Three Homer High School students sit on a peak of academic achievement as part of the top 10 percentile of students in the country.
Each year, about 50,000 students are picked out of the 1.5 million students who enter the National Merit Scholarship Program as semifinalists or commended students. From there, the number is narrowed down again to the finalists — a group of students that comprise about one-third of the semifinalists.
Homer seniors Aurora Waclawski, Lindsey Schneider and Kyle Carroll were among those high scorers, putting Homer on the map again along with schools from across the nation. All three entered the program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) in their junior year, which is open to any high school student who is a U.S. citizen, or lawful permanent resident applying for citizenship, before their senior year.
Waclawski was chosen as a finalist — one of the top 16,000 students in the United States — for her score, while Schneider and Carroll were recognized as commended students. The difference between commended students and finalists can be quite slim, however, said Homer High counselor Lin Hampson.
“It would probably be kids who were 99 percentile in two of the categories — there’s three categories, reading, writing and math. It would be a student who didn’t quite make it into the tenth percentile but very close,” Hampson said. “It could be that someone who was commended
was one point lower than the kid who was National Merit. So it’s pretty arbitrary at that point. They’re all excellent and they’ve done great.”
Finalists are chosen based on their school record of academic performance throughout high school, recommendations from their high school principal or and school official, and their SAT performance. Finalists also must be planning to enroll full-time in college. Those who are named as finalists then become eligible for a range of scholarships from National Merit and from colleges or corporations.
All three Homer students plan to attend college outside of Alaska this coming fall. Waclawski wants to study environmental engineering at either Colorado School of Mines or Colorado State University.
“Environmental engineering is kind of like civil engineering, except it has more of a focus on the environment as far as water systems and air pollution. The career would involve waste management or water management or something like that,” Waclawski said.
Carroll is looking at Montana State University in Boseman, which he said is of interest because of its engineering program and proximity to family.
Schneider is looking outside of the United States. She hopes to study theater at a school in Canada where she can grow her interests in acting and writing. Though she mentioned University of British Columbia or University of Victoria as two places of interest, Schneider says she isn’t set on a specific school at the moment.
The students all said that taking the test to qualify as semifinalists was a low risk experience that has the potential to pay off in a big way. If a student takes the test and doesn’t qualify for National Merit, it doesn’t affect their chances at attending college in the way a poor SAT score would. In the end, entering can only help.
“A lot of kids don’t take it. They don’t really see the point of it if they don’t think they’re going to do well,” Schneider said.
“It’s good preparation for the SAT and there’s no reason not to. It’s two hours on a Saturday,” Waclawski said.
Aside from the recognition of personal achievement, the National Merit Scholarship program also gives the Homer students a sense that they are receiving a comparable education to other students across the country. Especially because of Alaska’s geographic isolation, it can be difficult to see where students measure up against the rest. After placing as commended students and finalists, however, the Homer students know they will be well prepared for academics outside of Homer.
“I think this is a pretty good school and I’m happy to be a representative of it,” Waclawski said.
Anna Frost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.