Central grad, 3 Uni grads earn National Merit Scholarships

Central grad, 3 Uni grads earn National Merit Scholarships

CHAMPAIGN — A recent Champaign Central graduate is trading in his Illinois roots in hopes of broadening his cultural experience while attending college in Texas — and he'll be doing it as a National Merit Scholar.

"I've grown up all 18 years in Champaign," said Matthew Caughey. "I figured it would be a nice change of pace."

Caughey earned a National Merit Scholarship to attend Texas A&M University, where he will study mechanical engineering. He was one of 1.6 million students who applied by taking the 2016 PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as juniors.

Caughey's success may be attributed to his early preparations.

"During my sophomore year, the PSAT was offered and my friend told me about the scholarship opportunities you can get with a high score," he said. "When I took it my junior year, I made sure I took it seriously. Then when I got my scores back, I made sure I qualified."

This isn't Caughey's first time earning recognition for academic achievements. The 18-year-old also won the $500 Ben Watts Memorial scholarship.

University-sponsored National Merit Scholarships provide between $500 and $2,000 annually for up to four years of undergraduate study. Semifinalists for must be among the highest-scoring entrants in their state and in good academic standing. Last fall, that amounted to about 16,000 students, representing about 1 percent of seniors.

Caughey said he was sure the scholarship was his despite the competitive applicant pool.

"I have a friend who won it previously, so I compared his test scores with mine and they were similar," he said. "I was confident I was going to win."

According to the program, this year, over $31 million in scholarships will be handed out to nearly 7,500 winners. About 3,500 finalists were selected to receive college-sponsored awards Wednesday, four of whom are from the C-U area. The rest of the winners will be announced July 16.

Caughey was the only recipient among three semifinalists at Central. Uni High in Urbana saw three of its 13 semifinalists earn university-sponsored awards: Robert Chen, who is headed to the University of Chicago; Reed Phillips, who will attend the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.; and Jake Robbennolt, who will study at the University of Minnesota.

This year, 100 private and 78 public higher-education institutions in 44 states and the District of Columbia are underwriting scholarships, according to the program.

Caughey said he chose Texas A&M for its reputable engineering program. Despite the cost of out-of-state tuition, he was attracted by several other scholarships the university offered him.

"Illinois and Texas have comparable engineering programs," Caughey said, but the UI's nationally ranked engineering school would not satisfy his desire for change.

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