LAKE JACKSON — Brazoswood High School graduate Luke Whitehead didn’t realize just how far he could take his college career until he started the National Merit Scholarship program and opportunities flooded his way.
“College for me had always just been I’ll work hard, I’ll make good grades and I’ll go from there,” he said. “Then I had this happen. I can maybe take this further than I thought I could.”
The 18-year-old is going to the University of Oklahoma this fall with his tuition paid for thanks to being a finalist in the National Merit Scholarship program.
The National Merit program is an academic scholarship competition for recognition and university scholarships administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corp. The program, which began in 1955, has high school students entering the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
Figuring out the merit system proved a bit challenging, Whitehead said.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know hardly anything about these merit-styled scholarships,” he said. “I was suggested to take the PSAT my junior year and I ended up doing very well on it. Then we found out about the process for becoming a national merit scholar and I was right on the cutline for it.”
Whitehead’s score held up and he became a semifinalist, he said.
“Then we had to write an essay, create a profile, basically let them know more about me,” he said. “Most semi-finalists make it onward. The score you have to make is the top .5 percent of the nation.”
Whitehead excelled and ended up becoming a finalist in the scholarship program. It was then he starting qualifying for several colleges and universities, and the University of Oklahoma started reaching out to him, Whitehead said.
“As soon as I hit the semifinalist mark, Oklahoma began sending me stuff about it,” he said.
Whitehead went to visit the college and felt a connection to Norman, a town near the college campus, he said.
“What sold me on it was the town around it, actually,” he said. “Norman feels a lot like Lake Jackson. It’s not a big city, but it has everything you need. It really just felt like a place where I could go and just thrive on my education.”
His son has always consistently proven himself with his intellect, father Jay Whitehead said, and he’s excited about the opportunities his son can have thanks to the merit scholarship system.
“That’s a gift,” he said. “His burden is going to be work hard and do something with it. As a parent, you say, ‘What can we do to help you use your gift for good things?’”
Targeting a major in political science and dreaming of going to law school, Luke whitehead is ready to prove himself and what he wants to achieve, he said.
“I feel like this is my chance to show everyone that I am planning on going above and beyond with my academics,” he said. “That this is important to me. That this is what I want to excel in.”