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Smallidge named National Merit Scholarship semifinalist

New Richmond senior Elliot Smallidge is among the 16,000 students nationwide to be named a semifinalist in the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program. (Photo by Jordan Willi)

Every year, students from across the country test their mettle against their fellow students for the chance to win a scholarship in the National Merit Scholarship Program. This year, New Richmond High School is represented by senior Elliot Smallidge, who is one of 16,000 students to be named semifinalists in the 2015 competition.

“I was so excited to find out I was a semifinalist,” Smallidge said. “You have to wait such a long time to hear whether or not you made semifinalist and after the anticipation of nine months, it was pretty exciting to hear that I made it.”

The competition started last year when 1.4 million juniors from more than 22,000 high schools in the United States took the PSAT, which is the qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship competition.

Smallidge was informed by high school counselor Jenny Wander that he was a semifinalist about a week before the news was released publicly on Sept. 10, but he won’t find out if he is a finalist until February and he will have to wait even longer to find out if he is one of the few finalists to win a scholarship.

“Most students will take the PSAT just as preparation for the SAT and ACT and all that good stuff,” Wander said. “The semifinalists are chosen from each state based on the highest scoring entrants in each state. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.”

In order to become a finalist, Smallidge, with the help of Wander and other school staff, will work together to submit a detailed scholarship application which will provide the evaluators with his academic record, information on his participation in school and community activities, how he has demonstrated his leadership skills, his employment and what honors and awards he has received. Along with that, a finalist must be endorsed by a high school official, write an essay and earn SAT scores that confirm the student’s earlier performance on the qualifying test. Submissions are due by Oct. 8 and Smallidge plans to take the SAT in October.

“It is nice that 90 percent of the semifinalists will become finalists, but not all of those finalists will get scholarships,” Smallidge said. “To become a finalist would be amazing. Being able to achieve something on a national level would be unbelievable and more than I could ever hope for or guess that I would do. But I’m going to just try my best and see what I can do.”

Once a student makes it to the semifinalist round of the competition, 15,000 of the 16,000 students move on to become finalists, Wander said. The National Merit Scholarship winners are selected from the pool of finalists. Every finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit $25,000 Scholarships that will be awarded on a state-representational basis. Scholarships will also be offered by corporations, business organizations and colleges. The winners will be announced beginning in April.

“I think that our students are realistic and that their main reason for taking the PSAT is that it is a great practice tool,” Wander said. “But I think our high-achieving students absolutely know that this could mean some potential scholarship money. And we encourage our sophomore students who are in advanced classes to take the test as sophomores so that they have seen it before.”

In the 11 years Wander has been at the high school, she has seen just a handful of students qualify for the semifinalist round of the National Merit Scholarship competition. The students who do make it to that level of the competition, according to Wander, are the ones who challenge themselves with more advanced classes throughout their high school careers.

“We take a lot of pride in having a National Merit semifinalist and all the kudos go to Elliot because he is the one who chose to challenge himself and work hard,” Wander said. “But on a whole, we feel good as educators that we provide those challenges and opportunities for our students.”

Smallidge’s favorite class is AP Language as well as band and music theory. He is also taking classes at UW-River Falls through the school’s Youth Options program. Piano and trombone are Smallidge’s main instruments. He enjoys playing piano while taking breaks from studying.

“I’m always looking toward the future and I want to know that I did everything I could to make sure that I set myself up for having the most opportunities I can in the future,” Smallidge said. “I don’t want to have to look back and say ‘If only I had done this;’ I want to keep as many doors open as possible.”

Smallidge’s dream job would be to be a manager or executive in the financial area of a business.

“I love working with numbers and I love the idea of being able to work with people as well,” Smallidge said.

With his senior year of high school underway, Smallidge has already started to consider colleges and is looking at going to the University of Minnesota for economics. He likes the idea of winning a scholarship through the National Merit Scholarship Competition so he can help offset some of his expenses for attending college.

“I like the idea of going to school in Minneapolis, so that is one of the reasons the U of M is my number one choice,” Smallidge said. “It would be huge for me if I could come out of school with reduced debt or being debt free. Being an economist, I know that the interest on those student loans add up really fast, so anything I can do to reduce it is just huge. If I spend a couple hours on an application for this competition, the payout is immense.”

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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