By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian
Two Marion County students are in the running to becoming National Merit Scholarship finalists.
Elliot Herberger, a senior at Fairmont Senior High School, and Ciara Toothman, a senior at North Marion High School, achieved scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test that rank in the top one percent in the country.
“Being a National Merit semifinalist is a really big deal,” FSHS principal Ty Furgason said.
Connor Garrett, a student at East Fairmont High School, also achieved a score on the PSAT that would qualify him as a semifinalist, but because he is a junior and not a senior, he is not yet eligible to compete for the scholarship.
According to a press release from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, approximately 16,000 students from across the country have been named semifinalists. Those semifinalists will now compete for approximately 8,000 National Merit Scholarships.
Herberger, who plans to study biochemistry at West Virginia University after graduating high school next spring, has his sights set on becoming a finalist — a feat that his older brother Zack, now a sophomore at WVU, also accomplished.
“To have two finalists in the same family would be phenomenal,” Furgason said.
In order to become a finalist, Herberger and Toothman must now complete applications, write essays, have letters of recommendation from high school officials and have SAT scores that reflect the scores they achieved on the PSAT.
Herberger said he prepared for the SAT by studying vocabulary words and quizzing himself with the SAT Question of the Day.
“That’s him taking that little extra step to challenge himself,” Furgason said.
In addition to his good grades and test scores, Herberger is also involved in organizations such as his school’s Math Club and Science Bowl Team and is a member of the FSHS band.
“He is a top-of-the-line student,” Furgason said. “He does as much as he can, and he puts 100 percent into everything.”
According to Herberger, the classes he has had the opportunity to take as a high school student have contributed to his success.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do it if I didn’t participate in AP (Advanced Placement) classes,” he said.
Furgason said that the honor Herberger received is one that sets him apart from his peers and one that everyone at FSHS is proud of.
Like Herberger, Toothman was also excited to hear that she had been named a semifinalist.
“I knew I was in the running for it, but finding out that I had advanced was really exciting,” Toothman said.
Carrie Elmlinger, a guidance counselor at NMHS, said she was not surprised that Toothman had been named a semifinalist.
“She’s really active in the school, takes the most advanced classes she can and has very high expectations about what she's going to do after high school,” Elmlinger said. “I’m confident she’s going to be able to do that and be successful and make a difference.”
Toothman said that after high school she hopes to attend Columbia University and study international relations.
Elmlinger said it’s not often that NMHS is represented with a National Merit semifinalist, so the school is proud of Toothman’s efforts.
“That’s a very big accomplishment, and everyone’s really excited that she got that,” Elmlinger said.
In addition to her academic success, Toothman has also been a member of the NMHS tennis team, the school choir, the Rocket Club, and student council, among other organizations.
And as Herberger hopes to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and be named a National Merit finalist, Toothman, too, hopes to earn that distinction.
“The ultimate goal is to move on and achieve a finalist standing, receive a scholarship and apply to colleges and be able to say I am a National Merit finalist,” Toothman said.
Elmlinger is confident that Toothman could do just that.
“It is very selective, but she has just as good a chance as anybody,” Elmlinger said.
Herberger and Toothman will find out between April and July of 2014 whether or not they have been named finalists in the scholarship competition.
Email Kaylyn Christopher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.