National Merit semi-finalist shines

Published 9:31 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

Kersti Francis is shooting for the stars.

The Nansemond-Suffolk Academy senior’s college application list is a breakdown of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. Bryn Mawr College, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary all are in her sights.

Now, Francis is one step closer to attending one of those colleges. She is a semi-finalist for the National Merit Scholarship – the only semi-finalist from a Suffolk high school.

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“I was so overjoyed (when I found out),” Francis said. “I mean, it’s a great honor.”

More than 1.5 million then-juniors in more than 21,000 high schools entered the 2009 National Merit Program by taking the 2007 PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The nationwide pool of semi-finalists represents less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors.

To become a finalist, Francis now must complete an extensive application, which includes recommendations from NSA faculty, maintain an outstanding academic record, and earn SAT scores that confirm her earlier performance on the qualifying test. She also must write an essay and detail her participation and leadership in school and community activities.

About 15,000 semi-finalists are expected to advance to the finalist level. It is from this group that National Merit Scholarship winners will be chosen. In addition, numerous colleges and corporations will offer scholarships to students from this group based on such things as the students’ preferred course of study, potential career path, and other criteria.

“It’s a long shot, because only 8,200 people get it,” Francis said, referring to the approximate number of National Merit Scholarship and the sponsored scholarships combined.

Asked how she would feel if the “long shot” paid off, she said, “I would be on top of the world.”

Francis, who commutes to NSA every day from her home in Boykins, Southampton County, said she’s looking at mostly smaller, more intimate colleges because of her NSA experience.

“I love having smaller classes,” she said. “I’ve had such a great experience here.”

Francis is thinking about some form of history or linguistics study in college, corresponding to her studies of Advanced Placement history and Latin classes at NSA.

While at NSA, Francis has been in the Drama Club, the jazz band, and National Honor Society, and also is one of the co-authors of the Suffolk Humane Society newsletter.