3 area students National Merit Scholarship finalists

Three St. Croix Valley students were named National Merit Scholarship Finalists in February.

The students — Michael Douglass, Erik Eitzman and Andy Ylitalo — represent three students from a pool of 15,000 top-achieving students nationwide. The next step is to apply for scholarships from the program’s corporate sponsors and college partners.

“For me, personally, it’s very exciting and cool to know that I’m one of the top academic achievers in the country,” Douglass said. “I think it shows that people need to do something with their schooling and make sure they have pride in what they do and can go far in this.”

All three teenagers are thinking about majoring in something in the math, science or engineering fields at their selected colleges next year. Douglass and Ylitalo are considering academically rigorous schools such as St. Thomas Aquinas in California, and Stanford. Eitzman is leaning towards Midwest schools like the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

The National Merit Scholar finalist process is long, beginning in October 2011 when students take the PSAT. From there, 50,000 high-scoring students are chosen and are asked to be referred to two colleges of their choice by the organization. After that 34,000 students are commended while 16,000 students are named semi-finalists and then the finalists are named in February. Only 9,600 students will be named special scholarship and merit scholarship recipients from there.

“It’s definitely worth it,” Eitzman said about the process. “I think you can get full tuition paid at the University of Nebraska after you’ve been named a National Merit Scholar finalist.”

The trio said the best way for people to become a finalist is taking the PSAT seriously. Although they said some students feel PSAT is a practice test, the exam is important because it opens the gates to those who want to become part of the National Merit Scholarship program. The teens suggested working with a group that has the goal of doing well on the test and practice a lot on things that are difficult for test-takers. For these teens it was the writing portion of the test.

“The hard part’s done now,” Ylitalo said. “I’ve turned in the scholarship materials and now I’m just waiting to hear back about which scholarship I’ll get.”

Which for any college-bound student is definitely a good place to be.