Jung and the other 2,500 Merit Scholar designees were chosen from a competition that began in October 2014 when more than 1.5 million juniors in some 22,000 high schools took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which served as an initial screening. Last fall, the highest-scoring participants in each state, representing less than one percent of the nation’s high school seniors, were named semifinalists on a state-representational basis. Only these 16,000 semifinalists had an opportunity to continue in the competition. From the semifinalist group, 15,000 students met the high academic standards and other requirements to advance to the finalist level. By the conclusion of the 2016 program, about 7,500 finalists will have earned the Merit Scholar title and received a total of about $33 million in college scholarships.
National Merit Scholarship winners are the finalists in each state judged to have the strongest combination of accomplishments, skills and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The number of winners in each state is proportional to the state’s percentage of graduating seniors. These scholars were selected by a committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors, who appraised substantial information submitted by the finalists and their high schools, including academic record and the difficulty level of subjects studied and grades earned; scores from two standardized tests; contributions and leadership in school and community activities; an essay written by the finalist; and a recommendation written by a high school official.