Four seniors named National Merit Finalists from pool of 15,000 students


By Sanjana Sanghani, Staff Reporter

Conestoga seniors Laila Norford, Katelyn Winters, David Xu and Franklin Zhu were selected on May 8 from a pool of 15,000 finalists nationwide to advance in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Each senior won $2,500 in funds that will help each of them pay for their college education. 

Norford, Winters, Xu and Zhu were among 2,500 high school seniors named as finalists by a committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors, who praised the students based on their academic records, previous standardized test scores, leadership and community experience and recommendation letters, according to a press release. 

The seniors first entered the National Merit Scholarship Program as juniors when they took the PSAT in November 2017. They were notified that they had been named semifinalists in September of 2018. 

In order to be named a semifinalist, a student must meet a certain score on the PSAT, which is adjusted yearly. These semifinalists are among the highest scorers on the national exam, and in Pennsylvania, the threshold to be named as a semifinalist was a score of 220 out of 228. 

After meeting this initial requirement, the semifinalists submitted an application that included various writing supplements and academic documents in hopes of being named as a finalist. 

“I was surprised that I received this scholarship because of the amount of talented people,” Winters said. “I think it’s validating to know that I am a part of this talented group because of my hard work and I now have gained a confidence that I can stand out from such gifted people.”

While Xu and Winters both took the PSAT prior to entering the National Merit competition, aware of the potential scholarship stakes at hand, Zhu was unaware of what the program entailed.

“I signed up for the PSAT as a practice session for the SAT. Since there is something different about taking a test in a real testing environment, I thought this was a good opportunity for me,” Zhu said. 

Each senior did “relatively well” on the SAT prior to entering the National Merit Program, adding that they believed that their high SAT scores helped them do well on the actual PSAT, which ultimately counts toward the National Merit Scholarship qualification.

“Since I had already had prepared hard for the SAT, I just used my knowledge from my tutoring sessions to help me do well on the PSAT,” Norford said.