Last Wednesday, 16,000 high school seniors across the nation were notified of their recognition as semifinalists in the 65th annual National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP).
Last Wednesday, 16,000 high school seniors across the nation were notified of their recognition as semifinalists in the 65th annual National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP). In October 2018, approximately 1.5 million high school juniors took the PSAT/NMSQT. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) recognized approximately 50,000 student scores. However, only a fraction of the recognized students became semifinalists of the program, 10 of whom were V Formers Shriya Annamaneni, Miranda Cai, Praneel Chakraborty, Aileen Cui, Ashley Duraiswamy, Vincent Huang, Dami Kim, Deven Kinney, Liana Raguso, and Nicholas Zhou.
NMSC is a nonprofit organization established in 1955 specifically to conduct this standardized testing recognition program. Every year, it awards more than $30 million in scholarships to high school seniors based on their PSAT/NMSQT performance. These scholarships are funded by more than 400 educational institutions and businesses that “share the NMSC’s goals of honoring the nation’s scholastic champions and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence,” according to the NMSC’s semifinalists announcement on September 11th.
National Merit Semifinalists are encouraged to submit supplementary materials to the NMSP, which will be used in deciding finalists. Finalists are eligible to win merit scholarships including NMSC’s $2,500 scholarships, corporate-sponsored scholarships, and college-sponsored scholarships. There are 2,500 National Merit scholarships available this year. Every student who wins one of those becomes a certified Merit Scholar, joining a group of over 345,000 students who have earned this title. NMSP disregards identifiers such gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. According to its website, “Merit Scholar designees are selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments, and potential for success in rigorous college studies.” Students who do not become finalists, however, are still eligible for scholarships: the Special Scholarships are awarded to students whose academic achievements meet the requirements of certain corporate sponsors.
At Lawrenceville, several of the semifinalists conceded that they had not been intentionally attempting to win recognition as a Merit Scholar at the time of the PSAT, and the email last Wednesday had come as a complete surprise. “It wasn’t even on my radar,” said Duraiswamy, “but I was also very happy upon finding out because it opened up opportunities that I hadn’t thought of for myself before.” Duraiswamy plans on discussing with her college counselor and submitting supplementary materials.
On the other hand, Annamaneni believes that the NMSP has its drawbacks. “It’s not a very holistic process; it’s all based on the score,” she said. The highest-scoring entrants in each state qualify as semifinalists, and the number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total graduating high school seniors. Annamaneni herself does not plan on submitting supplementary materials. Regardless, she felt “very surprised [...] and excited” upon her notification.
The NMSC will announce the list of National Merit Scholar finalists in February, and scholarship recipients will be notified soon after.