Placing High in the Ranks

3 FHC students receive a national distinguished award based on their PSAT scores.


Faith Beckmann

Seniors Anna Baranowski, Hannah Bernard and Jack Schriber line up in front of a set of lockers. All three of the students have been named National Merit Scholars based on their PSAT scores from junior year. In addition, both Baranowski and Bernard were named semifinalists, meaning that they are eligible to apply for the National Merit Scholarship.

In the afternoon of Sept. 15, 2021, 3 Francis Howell Central High School students received small slips of paper during their seventh hour. These slips held the long-awaited results they had been anticipating for almost a full year. On the tiny piece of paper in their hand was the news that they had qualified as a National Merit Scholar: a prestigious honor with an opportunity to earn thousands of dollars in scholarship money.

Every year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation gives students who placed within the National Merit Scholar indexes a placement as either a commended scholar or as a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship. These placements are based on the scores students received on the PSAT test they took junior year compared to the test scores of other students in their respective state.

Senior Hannah Bernard qualified as a semifinalist, she described how the PSAT scores are broken down.

“[All of the FHC National Merit Scholars] got 1430s, but the National Merit score qualifying index weighs English scores higher than it weighs math scores,” Bernard said. “If I was to suggest what to study for I’d suggest studying for English one hundred percent.”

To qualify for a specific ranking in the National Merit Scholar system, a student must place within a certain index. This index changes every year, meaning students don’t have full reassurance on whether or not they will qualify.

“I think the index for Missouri changes every year,” Bernard stated. “I know it was 214 the year before, but the year before that it was like 217. It sounds like I’m right on the line. I had no idea which way it could have gone… I was sweating it for a while.”

Senior Jack Schriber earned a commended scholar placement, meaning he had a higher index compared to other students in the state, but not high enough to qualify for the scholarship. He discusses what he wishes he would have done differently on the test.

“I did want to qualify for [the National Merit Scholars] because you get a lot of benefits if you get in the semifinals and finals,” Schriber said. “But mainly I realized that after I took the [PSAT], so I didn’t prepare [as much as] I should have prepared for the test.”

Hannah Bernard scrolls through the National Merit Scholar website. This is the website that she and fellow semifinalist Anna Baranowski used to apply to become finalists. Here they submitted an essay, test scores and other various academic information As part of the application process. The finalist results for the National Merit Scholarship will be announced in February of next year. (Faith Beckmann)

The effort students exude during this process is worth it. When semifinalists apply for finalist spots, they have to use scores and forms often associated with college applications. If they plan wisely, they may be able to use their college essays and such for the National Merit Finalist application and vice versa, helping to ease the grueling application process. This is something senior Anna Baranowski did when filling out her application. 

“[The essay] I used for my National Merit essay was an earlier draft of my college essay, which I’m technically still working on. A lot of the things that were required for the application to be a finalist are also things that are in college applications, so I kind of had to get some stuff together for that,” Baranowski stated.

Though the process may seem strenuous and mundane, all 3 students say they received various showers of excited praise from their family and friends, making it all worth it. “My family was very excited, I received congratulations from [them],” Baranowski said.

Schriber says his family turned to social media to celebrate his achievement.

“My family was really excited,” Schriber said. “They didn’t exactly understand it completely, but they all were like giving [their congratulations], especially my aunt. She made a Facebook post, so then everyone knew about it.”

Bernard says her placement even earned her recognition from distant relatives.

“Just yesterday in the mail I was going through the mail and I got a card from some distant cousin congratulating me, so that was cool,” Bernard described.

Bernard offers some advice for students who want to try their hands at qualifying for the National Merit Scholarship.

“So my words of advice for anyone who’s interested in being a National Merit scholar would be to not stress too hard probably because the index changes every year,” Bernard said. “I would say take the PSAT as a sophomore, get yourself acquainted with the test, and just go in strong junior year because it’s the test that determines [your placement].” 

In the end, though, these students realize that there is a lot more to their worth than what they qualified for based on their test scores.

“I don’t think National Merit reflects too much on who I am as a scholar,” Bernard expressed. “It’s who I was the day in October that I took the test and I think there’s a lot more that goes into college applications.”

I don’t think National Merit reflects too much on who I am as a scholar. It’s who I was the day in October that I took the test. ”

— Hannah Bernard

Both Baranowski and Bernard have started or submitted their applications to qualify as finalists for the National Merit Scholarship. The results for the scholarship will be released in February of 2022.