Vera ’19 was named this week to a prestigious student list: National Merit Scholars. She’s one of only 13 students in the state to receive the designation this year. Even more impressive is the fact that the original pool of National Merit semifinalists is approximately 16,000.
“It’s very exciting to get the scholarship because so few people receive it, and it’s based off of more than just test scores,” said Vera. The original group of semifinalists is selected based on their PSAT scores. Semifinalists then endure a rigorous application process, much like a college admissions process with grades, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and other documents all being evaluated.
Vera said that her first run at the PSATs, while she was studying abroad in Spain in the 10th grade, was less than spectacular. She decided to try again in 11th grade to improve her score in order to achieve that coveted National Merit Scholarship recipient title; so she went to work.
“It was actually kind of fun,” said Vera of the studying regimen that she put into place. Vera said she used Khan Academy, a free test-prep service, to create study and test plans designed specifically for her academic needs. Studying 15 minutes per day for about six months gave her a break from her “usual” work and improved her abilities in areas where the test prep identified the most need. “Breaking things up also helped,” said Vera, “so that the additional study time didn’t feel like a burden; it simply became part of her daily routine.
The extra work paid off. Vera’s National Merit Scholarship, underwritten by the UPS Foundation, was publicly announced earlier this week. The financial award will be applied to her tuition and fees at Pomona College in California where she plans to major in public policy analysis and minor in physics. Vera said she’s always wanted to work for NASA, but she could also see herself in a career as a policy analyst working for a politician, or even running for office one day. “I think it would be cool to come back to New Mexico,” she said.
To other aspiring National Merit Scholars, Vera offered this advice, “No matter where you’re starting from, you can always improve. So just go for it. I believe it comes down to practice. Also, don’t inflate it. It’s not the most important thing in the world, but if you can put real commitment into it, it could pay off.”