Local students earn National Merit Scholarships

A trio of students from Johnson County are among about 7,500 in the United States to earn National Merit Scholarships.

Franklin Community High School senior Will McGuinness, homeschool student and Greenwood resident Julia Johnson and Justin Xia, a former Center Grove High School student who now attends the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities in Muncie will each receive $2,500 towards their college educations.

In order to qualify for the scholarships, the students posted scores in the top 1% of PSAT. They had to complete an application, including a personal essay, and provide an academic transcript and ACT or SAT scores that demonstrated continued proficiency.


McGuinness, the only student attending a Johnson County High School to receive a scholarship, plans to go to DePauw University to major in economics or political science.

The process took about a year and a half, he said.

“Early junior year I took the PSAT, and off of that I got into the semifinalist round earlier this year,” McGuinness said. “Earlier this winter, we found out we were finalists and a couple of weeks ago, they sent letters to all the people who were the actual scholarship recipients, so it’s been about a year-and-a-half process.”

Heading into college with financial assistance will provide McGuinness some needed relief, he said.

“To be one of the only ones from Johnson County to have gotten this, it’s a big deal for me,” McGuinness said. “Obviously, going into college nowadays, this is a big, big deal financially. I’ve been filling out scholarship applications left and right so every bit of money helps. This not only reflects how many years of work have paid off but it also helps to have that money and know that’s $2,500 less my parents and I will have to pay for college.”

During his time at the school, McGuinness participated in National Honor Society, Franklin Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, Harvard Model Congress and was a member of the boys varsity golf team.

Xia, from Greenwood, went to Center Grove High School during his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities, a boarding school in Muncie.


During his time in high school, Xia has been heavily involved in extracurricular activities, he said.

“I was on the swim team at Center Grove and at the school I go to now. I started playing soccer at this school, I am one of the presidents of Asian Student Union and did Academic Super Bowl,” Xia said.

Xia will next head to Atlanta, where he will study computer science at Georgia Tech University.

“It’s in Atlanta, which is a big city with a lot of opportunities. There are a lot of people and also it has a really good reputation for computer science,” Xia said. “I’m really happy I got (the scholarship). It’s a multifaceted thing, with a test but also an application process to make it through. I’m happy I made it through.”

Homeschool student Julia Johnson got the news of her scholarship in late March, after completing the application, which included listing her activities and volunteer work, an essay and answered demographic questions. In her essay, she discussed why she wanted to pursue a career in service, Johnson said in an email.


“First, I describe how my parents ran a group home and inspired me to help those who are less fortunate than I am,” she said. “Then, I describe how a service done by my youth group helped me realize I wanted to have a career serving others. We make ceramic hearts, butterflies and urns for families with stillborn babies. One year after joining the ministry, I became its coordinator. Finally, I recount a hand injury I sustained in gymnastics, and how the kindness of my occupational therapist inspired me to pursue a career as an occupational therapist so I could help other people heal.”

Johnson has accepted an offer from the University of Indianapolis, the tuition of which will be covered by the National Merit scholarship and the university’s Presidential scholarship. She plans to study exercise science before pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy.

“I am deeply honored to receive this scholarship and appreciate the fact that I can share in the joy of others in my community,” she said.