The PSAT and What Being a National Merit Semifinalist Really Means

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The PSAT and What Being a National Merit Semifinalist Really Means

Photo Courtesy of Minnetonka Schools

Photo Courtesy of Minnetonka Schools

Photo Courtesy of Minnetonka Schools

Leyden Streed, Staff Writer

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With fall comes apple picking, sweater weather, Halloween, and for students, the Preliminary SAT (PSAT). The PSAT is a standardized test that is available throughout high school, but students usually take it junior year. However, the PSAT is much more than just preparation for the SAT. The scores from the PSAT junior year will determine who receives the National Merit Scholarships, highly respectable academic scholarships.

Finalists can receive $2,500 towards college, but the opportunities don’t end there. Schools around the nation recognize National Merit Semifinalists, awarding even more scholarships or even a full ride.

However, becoming a semifinalist isn’t easy. Finalists are in the top 1% in the nation, which makes it even more amazing that the class of 2019 had a record breaking 26 semifinalists.

“It’s a pretty impressive number, and I think it reflects our students willingness to do hard work that represents our amazing staff that helps push students,” said Jeff Erickson.

Alison Sundem, one of the semifinalists from the class of 2019, said, “It shows Minnetonka’s commitment towards education and making sure students have an opportunity to excel in the PSAT.”

What has contributed to Minnetonka’s success? Erickson explained there are many aspects about Minnetonka that allow so many students to be successful. The three main factors are the opportunities students have to challenge themselves, the support provided, and the individual students’ self-discipline.

Minnetonka students have opportunities to excel throughout K-12. Middle school students have opportunities to take honors classes. In high school, Minnetonka provides college level classes and even the IB Diploma Program. Erickson believes that encouraging students to take rigorous classes throughout school has helped them with the PSAT in the long run.

“I think what distinguishes us is high expectations with support,” said Erickson.

Since MHS wants their students to excel academically, they try to offer as much support as they can through programs like MAST and offering open hours. To help students specifically with the PSAT, Minnetonka provides prep classes. MHS staff write letters to high scoring students and their families in order to encourage them to improve their scores and develop strategic skills for doing better on the test. Erickson believes this has been a very helpful strategy.

“We had […] probably 130 juniors that took that prep class through us, and so I recommend students do that,” said Erickson.

Erickson also expressed his pride for the students, and thought they showed determination and self-discipline. Many students challenge themselves and push themselves to do better throughout high school, and that has benefitted them along the way, including in the PSATs.

“Students are willing to take those classes that are more challenging and to push themselves in those areas, and it just says a lot about our students academic focus,” said Erickson.

Interested in what you can do yourself to get National Merit? It’s an excellent opportunity, and, with so many semifinalists from Minnetonka, it’s most certainly a possibility. Erickson and Sundem were able to give their own advice for success.

“Continue to push yourself, find your passion, challenge yourselves in different areas, and recognize that taking that course that might be challenging is going to be better long term,” said Erickson.

Erickson encourages all Minnetonka High School students to take at least one AP or IB class before they graduate, or more if they can.

“Definitely take the test seriously because it can do a lot for you down the road with college and scholarships and getting into tougher universities,” said Sundem.

Juniors who have just taken the PSAT will be notified if their scores qualified for National Merit Semifinalist early September of 2019. Congratulations to the 26 Semifinalists of 2019, and good luck to the class of 2020.


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