Maddy Gillner ’22 Named National Merit Scholar

Sunday, May 8, 2022
Maddy Gillner ’22 (right) attending prom in 2021

Maddy Gillner ’22 is not someone who brags about herself or her accomplishments, but when she learned this spring that she was named a National Merit Scholar, she couldn’t keep it to herself.

“I was initially kind of surprised,” she says, because her notification letter was sent in February to her parents’ house in Rector, PA, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh—and her parents did not open her mail. When she got an email later in the spring, she says, “I was just very confused, but of course, I was excited and happy, and I texted a few of my friends, which is something I don’t do very often to brag about stuff, but I thought, ‘This was so fun!’”

Gillner was selected as a winner of the National Merit Siemens Scholarship, which is sponsored by the Siemens Foundation. 

Approximately 1.6 million students took the qualifying PSAT to enter the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program, and from that number, only about 16,000 were named Semifinalists. 

“It starts in 11th grade with the PSAT,” says Gillner, “and the scores based off of that put you into the second round. And then after that, it’s a question process sort of like a college application. I really liked the PSATs. Especially compared to the SATs and ACTs, they’re kind of fun. They’re a little bit more lighthearted and puzzle-ly.”

In order to advance in the competition and be considered for a Merit Scholarship award, a Semifinalist has to become a Finalist by fulfilling several requirements that include submitting a detailed scholarship application and presenting a record of very high academic performance. Winners of the approximately 7,500 National Merit Scholarships are chosen from the group of approximately 15,000 distinguished Finalists.

“After the PSATs, when I was chosen as a Semifinalist, I think the hardest part was the usability of the forms they have,” says Gillner. “It is not user friendly whatsoever, so I had to go through and double check and triple check everything because the forms are weird. I also had to write for a couple of prompts, and they weren’t terrible, but it was just a lot especially because it was at the same time as my college applications.”

As Gillner looks back on the process, she recognizes now how seriously she took it and how much she has changed since the competition began. “Because the [application] process is so long, I kind of tack it on to how I’ve changed as a person from 11th grade until now,” she says. “Even in 11th grade when it was still fun, I took the PSATs way too seriously. There are more important things than standardized tests, which I think is why in 11th and 12th grade, my extracurriculars go from things that look good [on an application] to things that I actually wanted to do.”

Some of those activities that Gillner has particularly enjoyed include Mercersburg Outdoor Education programs like Rivers and Trails and skiing. “It was my first time skiing [this year], and I love it so much,” she says. Gillner has also been heavily involved in community engagement, and she has served as a dorm perfect for the last two years. She is also a solid writer, serving on the staff of The Mercersburg News.

At Mercersburg, her favorite subjects span a range of subjects. “Throughout the whole year, I have really liked comparative government, and it has almost gotten me into double majoring or minoring in political science,” Gillner says. “I love discussing and debating. In physics right now, we are moving into magnetism, and that’s really fun. In advanced studies literature, we’re starting our unit on Toni Morrison, and we’re discussing Song of Solomon.”

Gillner’s scholarship will be in the amount of $1,000, renewable each year. She will be attending Penn State University, Schreyer Honors College in the fall, and she already has a pretty good sense of what she wants to study. As she explains, “I plan on majoring in astrophysics, which has been my core interest since I was 8 or 9. If I end up learning that I don’t actually like astrophysics at a deeper level, I will probably switch it up and become a lawyer.”

Mercersburg has now had a National Merit Scholar in each of the past three years; learn more about recent recipients Lian Wang ’21 and Sean Fiscus ’20. For students just starting out in the National Merit Scholarship process, Gillner offers this advice: “The PSATs? Just treat them as fun. They don’t matter as much. But for the actual scholarship application, just treat it as another college application.”

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance, was established in 1955 to conduct the National Merit Scholarship Program. The majority of National Merit Scholarships offered each year are underwritten by some 400 independent corporate and college sponsors that support NMSC’s efforts to honor the nation’s scholastically talented youth and encourage academic excellence at all levels of education.

For more information on this story, please contact Lee Owen ( in Mercersburg’s Office of Strategic Marketing and Communications.