Mindy Do: National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist


Lauren Stallworth, Editor

A huge congratulations to Senior Mindy Do, who became a National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalist! She is the first in Cypress Creek history to receive this huge honor, and we couldn’t be prouder. Mindy is an exceptional individual who worked very hard to achieve this. I sat down with Mindy to interview her on this major accomplishment and to learn more about it, as well as get helpful tips for students who hope to become a Semi-Finalist. This is what we talked about:

Me: “Can you describe what the National Merit Scholarship is and how you receive it?”

Mindy: “The national merit scholarship (NMS) is a selective process through which winning students can be offered financial awards that are either the $2500 NMS one-payment grants or the college/corporate-sponsored awards. There are also special scholarships given to non-Finalists. In order to qualify to be put in the competing pool of students, you have to take the PSAT in your junior year. A high enough score will make the cut to be recognized, and from that group, the highest scorers in every state are announced as Semi-finalists. This already helps you qualify at some colleges for special recognition/financial awards. After that, you go through an application process online to become a Finalist (about 90% of Semi-Finalists usually move onto the Finalist title). Then, winners are picked to receive scholarship offers (everyone only is offered one, and if you pick a college as your first choice on the application, they might be the one offering the scholarship).”

Me: “When and where were you when you found out you were a semi-finalist, and what was your reaction? What was the school’s reaction?”

Mindy: “I found out that I was a Semi-finalist last week during school. My teacher told me I had been called down to the principal’s office, which confused me because I had no idea why I would be called there. When I found the room, my counselors, Mrs. Ferry, and Mrs. Hetzler-Nettles were waiting for me. They were very happy for me, and they explained to me that I made it into the Semi-finals for the National Merit Scholarship. I was really surprised, but I felt relieved and excited in a way because they told me that it would really appeal to colleges. Since it’s senior year, I had started to feel the stress about post-graduation plans, so knowing that schools might give me more offers or want me because of this made me less nervous about applying.”

Me: “What motivated you to try for getting the scholarship (if there was any) or did it just sort of happen?”

Mindy: “It definitely came as a surprise for me; I had always known there was a chance simply by taking the qualifying PSAT in junior year, but I had honestly assumed that you would have to score a near-perfect score to get into the program.”

Me: “How much studying and preparing for the PSAT did you do?”

Mindy: “I had studied some for the PSAT, but mostly I just focused on taking it faster because I saw it as a less expensive version of the real SAT, which I needed to pay for and take anyway later in the year. I think being able to finish most of the sections on the test is a huge factor for scoring higher on both the PSAT and the SAT, as well as other college admissions tests. My score actually went up by around 200 points on the 11th grade PSAT compared to my 10th grade PSAT, since I didn’t answer a lot of the questions the first time.”

Me: “Do you have any advice for students who are working towards being a finalist?”

Mindy: “For anyone trying to get into the competition, I would prepare for the PSAT by taking practice tests and answering questions. It helps to know all of the concepts that they test, like the different kinds of math problems that show up. Usually, I’ve noticed that on both the practice and actual SAT, test questions are very similar to the practice questions on Collegeboard.org, just with different numbers. Answer all the questions, even if you don’t know all of them; I don’t think they expect you to know everything, and taking your best guess is better than leaving anything unanswered. If they call 10 minutes left or you realize you don’t have much time left, just bubble in answers for everything, and if you have time left over to actually complete the section, erase and change each answer as you go. That way, you at least have the whole thing filled out. Also, after the Semi-finals, they ask for extracurriculars and awards, so be sure to build those up, in case you have to apply for Finals, and it’s good for colleges anyway. If anyone doesn’t think they can make it, I would still try taking the PSAT in your junior year since it’s good and inexpensive practice for the actual SAT, and you just never know!”

Me: “What are your future plans and how does this scholarship play into those?”

Mindy: “I plan on going to USF, which actually offers a tour just for NMS Semi-finalists. They also have a program with many benefits for National Merit Scholars. It opens up doors for me at other schools too since it buffs up my application, no matter where I go.”

It is clear that Mindy worked really hard for this opportunity, and it is paying off. This should serve as a huge inspiration for other students as well. We are so proud of you Mindy, and we are cheering you on to be the final winner!