Out of all nationwide private high schools, American Heritage produces the highest number of National Merit Scholars: last year, both campuses had 74 Finalists, 77 Semifinalists, and 52 National Commended Scholars in total.
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a non-profit nongovernmental organization, started the program in 1955 to commend “academically talented high school students” across the country. NMSC selected 16,000 Semifinalists for the 2022 program based on their 2020 Preliminary Scholastic Academic Test or National Merit Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) scores; these students “represent less than one percent of each state’s high school seniors” (“Information about the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Competition”).
Upper School Principal Elise Blum believes this achievement bolsters college applications and qualifies students for scholarships offered by colleges and around 400 private companies.
Senior Andres Teixeira recounted his experiences that led to him becoming a National Merit Semifinalist. “To prepare for the PSAT, I did the merit classes with Lance and Sara Kohn. I highly recommend them because they…can boost your score a lot,” Teixeira said.
Ms. Blum explained that Heritage invites sophomores with above average PSAT scores to study in the National Merit Preparation Program. Students commit many hours per week to the course, which runs from March in sophomore year to October in junior year.
Senior Julia Seifer dedicated two hours per day to PSAT preparation with Heritage’s program and took a mock exam every weekend. She started the course in person, but switched to online due to COVID-19; this made it more accessible for her — especially when she was traveling over the summer. She took the PSAT in November 2020, but stated that many of her peers tested in January 2021 because students either did not feel prepared or felt uncomfortable testing in person, changing the overall index score for qualification. Seifer felt she deserved National Merit after completing the PSAT because of how hard she had worked and was overjoyed when she received her score. She was motivated to get National Merit because it was a challenge that she felt like she had to do. “In the grand scheme of things, with how much money college is, [the] $2500 [that National Merit provides] is not a tremendous amount so I could’ve been spending that time applying to more scholarships. But I think I can do both,” Seifer said.
Before Senior John Amanna received information on Collegeboard’s cutoff for National Merit Semifinalist, he was initially disappointed with his PSAT score. “When I saw I got a 1460, I immediately felt…bothered as I forgot that the PSAT is not scored the same way as the SAT and the index score is what truly matters. My index score ended up being 220, which then gave me reassurance I was going to be National Merit, as the historic trend of cutoff is below 219. In other words, it wasn’t much of a surprise,” Amanna said.
When studying, he had felt less motivated due to the virtual setting that COVID-19 forced; as a result, he did not attend the Merit prep classes as often as required. Amanna did complete several mock exams every month, however, and believes that this increased his score by about 200 points. He is confident about completing his Finalist application with help from Heritage’s college advisory team and optimistic about securing his scholarship. “Practice, practice practice, and when you’re done, practice some more,” Amanna advised aspiring students. Still, he emphasized that National Merit is not a determining factor in one’s future because colleges recognize that no human being can ever be completely represented by a test score.