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The National Merit Scholarship

Arcadia Unified

Arcadia Unified

Charles Su, Staff Writer

The National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP) is an annual academic competition that looks for the brightest scholars. The program began in 1955 with it now being a non-profit organization centering in Evanston, Illinois. In its most recent competition, all 50,000 high-scoring qualifiers were narrowed down to 16,000 semi-finalists. Among the semi-finalists were 23 of our own AHS students. To qualify, a student would have to take the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) or the PSAT in their junior year. Sophomores who have taken the PSAT prior must retake it in their junior year. If they meet the qualifications (score of 1300-1400 PSAT), then they would advance to the semi-finals. In some states the NMSQT score varies, for instance, California requires a minimum of 1400 (on PSAT scale), while Wyoming only requires the minimum of 1340. Less than 1% of the nation’s graduating seniors qualify for the semi-finals making the program very prestigious, considering 1.6 million high school students apply yearly. To move onto the finals, you have to meet a series of requirements, ranging from achievements in academics and extracurricular achievement. In the end, only 15,000 students become finalists. Our district has a proud history of NMSP applicants, from the past 20 years we’ve had 547 semi-finalists and 527 finalists. Last year’s competition had 7,500 students selected to receive the honor of receiving National Merit Scholarships, of them were 25 AHS students who received their scholarships.

Senior Estelle Hooper is a finalist with her story beginning with her reluctantly registering for the PSAT in her junior year. She studied weeks prior to the test by taking the Practice Test and reviewing her PSAT notes from her sophomore year. However, she explained, “I think that my success and improvement is attributed to my regular AHS classwork: multiple choice reading tests in AP English 11, which have much more complex questions than the PSAT or SAT, and daily assigned math homework.”

Senior Kevin Tan, another finalist, said the PSAT is the “key” for the NMSP; getting used to the stress and preparation especially helped him. Kevin said becoming a semi-finalist was suspenseful, though he also explained how thorough the evaluations are, “a process in which SAT scores, course rigor, extracurriculars, and a reflective essay are all evaluated.” He finished with this piece of advice, “Overall, just follow your passions throughout high school, and you’ll be a stellar applicant.”

Another finalist, senior Lucia Cheng, explained that she was inspired by people’s hard work. When she saw the effort people around her were putting into academics, she knew she had to try her best as well. Lucia described that advancing to the finals is very similar to a college application. “The organization checks to see what kind of achievements you’ve managed to win over the course of your high school year.” She also described the waiting involved, “from waiting for semi-finalist results to come out, to waiting for the finalist application to be submitted, to waiting for the finalist results to come out next year.” Lucia ended with her opinion about the PSAT in California, “California is extremely competitive though, having the highest selection index out of all the states, which does make it hard for a lot of people to make the cut, even if their score is amazingly high. In that aspect, the program is a bit unfair, for lack of a better word.” In the end, take every opportunity you can get because if you persevere and work hard, you will reach your goals.

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The National Merit Scholarship