National Merit finalists reflect on accomplishment, future aspirations

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Photo courtesy of Kyle Klostermann

Kyle Klostermann, a finalist for National Merit, said, “It was my goal before taking the test, but I knew it would be a challenge to achieve.”

Jack Daws and Isabelle Grigorescu

Every year, high school juniors take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). As with all PSATs, it is a sort of practice for the SAT, but the NMSQT test in particular also determines which students earn entrance into the National Merit Scholarship program.

Becoming a finalist for the program usually requires scoring in the top 1% of students, typically with a score above 1400 out of the possible 1520. Some finalists go on to qualify for the rank of national merit scholar, an incredibly prestigious achievement. 

Finalists are announced the year after students take the test. Four seniors from Lafayette have been announced as finalists for the National Merit program: Andrew Chang, Kyle Klostermann, Rohith Ryali and Anna Willis.

Consideration for honors in the National Merit program is considered the main purpose for most students taking the test.

“[National Merit] was my goal before taking the test, but I knew it would be a challenge to achieve,” Klostermann said.

However, the exam is also still a practice test for the actual SAT.

“I was thinking about it, that was definitely a goal of mine, but I wouldn’t say that was my main focus, I just wanted to score good on the PSAT so when I took future tests, it would kind of reflect,” Ryali said.

In order to earn their high scores, the finalists said they did have to do some preparation.

“It was a decent amount of preparation over a long period of time. Over the summer, I took a weeklong morning class preparing us for the types of questions we would receive on that exam, which was very beneficial when actually taking the test. I would say, however, the key to my success was the experience I had taking standardized tests before taking the PSAT. I had taken three ACT’s before, so I treated the PSAT similarly to an ACT,” Klosterman said.

Chang said, “I spent a lot of time preparing for it,, and the knowledge that I accumulated [in my education] came into play more.”

After receiving his results, Chang said he was surprised and happy about his standings.

“It was pretty nice. I remember when I was with a bunch of my friends and someone was like oh the PSAT scores are out and I just checked and was like, ‘oh shoot’ I got in and I was really surprised I wasn’t too anxious about it and I wasn’t waiting for the date or anything,” Chang said.

Ryali said, “I was pretty happy, definitely. I’ve worked pretty hard in High School, I would say, especially with academics, but also with trying to build myself up as a person, as a whole, and so, being in a small community like that of National Merit Scholars, that would be pretty special.”

Klostermann said he feels good about his chances for National Merit, and said earning that status would mean a lot to him.

“From a numbers standpoint, the chances are pretty good. About half of the finalists earn some type of scholarship from either individual corporations or universities. With my resume, I feel that I have a good chance of scoring one of these scholarships, but the competition is very high,” Klostermann said. “It would mean a great deal to me. I have put in countless hours of hard work into my education, and an accomplishment of this magnitude would help justify all of that hard work in my mind. Just being a finalist is amazing, but earning a scholarship would be a fantastic next step to take.”

The finalists also shared their post-high school aspirations.

“I plan on majoring in finance and accounting with a potential concentration in business analytics. I am deciding between Indiana University and the University of Alabama for my college education, with the goal of going into investment banking after college,” Klostermann said.

Chang said, “I want to get into a strong computer science school or tech school, and create something meaningful with computer science.”

Ryali said, “I want to go into medicine in the future, so I intend to go to college either for pre-med and then go on to med school, or actually go into a combined pre-medical/medical program and then go on to become a doctor and in the future. I want to go into oncology, which is cancer studies, and try to make a difference there.”