Six Libertyville students named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists


Photo courtesy of Amy Belstra

The six Libertyville semifinalists include (left to right) Annika Bjorklund, Mitchell Gifford, Brian Hong, Alice Lillydahl, Ian Smith, and George Hayek.

Six students at Libertyville High School recently qualified as National Merit Scholarship semifinalists based on their exceptionally high PSAT scores. The Libertyville semifinalists for the 2017-2018 scholarship include Annika Bjorklund, Mitchell Gifford, George Hayek, Brian Hong, Alice Lillydahl and Ian Smith (Bjorklund and Hayek are DOI staff members).

In order to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, students must take the PSAT (the Preliminary SAT) during their junior year, be enrolled as a high school student, plan on graduating and continuing onto college, as well as being a United States citizen.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t just try. It’s just a couple of hours, so you might as well try instead of just sitting there,” said Lillydahl.

The PSAT, offered only once a year every October to students nationally, is the test that determines who the qualifiers are. Although the PSAT is offered to eighth, ninth, 10th, and 11th graders, only the 11th grade scores count towards the National Merit Scholarship Program. Every student at Libertyville High School takes the PSAT each year.

“It gives you a good reading on how your SAT score will probably turn out. It gives you a feel for what the test will be like,” said Gifford.

The National Merit Scholarship is an academic competition administered by the College Board and co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. There are three types of awards: the National Merit Scholarship, the college-sponsored scholarship, and the corporate-sponsored scholarship.  

“It’s worth caring about the PSAT,” said Lillydahl. “Mrs. Belstra handed us this stack of schools that will give money if you’re a national merit finalist or semifinalist, so it’s not just the scholarship from the corporation, it’s a possible scholarship from a lot of good schools.”

The National Merit Scholarship, which every finalist competes for, is the most commonly won scholarship of the three. The scholarship is a one-time award of $2,500. The winners of these scholarships are chosen without consideration of family financial circumstances, college choice, or major and career plans.

The college-sponsored scholarship applies to finalists who have been admitted to and will attend a college or university that sponsors the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This scholarship ranges from $500 to $2,000 per year and is provided by the college or university, not the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

The corporate-sponsored scholarship is typically designated for the children of employees or members of sponsors associated with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. These sponsors could be corporations, company foundations, or other business organizations. Although, sometimes the corporate-sponsored scholarship is awarded to students who qualify as finalists and have college major or career plans that a sponsor wishes to encourage. The sponsors also determine how much the scholarship is worth.

“It’s not a huge scholarship like a lot of people think it is. It’s more about the accolade than the actual money,” stated Gifford.

Of the 1.5 million juniors around the country who take the test, about 50,000 of them are recognized as high scorers. Approximately one-third of those high scorers are named as semifinalists.

After being named a semifinalist, about 15,000 of them will be notified if they have qualified for the finalist standing in February. Once a finalist, students must submit their academic records, SAT scores, and have a written recommendation from their high school, along with a personal essay.

Of those 15,000 finalists, approximately 8,000 of them will be selected for Merit Scholarships and notified in the spring of 2019.