What do an avid reader, a sailor, a drummer and a runner have in common?
They are just four of sixteen Columbia students who were recently named semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
The program is sponsored by a nonprofit organization that hosts an annual academic competition for all U.S. high school students seeking scholarships and national recognition. Each must meet entry requirements to compete.
According to the National Merit Scholarship Corp., the more than 16,000 U.S. students who were named semifinalists now have a chance to compete for finalist recognition. The semifinalists were selected from a pool of 1.3 million entrants, with 21,000 high schools eligible nationwide.
Chris Mallory, Columbia schools assistant superintendent for secondary education and school communications, said 14 to 21 students usually earn spots as National Merit semifinalists. He credits students and parents for the academic success.
“We have students who prepare themselves well and parents have to make that happen,” he said.
It’s also important that educators at each level build on one another’s teaching as a way to increase student achievement and aid in attaining academic excellence, he said.
Entrants are named semifinalists based on their 2003 Preliminary SAT/National
Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test scores. The semifinalists are the highest scoring test takers in each state.
Scores can vary based on a state’s high school population and the number of students competing.
Ann Landes, head of the guidance department at Hickman High School, says Hickman is able to turn out a high number of semifinalists every year because of the school’s expectation of excellence.
“It’s academic tradition,” she said. “When people apply to become educators at Hickman, they know about the academic tradition, and we have a high retention of teachers.”
Landes also credits the families of each semifinalist, who she said are highly educated. “That makes a difference,” she said.
To become a finalist, each semifinalist must compete with others from around the country to prove academic excellence and skills outside school. Grades will be examined as well as SAT scores. The principals from each school must recommend and endorse each student, and the semifinalists must provide proof that they participate in extracurricular activities and are leaders of school organizations.
Semifinalists will also write a self-descriptive essay, and the school must provide information about the school’s curriculum, grading system, and academic record.
Marsha Uphoff, head of guidance at Rock Bridge High School, said she doesn’t think students will have any problems with the qualifications.
“These are kids that do lots of things right,” she said. “They’re not just smart kids.”
Uphoff said that each student is well-rounded and that they all have interests in the community as well as high participation in after-school activities. She also said the students’ teachers have played a role in the development of each semifinalist.
“Rock Bridge can’t take total credit,” she said. “Credit also goes to the schools that the semifinalists have attended prior to high school. Teachers in elementary school and up have encouraged them to learn as much as they can in a variety of ways.”
The scholarships will be handed out to finalists in 2005. There are three different types of scholarships totaling $33.9 million. There will be about 8,200 Merit Scholarship awards nationwide.