Cedar Falls adds three to list of PSAT Semifinalists

011_PONNADA_SAM 011_GAO_SARAHBy: Amna Haider

Seniors Sarah Gao, Merlin MacGillivray and Sam Ponnada have recently earned designation as Semifinalist in the PSAT. Last spring over 1.5 million students all across the nation took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The PSAT is a nationwide competition for recognition and awards conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Out of those 1.5 million students, 34,000 high performers were named Commended Students on the basis of a Selection Index score of 202. Here at CFHS, there were approximately 150 students who took the PSAT last spring. A total of nine students have been recognized as Commended Students at CFHS. Commended students include Anjah Droe, Sarah Gao, Nicholas Grasser, Leo Gibson, Tori King, Merlin MacGillivray, Nicholas O’Loughlin, Sam Ponnada and Mohammed Rawwas.

Around 16,000 of high performers nationwide were recently designated Semifinalists on a state representational level, including three CFHS students: Gao, MacGillivray and Ponnada. “We are very fortunate this year; those three students selected are very hardworking, great students who are very deserving of the National Semifinalist Merit Scholarship, and hopefully we can move them on and get finalists,” counselor Susan Lagen said.

Gao was in the ALPHA room when she found out she was a Semifinalist. “Mrs. Langan burst into the ALPHA room during seventh hour and told me. I was pleasantly surprised but wasn’t looking forward to filling out the long application,” she said.

MacGillivray had a similar attitude. “I was excited and happy to have this opportunity … although I did procrastinate a lot in filling out the application,” he said.

The Semifinalists have a possibility to advance to finalist in the Merit Scholarship competition only if they meet a number of additional requirements. To advance to a finalist position, “You need to score well on the SAT, have good high school coursework and grades and fill out an application, which includes a selective essay,” Ponnada said. Every year at least 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists advance to the finalist position unless they face international issues or receive a failing grade.

Although it is very possible that all three CFHS Semifinalists will advance, Ponnada might face some problems due to immigration situations. “I was happy at first,” he said, “but I have immigration circumstances that probably won’t allow me to move on to the finalist phase, so I felt ambivalent.” It is still inconclusive if Ponnada will advance or not, but he is keeping a positive attitude about it. “Congratulations and good luck in the future rounds,” he said, addressing his fellow Semifinalists.

Completing the National Merit Scholarship application is not an easy process. All three Semifinalists noted the role the counselors played in helping them fill out the applications. “Thank you to the guidance counselors for being super-helpful and being on top of things throughout the application process,” Ponnada said. “I agree. They did a lot of work in helping us to get these applications out. They helped with letters of recommendation and just filling out information overall,” MacGillivray said.

The selection committee will begin choosing Merit Scholarship award winners on Jan. 24, 2016. The NMSC will notify finalists of their positions on Feb. 3 of the same year. This year, the PSAT will take place Oct. 14.

“Good luck guys; I hope nothing weird happens, and we can all advance,” Gao said.

And the chances to add to the roles of CFHS recognition is approaching again.

“Every year, CFHS has at the most two-five students, but you know we would like to increase the number of the Semifinalists. I would recommend that all juniors take the PSAT, which is Wednesday, Oct. 14, next week. The University of Oklahoma gives free tuition to students who qualify for National Merit Semifinalist, so you know there’s a lot of good places out there that are looking for the National Semifinalist or Finalist honor that you could go to school for a lot cheaper. It’s a great program, especially for some students who are willing to go to different schools,” Langen said.

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