It’s not every day that a Bozeman High School senior earns a perfect score on the SAT, the nerve-wracking college-entrance exam.

Seventeen-year-old Kelsey Larson sounds as surprised as anyone at her accomplishment. The odds of a perfect score of 2,400 on the SAT are roughly one in 5,000, according to the College Board.

“I was pretty dang happy when I saw it,” Larson said and grinned. So how did she pull it off?

“I read a ton,” Larson said, “and I have a pretty good head for math. I didn’t really study that much.”

Fellow student Nick Peyton had his own explanation for Larson’s perfect score: “Voodoo.”

They are two of the 11 Bozeman High students who scored so well on the Preliminary SAT test in their junior year that they’ve been named National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists. They are in the top 16,000 of the 1.5 million students nationwide who took the PSAT last year.

Another five Gallatin County students also won the honor, giving the county 16 semi-finalists, more than any other county in Montana, including more populous counties like Yellowstone and Missoula.

Bozeman High had more semi-finalists than any single high school in the state, Dianne Corneer, senior class counselor, said with pride.

Corneer couldn’t recall another student earning a perfect score in her 10 years in the counseling office. She called Larson “very humble, modest, a normal kid.”

In interviews at Bozeman High on Tuesday, the National Merit students joked around a lot.

“As a group, they’re very bright, they get good grades, they don’t take themselves too seriously,” Corneer said. “They’re regular kids and they like to laugh.”

Having endured the ordeal of taking college-entrance tests, filling out college applications and writing the dreaded personal essays, their advice to other students was: Don’t get too worked up over it. And start early.

“We’ll all be OK in the end,” said Savannah Roberts, 17. “It is very hard getting through it all. Whatever you do, you’re going to be successful.”

“Just relax,” Oona Taper said. “Everybody gets so stressed.”

Larson’s advice was to get started writing college applications in the summer before senior year starts, when there’s less time.

Larson said what’s been most meaningful to her at Bozeman High has been taking Gate classes for gifted freshmen, choosing college-level Advanced Placement classes and being on the Hawkers speech and debate team. She said she wrote her college essay about “my love affair with economics.” After high school, she said she might like to study international economic development. She has applied to several top universities and is trying not to “freak out” waiting to hear from them.

Savannah Roberts, 17, senior class president, also competes in speech and debate and is vice president of the Leo Club service organization. She said she hopes to become a psychologist or family counselor.

“I want to be able to help people who are struggling,” Roberts said.

Allison Rognlie, 18, said her passion has been the Bozeman High Marching Band. She plays trumpet and plans to major in music education.

“I love music and I want to share it with other people,” Rognlie said. She wrote her college essay about traveling around the world when her dad worked for a semester-at-sea program.

“It opened my eyes to how lucky I am to live in the United States,” Rognlie said. “It made me want to do something for those less privileged.”

Mark Raymond, 18, said most important to him in high school has been running cross country and taking AP courses, especially psychology and history. He said he’ll probably go to college and major in economics and psychology, but he might “ski bum a while.”

Taper, 18, has been chief editor of the Scribblings creative writing and art magazine for two years and also competes in speech and debate. She said she has no idea what she’ll major in during college. “I love art,” she said, but also philosophy, physics and psychology.

Nichole Young, 17, plays bassoon in the school orchestra, band and Kamarata. “I couldn’t imagine my life without music,” she said. But she also grew up living in Morocco, Egypt, China and India and has enjoyed Model United Nations, so she may pursue an international major.

Peyton, 17, competes on the speech and debate team in policy debate. He said he’s hoping to go to college but has no idea yet about a major. Maybe underwater basket-weaving, he quipped.

Nathan Brown said he hopes to go into biotechnology, after working on fungi in a lab at Montana State University under scientist Gary Strobel. After high school, he hopes to attend Brigham Young University and may go on a mission for his Mormon Church. Brown recently visited Brazil through a U.S. State Department Young Ambassadors program. He also competes on the speech and debate team.

Carol Baumbauer, 17, said music has been a big part of her life at Bozeman High, playing saxophone in the Jazz Band and Marching Band. She also loves sciences and may major in engineering. She wrote her college essay about her summer experience at the Johnson Space Center, participating in a program to interest girls in math and science careers. She got to work on designing a manned mission to Mars. Baumbauer said she liked the challenge “to take crazy ideas and make them possible.”

Elicia Shotland was unavailable for an interview and Theresa Barton is in Germany on an exchange program.

Also named National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists from Gallatin County were:

  • Nathan Robertus of Heritage Christian School.
  • Nathaniel Field of Belgrade High School.
  • Shannon McCleary, a home-schooled student.
  • Sarah Schachman of Manhattan High School.
  • Jacob Colberg of Three Forks High School.

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