National Merit program propels seniors up to success

Mihika Sathe, manager

Every fall, approximately 16,000 of the 1.6 million Preliminary SAT (PSAT) test-takers in the nation are named National Merit Semifinalists. This recognition is reserved for the top 1% of test-takers, and is a prestigious achievement that can enhance a senior’s college applications. Furthermore, 90% of Semifinalists advance in the competition to become finalists through an additional application process. Along with recognition for their achievements, Finalists receive numerous benefits such as scholarships from the National Merit program or from colleges themselves. 

This year, 19 Edina High School students were named National Merit Semifinalists. Senior Romy Luong is one of the students recognized this year. “I definitely think that being a Semifinalist is an honor because it shows my hard work throughout high school,” Luong said. Additionally, many Semifinalists look forward to the financial benefits of the program. “I think being a Semifinalist is really cool because you can earn a lot of scholarships if you become a Finalist,” senior Ruoran Xu added. 

The financial aspect is a major incentive for many students preparing for the PSAT.  “My brother is a sophomore in college right now, so I know that college costs a lot. I studied really hard for the PSAT so I can get a scholarship and decrease the cost of college,” Xu said. 

According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s website, finalists are eligible to receive one of three types of scholarships: a $2,500 scholarship from National Merit, a corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship award, or a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award. At certain colleges, college-sponsored Merit Scholarships can cover a significant portion of tuition. For example, at the University of Southern California, finalists can receive scholarships covering half their tuition. As a result, college-specific scholarships seriously defray the cost of college for students and their families. 

In addition to financial benefits such as scholarships, becoming a National Merit Semifinalist or Finalist can also boost seniors’ college applications. Achieving finalist status indicates to college admissions officers that a student is hard-working and successful, both inside and outside the classroom. Because of this, National Merit Finalists may have a higher admissions rate at some selective colleges and universities. For example, about 20% of Carleton College’s incoming class was made up of National Merit Finalists, whereas Finalists only make up 0.9% of the seniors in the nation. 

Due to the scholarship and academic opportunities, studying for the PSAT may seem daunting because the stakes are so high. However, this year’s Semifinalists have several tips for students planning on taking the PSAT in the future. “My number one tip is to start studying early. I think I started taking practice tests in September. For math, I prepared by doing a lot of practice problems,” Xu said.

“This applies to all standardized tests, but know what your weaknesses are so you can prepare in those areas specifically. If you know you’re really good at math but not so good at English, spend more time studying for the English section,” Luong added. 

Overall, EHS students are very successful on the PSAT. In the last five years, the number of National Merit Semifinalists has ranged from 14 to 20 students. Generally, all of the Semifinalists from EHS advance in the competition to become Finalists. For example, in 2017 and 2018, all of the Semifinalists from EHS earned Finalist status. This further exemplifies the academic success of students at EHS.