Last Wednesday, the 13th of September, the 2018 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists were announced. Four of them are our very own Lake Forest High School students: Elizabeth Porter, Caroline Skinner, Isabel Rosa, and Victoria Walsh. 1.6 million high school students in more than 22,000 high schools across the United States entered the National Merit Scholarship program by taking the 2016 Preliminary SAT, and 16,000 students qualified to be semifinalists.
Though 16,000 may sound like a large number at first mention, it represents less than 1% of the nationwide Class of 2018. Semifinalists are selected based on their PSAT score, and now have the opportunity to compete for 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $32 million.
To say being a finalist is impressive is a dramatic understatement. Simply put, it’s like being an All-American for academics, and by no means should be treated casually.
But here’s the catch: all four of Lake Forest’s finalists took the PSAT cold. No practice, no knowledge of the test’s content, no nothing. They accredit keeping up with their strenuous schedule consisting of multiple APs for their success on the test. All four girls are, naturally, Magna Cum Laude and challenge themselves in the classroom.
Elizabeth Porter went into the test unaware there would be scholarship opportunities. “I knew when I got my score back later in the year that there was a good chance I’d be a finalist, but going into the test, I didn’t even know that scholarships were possible.” Isabel Rosa, another scholar, also was in the dark about the scholarship possibilities. “I didn’t really know why we were taking the PSAT, but I found out afterwards I could possibly be a semifinalist.”
Now that they’re semifinalists, all four girls are going to proceed with the application to qualify to be a finalist. The application must include a recommendation from a Lake Forest High School administrator, a written essay, and one additional SAT score to validate their PSAT performance. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation also evaluates semifinalists’ academic records, participation in extracurricular activities, leadership roles, employment, and all honors and awards received during their high school tenure. “It’s essentially another college application, but it’s worth it.” Skinner mentioned, “Since we’ve made it this far, we might as well proceed with the process.”
This February, 15,000 finalists will be announced and half of them will receive scholarships based on the same application they previously submitted. Scholarships vary in funding from the National Merit Corporation to corporate or college sponsored scholarships.