National Merit Semifinalists offer PSAT advice

Three seniors earn national academic recognition


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Three seniors, from left, Lauren Caldwell, Jasmine Zimmer and Allison Schneider, have been named National Merit Semifinalists.They offered their advice on how to prepare for the PSAT.

Each year, National Merit Semifinalists are chosen from throughout the United States. This year, seniors Lauren Caldwell, Jasmine Zimmer and Allison Schneider are among the 16,000 students nationwide who were selected based on their exceptional PSAT scores.

This accomplishment can lead to scholarships for future academic success and puts these three seniors in line for potential admission to the nation’s most prestigious and rigorous colleges. 

All three of the semifinalists shared advice and how they had prepared for the test. Zimmer wrote, “To prepare for the PSAT, I did a lot of practice online. Khan Academy offers personalized practice based on previous PSAT scores, so I used that to prepare for the test. I thought it was really helpful and it made me a lot more confident going into the test.” 

Caldwell added, “In order to put myself in the best possible position to succeed on the PSAT, I diligently prepared for the test by taking rigorous academic classes and complimenting my curriculum with external preparation and studying.” 

Schneider advised students to start thorough preparation some time before. “Get a good night’s sleep before the test, and if you’re worried, take some practice tests. There are lots that you can find online or on Khan Academy.” 

Director of counseling Mrs. Gretchen Watko ‘00 noted how the counseling department and the school recognizes these Semifinalists. Watko said, “The school receives notice of who our Semifinalists are. The National Merit Scholarship Program will also include letters and a press release document that we give to (director of marketing) Mrs. (Grace) Rodecap, and then the principal congratulates the student. (It is) a combination of principal, counseling department and marketing.” 

Schneider said that her counselor, Ms. Jenny Myers, informed her of her achievement in the beginning of August. 

Covid has impacted the ACT, PSAT and SAT, as many schools have been reluctant to host the tests and have outside guests in their classrooms. Both preparation for the test and taking the test itself have both been hampered by the precautions for in person administration of the exams. 

Caldwell wrote how proud she is of the achievement. She said, “This prestigious honor is extremely meaningful because it recognizes and celebrates my dedication to my studies throughout the course of my Cathedral years. Through my curriculum, extracurricular activities, clubs and service experiences, I have been able to holistically develop my character and intellect that culminated in this honor.” 

The process to become a National Merit Semifinalist begins junior year when students take the PSAT. Once the PSAT score is known, it is submitted. During college applications, SAT and ACT scores are sent to colleges and used in the selection index for these awards. The requirements for tests changed during Covid, as it was more challenging for students to get out to take such tests. Watko mentioned that to apply to become a finalist, all test scores must be submitted in the application process.  

Semifinalists were told on Sept. 11 of the achievement, and were nationally recognized on Sept. 15 by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Caldwell wrote, “The application for Finalist standing, the next stage of this award, (had to be filed by Oct. 3). This application details extracurricular activities, family information and a personal essay.” 

The next stage is Finalist, with scholarships to those awarded. 

Caldwell wrote, “Cathedral recognized the three National Merit Semifinalists through their marketing platforms, celebrating our achievements while also paving the way for fellow underclassmen to pursue Semifinalist standing. Teachers and faculty were congratulatory as they understood the honor of this award, which speaks volumes about their work as teachers and as a collective institution to prepare the three of us to achieve this award.”

Teachers and counselors acknowledge how much of an honor this achievement is, and posts about it can be found on Cathedral’s social media platforms. This achievement also shows underclassmen the possibility for success on similar tests and encourages them to set their goals early. 

The school recognizes these students and their success in many ways, as with other achievements, and encourages students to strive for excellence similar to these awards. Seeing other students succeed influences and encourages their peers. Schneider wrote, “It was nice to see my hard work pay off.”