Broncos excel to semi-finals in National Merit Scholarship program


Photos courtesy of Jacob M. Lee and Szander Brenner

Central’s National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists senior Jacob Lee and senior Szander Brenner were both surprised to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program based on their PSAT scores. Central congratulates these two Broncos.

Christy Stone, Writer

When many Broncos sat for the PSAT last year, they moaned and groaned dragging their #2 pencils and their IDs to their assigned testing room.  Two Broncos, however, took on the PSATs as a challenge, and it paid off.

Because of their outstanding test scores, Jacob Lee and Szander Brenner have qualified to be semi-finalists in the National Merit Scholarship program.  

“I was happy when I found out because I thought I had missed the deadline at first,” said Brenner, now a senior, referring to the deadline to apply for the program.  And missing a deadline is rare for this academic achiever.  Working hard over the past four years at Central has him ranked 5th in his class so far.

Lee was equally thrilled to hear he was being considered despite having a different strategy through high school.

“I don’t really study too often,”  Lee, also now  a senior, shared. “I know, remember, and infer.” 

The National Merit Scholarship, which began in 1955, is a program designed to honor academically talented U.S high school students, stimulate increased support for education, and to provide program management for organizations who wish to sponsor undergraduate scholarships.  Students compete for scholarships through test scores and academic achievements.  Every year, there are around 1.5 million high school students that compete in this program.

Students qualify for the semi-finals with their PSAT score. Students can only enter the competition with their PSAT 11 score, which selected students take in their junior year.  It is also noted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation that they do not recruit students but instead, students must go to their counselor and request to take a test to apply for the scholarship. This is because in most states students do not take the PSAT their 11th-grade year, instead taking the SAT. 

Brenner, who plans on applying to Stanford University’s STEM program, one of the top in the country because he will be able to “challenge” himself “even more there,”  understands that being an efficient, conscientious student is key to achieving goals.

“Your phone distracts you from actually studying,” said Brenner. “Put it away, do 50 minutes of homework and studying, and get your phone for 10 minutes. Repeat until you are done.” 

Lee,  on the other hand, has a slightly different philosophy on college. 

“I don’t really want to go to college, but I will try for my parent’s sake,” disclosed Lee, who plans on applying to the University of Florida to continue the legacy of his mom. 

Although their goals don’t align, both Brenner and Lee have still made it to the semi-finals and are preparing to advance further in different ways. 

The semi-finals involve your academic records, and students must meet the performance expectations of what they consider an exceptional student. The judges look at transcripts going back to 9th-grade year and including your senior year.

This does not worry Brenner, however, who has been top in his class all of high school.  Brenner prepares for the semi-finals the only way he knows how– by studying normally and keeping his grades up.  

 Lee, as one can expect, had a different take.

“To prepare for the semi-finals I would have to fill out a college application that showcases my academic career,” Lee explained.  Lee questions if he will qualify further since the “requirements are stringent” and, like many students, hasn’t always had straight A’s. 

Both students have done exceptionally well by making it to the semi-finals and prove that different types of students, whether it be a student who is disciplined in his studies and a student who has a more relaxed approach, can accomplish something as rigorous as the National Merit Scholarship. 

For more information on this scholarship program: