Looking toward the future

Corwin Jones’ advice to Half Moon Bay High School students: Don’t underestimate the potential importance of the PSAT test because scholarship money is possible. Adam Pardee / Review

Corwin Jones, a Half Moon Bay High School graduate, has been named a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

Every year, millions of high school juniors take the PSAT. Those who score within the 96th percentile on the preliminary college entrance test become eligible for National Merit Scholar awards. Around 16,000 of these students earn scores that qualify them as semifinalists, meaning that they are among the highest scorers within their state. This group is narrowed down to 15,000 — less than 1 percent — who become finalists.

This year, Jones was one of them.

Jones first became aware of the National Merit Scholarship program as a sophomore in high school.

“I didn’t know it was a program until I took the PSAT and I saw the letters on the test and thought, ‘What do those stand for?’” Jones recalled.

The letters in question are NMSQT. They stand for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, a lesser known title for the PSAT.

“Take the PSAT seriously,” Jones urged. ”I didn’t until after the first time I took it when I found out that you could get serious scholarships from it.”

Jones qualified for the National Merit Scholarship Program in his junior year when he took the test for the second time. Since then, many colleges made the standardized test requirement for admission optional due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Now, with the SAT being optional, the PSAT actually qualifies you for more,” Jones noted. “The test costs less than the SAT, and it doesn’t take very long, so if you study well and you prepare well, then you can get good money to go to college.”

In order to qualify as a finalist, each semifinalist is required to submit a scholarship application, which includes essays, letters of recommendation and information about extracurricular activities.

On his application, Jones emphasized the importance of collaboration to his success in and out of the classroom.

“The math department here really set me up for success,” Jones explained. “I’ve had Ms. Treanor for three years now and her precalculus and calculus courses are well above the standard you would expect from a public school.”

He learned the value of collaboration outside of the classroom as a member of the school band. Jones played not one, but six instruments — the drums, oboe, clarinet, trombone, saxophone and guitar.

“Band didn’t help me with my test-taking but it definitely helped me feel more confident, open and bold,” he said.

The band provided Jones some necessary relief from the pressures of the classroom.

“I think it’s important to not always be completely focused on learning and going to school and doing work,” said Jones. “I definitely did that, and it got me great test scores and into a great college, but I didn’t have a lot of fun in my first couple of years of high school.”

This is a lesson Jones was glad to learn before he continues on to Rose–Hulman Institute of Technology, a private university in Terre Haute, Ind., where he will study civil engineering. He will receive a recurring $2,000 scholarship each year due to his achievement as a National Merit finalist.

“It’s important to do well in all of your classes and everyone should apply themselves the best they can, but that doesn’t mean you should work yourself to the bone for your calculus class,” Jones advised. 

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