National Merit Scholarship finalist from East Catholic

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Feb. 21, 2013
(L-r) East Catholic guidance counselor Cathleen Luker, senior Grant Marsden, and East Catholic Principal and Chief Administrator Jay Hartling after being notified that Marsden was a National Merit Scholarship finalist. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

East Catholic High School is proud to announce that a senior, Grant Marsden, has recently been named a finalist for the National Merit Scholarship. “Grant is an incredibly gifted student. I think his academic talents are only matched by the amount of time that he puts in,” said Jay Hartling, school principal and chief administrator. “He really does strive for excellence in everything he does.”

The National Merit Scholarship is an academic competition that has bestowed scholarships – and recognition – to students since 1955. To be considered, candidates first take the Preliminary SAT. Every state has a cutoff score that a candidate must achieve in order to be commended for eligible status. This year in Connecticut, the cutoff was 218. Marsden scored 222.

Of the 1.5 million students who take the PSATs, only 50,000 students with the highest scores are selected to continue in the process. Of the 50,000, the majority – 34,000 – are informed through their school that they have received a Letter of Commendation, which recognizes their academic promise. However, 16,000 of that 50,000 are chosen as semifinalists.

“I happened to be one of those,” said Marsden. The announcement that Marsden was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist came in September.

To ensure that students from all states are represented, semifinalists are designated on a state representational basis. To apply for finalist status, he must rank high in the SATs – he again got 222 – and write an essay. Guidance counselor Cathleen Luker also helped to prepare the application.

From the 16,000 semifinalists, the field was narrowed to 15,000. Early in February, East Catholic was notified that Marsden, again, was among that winning group. Hartling and Luker received a certificate, which they presented to Marsden.

The selection of the National Merit Scholarship winners is now in progress. The winners will include 8,300 students – roughly half the number of finalists – and are selected based on abilities, skills and accomplishments. The scholarship selectors also evaluate finalists' academic records, their school's curriculum, their activities and leadership positions, and recommendations written by school officials. Marsden will know by late March if he is a winner.

Marsden credits his parents for inspiring him to strive for this scholarship. “Before the PSATs, my dad sat down with me and pushed me to study and do well,” he said. Even though the PSAT quite literally is only a practice SAT, it is the first thing that determines whether or not students will be eligible to receive the National Merit Scholarship, and Marsden gave it his best.

At East Catholic, Marsden co-leads the Debate Club, is on the robotics team, and has recently gotten involved in ultimate Frisbee. He hopes to study chemical engineering in college, and has applications out to Purdue, MIT and Northwestern.

Hartling also notes that Marsden is well respected in the school community. “He's very humble. He's absolutely brilliant, but very down to earth. He's a very great-natured young man,” said Hartling. “We're very fortunate to have him in the family at East Catholic.”

Marsden believes his education at East Catholic has given him an advantage. “They offer a lot of AP courses, and those have definitely helped,” he said.

While Marsden is not sure if he will be selected as a recipient, he is proud to have been named a finalist. “I'm really happy that I've made it this far,” he said. “It's been a lot of work, but it looks like it's going to pay off. I feel like I've met one of my goals.”

“I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best,” he said.

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