Senior Josh Engels wins National Merit Scholarship


Graphic by Selina Ding.

By Zoe Kaufmann

Senior Josh Engels received a National Merit Scholarship worth $2,500 May 11. Engels is the only Whitman student and one of 21 seniors in MCPS selected by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for the award this year.

“I wasn’t surprised,” math teacher Michelle Holloway said. “I’m happy for him—he’s absolutely deserving.”

The NMSC names semifinalists based on students’ PSAT scores from their junior year. Semifinalists, who represent the top 0.5% percent of scores in each state, are informed in mid-September. Semifinalists apply for finalist positions by submitting their transcript, SAT scores, a personal essay and a list of extracurricular activities to the NMSC, which then selects about 15,000 of the 16,000 annual semifinalists to become finalists.

Engels wasn’t surprised to hear he was named a finalist because his score was well within the qualifying range, he said. Still, he was excited to learn that he’d won the $2,500.

“Really, $2,500 is a lot, but in the grand scheme of college where it’s so much more?” Engels said. “It’s nice to have it.”

There are three types of scholarships awarded to finalists: 2,500 worth $2,500 each and funded by the NMSC; about 1,000 corporate-sponsored awards for finalists who are in some way connected to their company, like children of employees; and 4,000 scholarships sponsored by about 190 colleges and universities for finalists planning to attend those schools.

Eleven Whitman seniors qualified as semifinalists for the 2017-2018 school year. While Engels is the only finalist this year, generally two to three Whitman students are named finalists annually, resource counselor Kari Wislar said.

“I don’t know if it’s the school or the kids themselves, their drive,” Wislar said. “I would love to say it’s all Whitman, but I don’t believe that. I think it’s a combination of just the dynamics of our community—kids work hard and they’re passionate.”