Jade (left) and Crystal Wang (right) at a few months old.

After a long day of TNDs and campus tours of buildings that even the PA cannot keep straight, it’s time for yet another ice breaker. The goal of this one is to go around the room and tell a fun fact about yourself that no one else can claim. For Weinberg second-year Alice Meng, this might mean pulling out her “free fun fact”: She’s a twin.

Approximately 3% of the U.S. population are twins, according to the National Library of Medicine. That means if Northwestern perfectly modeled the U.S., about 255 undergraduates would be twins.

In 2019, Northwestern and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign launched the Illinois Twin Project, which was intended to be a resource for researchers focusing on how genes and environment affect twins. It was similar to the Texas Twin Project at the University of Texas at Austin, which focused on how twins grow up differently.

NBN talked to different pairs of twins about their experiences growing up with a twin and how that changed as they started college.

Weinberg second-year Connor Caserio said he is equally close with all his three sisters, but he and his twin, Weinberg second-year Mary Caserio, have a different relationship. Being at the same school, the twins have some mutual friends, but they are involved in different activities.

“We both try to have our own college experience and do our own things,” Connor said. “But ultimately, when times are tough, I have that person I can count on.”

From drivers licenses to graduations to birthdays, Connor said there is something special about going through life experiences at the same time as a twin. He said they have a unique type of bond.

“Maybe to an outsider that might seem like you’re losing your sense of individuality in some sense because you’re going through all those experiences together,” Connor said. “But I would say that, maybe because I don’t know any different, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Like Connor and Mary, Alice and her twin, Weinberg second-year Nina Meng, are both at Northwestern. Alice and Nina also have some friends in common, but feel that they have lost some individuality because they are twins.

Nina (left) and Alice Meng (right) in 2020/2021. Photo courtesy of Alice Meng.

Alice said people often thought of her and Nina as a package deal, but that college has allowed her to understand herself as an individual.

“I’m my own person, too, and I’m gonna do my own things and have my own interests,” Alice said. “Sometimes it is hard to have my own identity, in a way, and do things for myself and not just because she’s also doing them.”

Nina agreed with Alice and said it can be annoying to be “reduced to one person.” She said people often assume they both like all the same things.

“That’s definitely something that’s made it a little bit difficult to find who I am as my own person instead of having this persona projected onto me because they already have a conception of how I should be,” Nina said.

Nina said when she and Alice were younger, people were more likely to look for differences between them. Weinberg first-year Ainsley Lauer had a similar experience during high school. She and her twin, Aubrey, were involved in similar activities and were in the same friend group, but they diverged in smaller ways.

Ainsley (left) and Aubrey Lauer (right) in June 2022.

Now that Ainsley and Aubrey are at different colleges, Ainsley said she sees how their differences helped them to end up at different places.

“I think we maybe did have a little more natural tendency toward one side or another, but taking on those labels we diverged a little more,” Ainsley said. “I think that’s how I ended up in cognitive science here and she ended up in art school.”

Ainsley said she and Aubrey are close and were in the same friend group throughout high school. Ainsley visited Aubrey at the Savannah College of Art and Design in February and said the most striking thing about visiting was how different their college experiences were.

“I didn’t realize that being in the same friend group and going to the same high school and growing up in the same household had made us in most ways very, very similar people,” Ainsley said. “It was weird to see how you could take two very similar people and put them in two very different places and how that would change both of us.”

Weinberg second-year Akash Deo said he and his twin, Akhil, can bond over their activities and classes, even though they attend different schools. Akhil, who attends Johns Hopkins University, and Akash are both computer science majors.

Akash said he and Akhil started to look less similar and get involved in different activities in high school, but they are involved in similar activities in college.

“We do a lot of the same things in our respective colleges,” Akash said. “He’s a computer science major, I’m a computer science major. We can discuss what we’re up to when we talk and it’s fun to have someone to bounce ideas off of.”

The distance between Akash and his twin has not “mutated” their relationship. Akash said they try to keep in touch every week and when they do get to see each other, it is like no time has passed.

“He probably knows me the best out of anyone else because he’s been by my side for all of the 20 years that I’ve lived on this planet,” Akash said. “It’s a pretty comforting feeling.”

Medill first-year Jade Wang and her twin, Crystal, also attend different schools and have learned how to keep in touch this year. Jade said she is grateful for Crystal, who attends the University of California, Irvine.

Jade (left) and Crystal Wang (right) in December 2022. Photo courtesy of Jade Wang.

Jade said she and Crystal were able to help each other with the stress of going to college because they were experiencing it at the same time.

“Coming into college, both of us were stressed about having to make a new friend group and the whole issue of freshman year,” Jade said. “She was more stressed about it, which was weird because she is more confident but she was more stressed about it because she was like, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna vibe with anyone at Irvine,’ and I resonated with that.”

Jade said they had to be a little uncomfortable apart. She said she is looking forward to being with Crystal over the summer and that being a twin is a privilege.

“My mom always tells us, ‘You’re only gonna have your sister in the end as you grow up,’” Jade said. “It’s kind of dark but your parents are not gonna be there forever, your friends aren’t gonna be there forever, but your sister – and being a twin, there’s no age gap – so you guys are going to go through life together.”