By: Sydney Sanders
In early September, about 16,000 students, or approximately one-third of the 50,000 high scorers, were notified that they had qualified as semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Oak Grove High School is proud to have two of these semifinalists, seniors Georgia Wyatt and Amanda Hardwick.
“It feels great to be a Semifinalist,” Wyatt said. “Most people don’t even know what [the National Merit Scholarship Program] is.”
The PSAT is a standardized test that provides firsthand practice for the SAT. It also gives students a chance to enter the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) scholarship programs and gain access to college and career planning tools.
From submitting transcripts to letters of recommendations to entrance essays and SAT prep, both girls attribute their success to Andrea Clark, humanities teacher.
“Mrs. Clark is the reason I even knew about the PSAT,” Hardwick said. “Her humanities I and II classes helped my test taking skills tremendously.”
“I owe much to Mrs. Clark for sure,” Wyatt agreed. “She helped me tremendously by giving me loads and loads of practice tests. I also credit other helpful teachers like Mrs. Shoemake, Mrs. Daughtry, and Ms. Welch.”
To ensure that academically able young people from all parts of the country are included in this talent pool, Semifinalists are designated on a state representational basis. They are the highest scoring entrants in each state.
NMSC provides scholarship application materials to semifinalists through their high schools. To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, semifinalists must advance to finalist standing in the competition by meeting high academic standards and all other NMSC requirements.
Wyatt and Hardwick recently took the SAT in early November and are working toward other scholarship requirements. Both say they have worked hard toward this goal since freshman year. “I’ve taken the PSAT every year since 9th grade,” Hardwick said. “I feel good about my accomplishments but know I still have lots of work left to do.”
Clark said she was not surprised that the two young women are semifinalists. “They are intuitive test takers and learn quickly,” Clark said. “They were also both willing to tackle their weaker areas to improve as much as possible. They are both bright and funny students with a strong work ethic.”
At Oak Grove, most students seeking scholarships in the National Merit Program take Mrs. Clark’s humanities I and II courses. During these classes, usually taken during sophomore and junior years, students learn test taking skills and study techniques, and prepare for other standardized tests, such as the ACT. Students on the National Merit path take the PSAT as practice during their freshman and sophomore years. While enrolled in the humanities classes, students take practice test after practice test to prepare for the big day – the third Wednesday in October.
“Humanities is absolutely the way to go,” Wyatt said. “My advice is to take harder math courses, too, which will help you prepare for the math section of the test.”
Because the PSAT is a nationwide test, preparing for the unexpected isn’t easy. “I took practice tests and tried my absolute best,” Hardwick said.
Hardwick has applied to many colleges and has been accepted to LSU and Ole Miss so far. She plans to major in environmental health or biomedical studies. After graduation, Wyatt plans to major in education or English Literature and has applied to Tulane, USM, and BYU. With help from the NMSC, the future looks bright for these senior girls.
In February, 15,000 Semifinalists will be notified that they have advanced to Finalist standing.