National Merit Scholar Semifinalists Discuss Competition and Their Feelings Towards It


Credit to Image from FHSD

Principal Nathan Hostetler stands with four seniors who were named National Merit Semifinalists. [From left to right] Seniors Madeline DeGraw, Arianna Chaves, Blake Peters and Riley Lawson were all named National Merit Semifinalists.

By Hunter Turpin, Videographer

A recognition in the announcements and a plaque on the wall is the extent of National Merit Scholars that many students see, but often going unnoticed is how the scholars earned the title and how they feel about it.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a United States academic scholarship competition for recognition and university scholarships administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a privately funded, non-for-profit organization. To be eligible, students must meet requirements on the PSAT, followed by an application with further insight to their academic ability through grades, essays and recommendations. Then, another SAT is taken for legitimacy purposes. Of these high achieving students are Arianna Chaves, Madeline DeGraw, Riley Lawson and Blake Peters, all from varying backgrounds and interests coming with different motives and aspirations.

“[Receiving the title] was a big surprise; the number just doesn’t seem attainable,” DeGraw said. “I never expected to be one of the kids taking the test to do that well.”

On average, over three million students take the PSAT each year. Only the top 1% of testers are considered for National Merit Scholar, resulting in approximately 30,000 qualifiers before the application process begins. Numbers so small surrounded by those so large are intimidating to those taking the test resulting in many students setting their goals high, but remaining humble due to the doubts from the high stakes.

“I was striving for National Merit solely because my sister didn’t get it,” Lawson said. “It really isn’t easy to predict how you’ll perform on one test, but there’s nothing like some sibling rivalry to push you.”

Likewise, Chaves was reaching for the award for many reasons.

“It was for sure a goal of mine,” Chaves said. “Once I took the PSAT as a sophomore, I knew I wanted to make it a goal when I took it again as a junior.”

After being awarded as a semifinalist, many colleges and universities begin reaching out to the students bearing various offers, often times bringing about different and new possibilities to students.

“I wasn’t planning on going to Mizzou before, but after finding out what opportunities I would have there and at other schools through scholarships has opened up more options to me,” Peters said.

Unlike the ACT, the PSAT and SAT are based more heavily on material learned in school, rather than problem solving skills. It offers another alternative for students to show a different side of their academic abilities.

“I didn’t really study if I’m being perfectly honest,” DeGraw said. “Instead, I’ve spent the last twelve years of my life studying for it. Trying in school and really retaining the information for so much time equates to time studying. I wasn’t in exactly an ideal situation at the time we were taking these tests, but having basically been preparing for years helped a lot.”

Being part of such a small group of gifted students is shocking and a success worth noting.

“When I told my mom I was a semifinalist, she literally started crying,” DeGraw said. “I had never seen her express that kind of emotion for something like this or something I had accomplished, but this really got to her.”