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The Talon

The Talon

Meet National Merit Scholar finalist, senior Hannah Howard

Photo published with permission by Allison Feldhacker
Album cover of “WE STILL DON’T TRUST YOU” by Future and Metro Boomin. Album cover from Epic / Freebandz / Republic / Boominati Worldwide

As students and workers, we are often told to play to our strengths. The National Merit Scholarship focuses on students whose strengths lie in academic achievement and proficient scores on standardized tests, accompanied by community leadership and acts of service. 

“The National Merit Scholarship is more of a collection of scholarships that are awarded to students,” Ankeny High School (AHS) counselor Mici Vos said. “The National Merit Scholarship competition is that broad topic and within that national merit, there are a variety of different scholarships that students will be awarded.” 

A prime example of a National Merit Scholar is AHS senior Hannah Howard. Howard is an exemplary student and is involved in basketball, track and field, softball, and National Honor Society. Howard is respected by teachers, counselors and students alike for not only her academics, but her kind heart and personality. 

“Hannah is somebody who is extremely dedicated to everything that she does,” English teacher and journalism adviser Alissa Hansen said. “She was one of those students [that] always went well above and beyond the expectations or the requirements and that was pretty consistent.” 

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Howard is the only student from AHS who has received a semifinalist and finalist title from the National Merit Scholarship for the 2023-2024 school year. 

“It was kind of a unique process,” Howard said. “Because like, you have to take [the PSAT], and you have to wait a while. And then I had to get letters of recommendation in a short period of time, write a couple essays and then apply for the finalists.” 

The PSAT is a standardized test that many schools around central Iowa offer to their students. Taking the PSAT is optional for high school students, however it is the only way to earn the National Merit Scholarship. Students who rank in the 99th percentile of their state scores become National Merit semifinalists. 

“I first took the PSAT for it in October of my junior year and we didn’t hear back on scores until later that school year,” Howard said. “And with that I was able to find out the qualifying score that got me semifinalist status, and I think they informed me of that last October, so about a year later. Then it was a really short window to apply for the finalist and the scholarships which was interesting.” 

To be granted the finalist title, students need to meet certain criteria based on their PSAT scores, receive letters of recommendation, and write essays for the scholarship based on certain criteria. The National Merit Scholarship has a lengthy process, however, Howard finds the scholarship beneficial to her future endeavors. 

“The school that I ended up deciding to go to, [the University of] Iowa, has certain scholarships for finalists, so there is a lot of incentive,” Howard explained. “It was already convenient since I had already taken the [PSAT] and gotten to that next step.” 

Vos recommends the National Merit Scholarship to students for a variety of reasons. 

“It [the National Merit Scholarship] really does help you kind of gauge where you are at nationally as far as your academic ability, and it gives you the opportunity to maybe stretch your college search,” Vos said. “This may help the student believe that academically [they] can compare to students who have applied to these colleges and might help them feel more confident in applying to those higher-selective colleges.”

As a high school counselor, Vos explains that there are common characteristics for these high-achieving students.

“These students take their school seriously. They put a lot of time and decision into the courses they are taking,” Vos said. “But not only that, they take classes that will challenge them and not necessarily just take [a class where] ‘oh I can get an A in this class’ kind of class.” 

Hansen agrees with Vos that these students are hard-workers. 

“It’s the students that take the initiative. They are really my creative, idea people, but that is what I see in those highest-achieving students,” Hansen said. 

The counselors at AHS think highly of Howard and see her as one of these sharp-witted students. 

“She [Howard] wants to learn the material or learn as much as she can learn, and it is not about impressing other people,” Vos said. “It is not about wanting the accolades. It is not about any of that, it is her genuine want to learn and do better for herself. She is very humble about her achievements academically, and I think that is pretty impressive.” 

For those who are interested in the National Merit Scholarship, Vos recommends hard work and using any available resources to prepare for the process. 

“Taking the PSAT during your sophomore year will give you an overview of what that is going to be like for your junior year. The College Board has a ton of resources that are available to use and plan and prepare,” Vos said. “You have a full almost 365 days that you can utilize that information to prepare yourself for that next test.” 

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About the Contributor
Josie Babcock
Josie Babcock, Staff Reporter
Josie Babcock is a senior at Ankeny High School. She is involved in marching band, jazz band, National Honors Society, throws for track and field, and dances competitively outside of school. Josie plans to attend the University of Iowa after high school to study english and secondary education. A fun fact about Josie is that she enjoys collecting vinyl records and listening to music in her free time.
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