Thomas Coyle Named National Merit Scholarship Finalist


Meredith James, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

As far as this school year has gone, every single student has been faced with ups, downs and 360’s. With scholarships being limited, tests becoming optional and colleges changing their admission rules, navigating the waters of post-graduation has become quite a challenge.

 Thomas Coyle, NDA senior, will probably not find those post-graduation waters so challenging.  Coyle is the only member of the 2021 graduating class to be named a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

According to college counselor Becky Bain, each year roughly 1.5 million high school juniors across the nation enter the National Merit Scholarship competition by taking the PSAT/NMSQ exam. Of the 1.5 million students, 50,000 qualify for entrance into the scholarship program. Of the 50,000, two thirds become “Commended” students, while one third advance to the “semifinals.” 

In the words of the counselor, “It is a big deal to even make it this far–as a semifinalist.  Out of the semifinalists, 15,000 finalists are chosen. In mid-June, 7,600 winners are selected and notified of scholarships.”

Bain likens the National Merit Scholarship program “to an academic marathon” and calls what Coyle has done “quite an accomplishment.”

The finalist himself–in his typically dry, unassuming wit–sees the achievement a bit differently: “To me, being a National Merit finalist means that all of those practice tests finally paid off.”

Coyle credited his mother with encouraging him to “take all those tests.”

SAT scores and other qualifications make the student stand apart from the crowd. Out of all the juniors who take the PSAT and SAT tests only 3% qualify for the National Merit Scholarship. Being a finalist, and even receiving scholarship funds, is a major accomplishment and honor highly recognized by colleges and universities. 

These scholarship funds are offered through businesses, universities and the National Merit Corporation. In order to advance to finalist standing and be considered for a scholarship, students have to submit an application which includes an essay and a letter of recommendation. These essays also play a key role in determining who qualifies for scholarships.

With or without National Merit scholarship funds, Coyle plans to attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he will major in mechanical engineering.

The senior decided on Benedictine College because it “is small enough that the professors really pay attention to the students” and “most of the classes were in person and not virtual.”

As far as his interest in engineering, Coyle said, “I like knowing how things work. My strongest subject is math, and I liked ICP as a freshman with Mrs. Hearden. You could ask her a question about almost anything, and she had a good answer.  I like physics too.”