A banner hangs in the hallway of Rock Bridge High School congratulating nine seniors who qualified as National Merit Semifinalists after taking the PSAT standardized test last year.
Two other Columbia students, seniors at Hickman High School, are also semifinalists, bringing the city’s total to 11 students. The results were released recently by the National Merit Scholarship Corp., a nonprofit organization that seeks to honor the nation’s top performing students by awarding a select few with a scholarship to be used toward a college education.
“When you work with the National Merit Scholars, you couldn’t work with a nicer group of kids,” said Lynne Moore, the guidance office receptionist at Rock Bridge High School. “They are very involved, bright, polite and pleasant to be around.”
Statewide, there are about 320 semifinalists. The pool of nationwide high school students represents less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors and includes the highest-scoring individuals in each state.
“My parents took us out for ice cream,” said Daniel Lopez, one of Rock Bridge’s semifinalists. “That’s what we do whenever one of us does something good.”
Moore said that after becoming a semifinalist, students must fill out a plethora of paperwork, as well as submit essays, to be considered as a finalist. Finalists will be announced in April; the pool of candidates is first narrowed based on PSAT scores, then by grades and accomplishments, skills and potential for collegiate success.
“At first they brought us into a room and told us that our scores indicated we could qualify,” said Marley Cassels, another Rock Bridge semifinalist. “We weren’t allowed to tell anyone except our parents until it was official.”
The other semifinalists at Rock Bridge are Aaron Bartelt, Aaditya Khatri, Margaret Rhein, Paul Koch, Josiah Bryan, Leslie Easton and Alexander Martin. At Hickman, they are Kathy Deng and Xiaoxi Liu.
Rock Bridge has had as many as 13 semifinalists in the past. Hickman has had as many as 17 semifinalists.
Finalists can receive a scholarship from the corporation, which has as much as $33 million to give away, and sometimes other scholarships from the college they choose to attend. It also makes them prime prospective students for such colleges.
“Colleges start sending you pounds of stuff in the mail,” said Lopez, describing an effect this honor has had thus far.
Cassels said she realized the importance of taking the PSAT test seriously, even at the start of her high school career.
“I have an older brother, so I had been hearing about the test for years before,” she said. “I knew back then it was something I wanted to do well on.”
Cassels said she was likely to take up a major in English after enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Lopez, whose goal is to attend Stanford University in California, perhaps to study aerospace or engineering, also thought it was imperative for him to do well on the test.
“I had friends who were National Merit Semifinalists last year,” he said, “and I saw how much the recognition did for them.”