museum! When we were 14, we got to watch a live open-heart surgery as part of our biology class. It was so cool! Both of those experiences are probably part of the reason why I am so passionate about biology now. Seneca Schoolhouse was also one of our favorite field trip memories—we got to be students in a 19th century schoolhouse for a day!
What extracurriculars did you participate in?
Lauren: Our mom started our Girl Scouts troop in 2012, and at our peak we had 55 girls. It was a huge troop. Through Girl Scouts, we were able to go to Richmond for a day and to Stratford Hall for a day. We also went to Destinations Girl Scouts, which is a Girl Scout program described as the "ultimate adventure for individuals." It was a combination of hiking, canoeing, and learning about geology, nature, and conservation. I was even stepped on by an elk at Yellowstone!
Lauren & Elizabeth: In high school, we were the founders of most high school clubs at Compass, we were involved in the newspaper for a while, we were members in the local honor society, and we competed on the mock trial team.
Elizabeth: I especially enjoyed the astronomy club. And I just received the Girl Scout Gold Award (an achievement similar to Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts) for writing a book about careers in aerospace called, Your Place in Space. When it was published in 2021, I held workshops, a patch program, and other events .
How has homeschooling allowed you to thrive?
Lauren: We got so far ahead that we technically finished high school last year at age 16! My parents weren’t comfortable with us heading to college at such a young age, so we have been completing more dual-credit college classes, working to save for college, helping our mom with her co-op, and participating in several internships.
What about "normal" high school activities, like sports or prom?
Lauren: We love prom! This year, it was very big with a Hollywood theme. One year, we had a semi-formal called “The "SnowBall," and I think we had 70 people attend. Our May 20 prom had an enchanted forest theme. We had around 75 people at that one, too. We had a committee for decorations, food, etc. and it turned out well. I also went to the cherry blossom prom two years ago. The theme was “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” There's still fake ivy on the ceiling (in the co-op)! We’re proud of ourselves for taking the leap to dance!
You mentioned helping your mom with her co-op. What was that experience like?
Lauren: Well, for several years our mom has run a co-op for local homeschoolers. For a while we were students. We have been part-time employees for the past two years. Our main responsibilities have been website administration and doing the payroll. We've also helped set up events, liaised with teachers and students, and even constructed the inside of the co-op suites, including the one we're sitting in now!
Elizabeth: Yeah, helping with construction gave us a lot of experiences and a strange variety of skills! For example, I learned how to put screws into metal studs. We invested lots of time here. In the summer of 2020, we spent the whole summer in suite D, cleaning, hanging decorations, organizing, and building and assembling furniture. It was quite a different experience!
You both also participated in two different dual-credit programs. What was that experience like?
Elizabeth: We both took classes at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University (GMU). I took about a dozen classes, including French, chemistry, physics, and programming. I really enjoyed geology!
Lauren: Between NOVA and GMU, I think I took 10, maybe 11 classes. I took French 200-300 level classes, art history, and chemistry 1 and 2 at NOVA. At GMU, I took conservation biology 300 level—it was a great class!
How did you get to college classes?
Lauren: Our parents had to drive us the entire time. We started high school two years early (and that’s when we started our college classes), so my mom used to wait outside our classrooms. We were 13 years old! We just got our driver’s licenses last month, on June 7. We got them together! We drive ourselves everywhere now.
I heard you both also had several internships while in high school?
Lauren: I did a two-week research program at the Duke University Lemur Center. My research focus was on the activity of ring-tailed lemurs in captivity compared to those in the wild. It was a marvelous experience studying the largest captive population of lemurs outside of Madagascar. I also did an internship at GMU one summer with their Aspiring Scientist Summer Internship Program. I got to study forest fragmentation and how it affects birds and their diversity in the Amazon.
Elizabeth: My main internship was with NASA in Goddard, MD, studying X-ray astrophysics. X-radiation is absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere, and we are able to observe astronomical objects and phenomenon that emit radiation at X-ray wavelengths. By analyzing data from X-ray telescopes, I was able to gather insights into galaxy formation and their evolution.
What are your plans for your last summer before college?
Elizabeth: Lauren and I work together at the Smithsonian (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) National Air and Space Museum. I've been a Smithsonian employee since January 2022. I am an “explainer.” My job is to bridge the knowledge gap for visitors by explaining about artifacts in the museum. I also explain how airplanes fly, and how astronauts live and work in space and on the Saturn V. This summer I am working 6.5-hour shifts twice a week.
I also tutor. And I started a business in 2020 drawing custom pet portraits.
Lauren: Along with working at the Smithsonian, I'm a hostess at a restaurant. My first shift was also in January. I have been able to use my conversational French at the restaurant and I just got employee of the month!
Do you have any friends going to college with you?
Lauren: Yes! I'm really excited because several of my friends who were also homeschooled are also going to University of Virginia.
Elizabeth: I have one co-worker who is going to Purdue.
How do you feel about going to college?
Elizabeth: It's going to be a huge change for me. I am looking forward to the new opportunities it will bring and to being a part of larger community with 40,000 students. I just auditioned for the band for the clarinet! Because I could study the things I was passionate about while homeschooling, I am already super well prepared as I look towards choosing a major and college classes.
Lauren: I'd say I am most excited about advanced and high-level classes. I already know I want to take microbial ecology and history of architecture! College is going to offer a wide range of classes that will allow me to hopefully thrive academically, and engaging with so many students will help challenge me. Homeschooling has given me an advantage academically, too, because I've managed myself for the last five years. I know how to study and write long papers. I am excited to really enjoy the classes and drink in knowledge.
We'll be 600 miles apart. That will be different since we’ve been together our whole lives. I'm going to miss her. I'm going to call her. There's the clingy sibling … (me)—I will be calling her randomly.
Elizabeth: I'm not answering her if I'm in the middle of a final!
Questions about homeschooling through high school? Check out our online guide.