Two area students named National Merit Finalists

EDWARDSBURG — Two local students recently achieved an honor that was once given to as Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos; film director, M. Night Shyamalan; musician, Elvin Bishop and “Twilight” author, Stephenie Meyer.

Alec Janowski, a senior at Niles High School, and Robert Clark, a senior at Edwardsburg High School, were named National Merit Finalists this past month — a recognition that is determined by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

“It’s definitely something that I was very happy about, that I worked for [over a long period of] time,” Janowski said. “I definitely think it helps in terms of getting into college, obviously, and it helps for a lot of other private scholarships. Having that on your resume is definitely a really strong thing for the application processes for any college or scholarship, so I think that’s been beneficial.”

Robert Clark

About 1.6 million students from more than 22,000 high schools throughout the United States competed in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program, with less than 1 percent of students being named a finalist.

The program looks to recognize students that are not only academically gifted but who are also well-rounded and endorsed by a high school official.

“I’ve known Alec for a long, long time and he’s obviously a very good student,” said Molly Brawley, principal of Niles High School. “But what sets him apart from everyone else is he really wants to learn. It’s not just about getting a good score. Everything peaks his interest.”

Clark’s principal also has very positive things to say about him.

“I hate to use the word ‘perfect’ but that’s what he is: he’s a perfect student,” said Ryan Markel, principal at Edwardsburg High School. “He has a perfect 4.0. He attends the Berrien Math and Science Center, and takes several AP courses here. He’s a student that is not afraid to challenge himself, so he’s a really good student.”

Approximately 16,000 students nationally are named semifinalists every year, with around 15,000 becoming finalists. However, that does not mean it was easy to become a finalist.

“To be named a finalist, it’s more than just your SAT score,” said Molly Brawley, principal at Niles High School. “There’s actually a process of recommendation and things like that.”

The process of becoming a National Merit Finalist begins during a student’s junior year of high school when he or she takes the Preliminary SAT. If the student achieves a certain qualifying score, which varies by state, then they are named a National Merit Semifinalist.

At that point, students are required to provide several pieces of information in order to be named a finalist and potentially a scholar.

“I had to fill out the [National Merit] application, which was kind of similar to the common application: an essay and then a couple of questions,” Janowski said.

Once a student is named a finalist, he or she is eligible to receive a scholarship through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which gives away more than $32 million each year to prospective college students. Roughly 7,500 finalists will receive a scholarship. However, receiving one of these awards is not based on merit alone.

The National Merit Program provides scholars with three different types of awards: corporate, college and National Merit one-time $2,500 scholarships. Only finalists whose parents are employed by a corporation that sponsors scholarships through the National Merit Program are eligible to receive a corporate national merit scholarship.

Likewise, only finalists who have decided to attend a college that sponsors scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation are eligible to receive a college-sponsored National Merit award.

The only award that all finalists are eligible to receive is one of the 2,500 one-time, $2,500 awards. Because of this, students like Janowski are less likely to be named a National Merit Scholar compared to other finalists whose parents work for a sponsoring corporation or are tending a sponsoring college.

“I confirmed my enrollment for Stanford back in early February, so I am for sure going there,” Janowski said. “Unfortunately they don’t [offer] any National Merit Scholarships there.”

Whether or not these students are named National Merit Scholars, their school leaders say they still have a lot to celebrate and be proud of.

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