Two Tullahoma High School students have been named as semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Jacob M. Bennett and Franklin X. Zhang are among the approximately 16,000 high school seniors to be named semifinalists in the 67th annual National Merit Scholarship Program. These semifinalists now have an opportunity to continue in the competition for some 7,500 National Merit Scholarships worth nearly $30 million that will be offered next spring. The pair join 344 other Tennessee high school seniors competing in the next round of competition in search of the finalist title.

In order to be considered the National Merit Scholarship, the semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the finalist level of competition. About 95% of the semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing, and approximately half of those finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship and earn the Merit Scholar title.

High school juniors entered the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2020 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Qualifying Test, which served as an initial screen of program entrants. The nationwide pool of semifinalists, representing less than 1% of all high school seniors in the U.S., includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.

To become a finalist, semifinalists and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application, in which they provide information about the semifinalist’s academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment and honors and awards received. A semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout their high school career, be endorsed and recommended by a high school official, write an essay and earn SAT or ACT scores that confirm the student’s earlier performance on the qualifying test.

Around 15,000 semifinalists are expected to advance to the finalist level. They will receive notification of that designation in February. All National Merit Scholarship winners will be selected from that group of finalists. Merit Scholar designees are selected on the basis of their skills, accomplishments and potential for success in rigorous college students, without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin or religious preference.

There are three types of National Merit Scholarships available to be awarded in the spring of 2022. Every finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit $2,500 scholarships that will be awarded on a state-representational basis. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarships will be awarded by approximately 220 corporations and business organizations for finalists who meet those specific criteria, such as children of the grantor’s employees or residents of the communities where sponsor plants or offices are located. Additionally, about 180 colleges and universities are expected to finance some 4,000 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for finalists who will attend those institutions.

Should either Bennett or Zhang be named a finalist, they will join more than 362,000 other students who have earned the title of Merit Scholar.

“We were so excited, and are still absolutely delighted, to learn that TCS had not only one, but two students who were named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists,” said TCS Director of Schools, Dr. Catherine Stephens. “Both Franklin and Jacob exemplify the best in academics. Being named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists is a testament to their hard work in and out of the classroom, which has elevated them to the top level of students across Tennessee. The Tullahoma City School District is so proud of both of these students and knows their future is bright with many options before them.”

“For both of these young men to be named semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship, it speaks volumes to the amount of work that these two continue to pour into their academics,” said THS Principal Jason Quick. “These last two years have offered several challenges. However, these young men have overcome those obstacles and have been rewarded for their perseverance.” 

The two will be honored at the next meeting of the Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education, which is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21.

Jacob is the son of Dr. Howard and Jennifer Bennett.

Franklin is the son of Dr. Fengtuan Zhang and Ximin Wang.

Managing Editor

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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