Hartselle High Principal Brad Cooper was astonished when he saw the list of National Merit Scholarship semifinalists this month and found he had five students who qualified.
“This is the highest number the school has had since 1987 when we had eight (semifinalists),” Cooper said. “There’s been two or three before but never five.”
There were 244 semifinalists statewide who qualified for the 68th annual National Merit Scholarship Program and over 16,000 students who qualified nationally.
High school juniors entered the 2023 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2021 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of semifinalists, representing less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state.
Hartselle High seniors Brody Boster, Jacob Bowling, Reid Ellis, Eli Moore and Parker Stewart were informed Tuesday of their status as semifinalists.
The five students have had the chance to work and bond with each other throughout their high school career in their Advanced Placement classes. All five students have a 4.0 or higher GPA and scored over a 30 on their most recent ACT assessments. A score of 30 places them in the 93rd percentile of all ACT test-takers nationally.
Moore plays on the varsity soccer team and is editor of the school newspaper, the Tiger Times. He said his counselor had recommended that he take the PSAT his junior year.
“We recruit students who are high performing academically to take the PSAT,” Cooper said. “We offer it for students in ninth, 10th and 11th grades …. Obviously, in ninth and 10th grade it doesn’t count toward the National Merit program but we want those students to get experience.”
Stewart, scholars bowl captain and a member of the bowling team, said by the time he became an upperclassmen, he was determined to ace the PSAT.
“I’m extremely competitive so … it was a competition within myself to get this,” Stewart said.
Boster said his mother tutors students to prepare them for the PSAT and “she kind of pushed me to take it.”
All five said they did not have to study much because they never have issues taking tests.
They all plan to attend state colleges after graduation. Moore plans to major in public relations at the University of Alabama and wants to attend seminary afterward. Stewart plans to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama. Ellis plans to attend the University of Alabama and pursue a degree in the medical field. Boster plans to major in computer science at the University of Alabama, and Bowling plans to major in engineering at Auburn University.
Cooper said in the five years he has been an administrator at Hartselle High, they have been offering students study sessions to prepare them for the PSAT. He attributed the five students' success to the study sessions and Advanced Placement classes.
Hartselle High senior counselor Cory Wilbanks said she had the opportunity to work with each of the five students this year and was not surprised at their achievements.
“They are all amazing young men,” Wilbanks said. “Well-rounded, bright … all of those things. We’re incredibly proud of them.”
Last year, Hartselle senior Lauren Temples became a finalist in the 67th annual National Merit Scholarship Program and was one of only two students in Morgan County and the only student at Hartselle High to receive that award. She was accepted to Mississippi State University and earned $2,500 in National Merit scholarship funds.
The other students in Limestone, Morgan and Lawrence counties announced this month as semifinalists were in Athens: Asa Savoie from Athens High and Joshua Harbin from Lindsay Lane Christian Academy.
Vestavia Hills High had the most semifinalists in the state with 21, followed by Bob Jones in Madison with 19, Hoover with 18, Loveless Magnet in Montgomery with 17, James Clemens in Madison with 13 and Mountain Brook with 11.
The National Merit Scholarship Program is a nonprofit organization established in 1955 which rewards students who show academic ability and potential for college success. The annual scholarship program will award nearly $28 million in scholarships to 7,250 high school seniors in the spring.