At least eight recent high-school graduates from the West Orange-area have earned National Merit Scholar status.
Out of 50,000 high-school students with the highest PSAT/NMSQT test scores this year, only 7,500 seniors will have received National Merit Scholarships for college.
And of those 7,500, at least eight West Orange-area students are among them.
Local students who received college-sponsored scholarships include: Olympia High’s Garrett Fullerton and Megan Galeski; West Orange High’s Sarah Tatum; Windermere Preparatory School’s Dale Hill; Lake Highland Preparatory School’s Jonathan Khouzam; and Cypress Creek High’s Kevin Wu. Students who received the National Merit $2,500 scholarship are Windermere Prep’s William Sealy and Olympia High’s Soo Min Kim.
Fullerton, 17, is a recent Olympia High graduate who will head to the University of Florida this fall to study biomedical engineering. He wants to pursue a doctoral degree and potentially go into research regarding oncology.
“I just had a few senior friends who told me about (NMSC) and they said, ‘Hey, you should try to do really well on this, because it’ll be important later on,’” he said. “I was friends with a senior who was also a National Merit Scholar. I took the PSAT, and I met the qualifications for NMSC, and I did a lot more research into the program. Then I thought that it would be good for me, because I saw all the different scholarship opportunities.”
Fullerton learned in January that he was a finalist, but he had a decision to make: Would he go out of state where he wasn’t guaranteed a scholarship, or stay in state where he was guaranteed a full ride to a university?
“It’s just a level of recognition that allows colleges to see what level you are on academically and just puts you on a higher radar for discovery by different schools,” he said. “Because of the NMSC recognition, I received a full ride to the University of Florida. … This was nice, so I didn’t have to worry about the finances at all. I eventually decided on UF because of the reputation that it has as a top-10 public university, and it has a more established medical program, which is the field that I want to go into.”
Tatum, 18, is a recent West Orange High graduate who also will head to UF this fall, where she plans to major in microbiology. She sees herself going to graduate school and becoming a doctor in the medical research field.
“I was introduced to the whole (idea of) making sure you had a good PSAT score and all that by my cousin,” she said. “I studied really hard and kind of knew it was out there, so I made sure I did well on the test. The opportunity couldn’t have been any better, because just doing well on that one test got me a full ride to UF.”
Tatum is also part of the Stamps Scholars program at UF and will spend the remainder of her summer studying abroad with fellow scholars in Mexico. At West Orange High, her extracurriculars included marching band and serving as president of the National Honor Society.
“I was very excited (about being a finalist) but at the time I really wanted to go to Duke,” she said of discovering she was a National Merit Scholar finalist. “I got really far and was a finalist for a scholarship there, but that ended up not going through. At that point, I’d already received the Stamp scholarship. I did end up getting into Duke, but there was no way I could pass the opportunity of going to school for free versus paying.”