When Alexandria Area High School senior Amanda Bittmann told her parents that she was a semifinalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program, they were impressed, but not by a lot. Being smart is common in the family.

“We’re almost to the point where this sort of stuff is normal,” she said. “It wasn’t a huge surprise, but yet it was just one more thing of wow, (my) hard work’s really paying off.”

Bittmann’s older brother, Matthew, was a semifinalist, finalist and National Merit Scholarship winner in 2016. Bittmann said the two have a bit of a friendly competition with test scores.

Bittmann was one of more than 1.5 million juniors in about 21,000 high schools who entered the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2018 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

The nationwide group of semifinalists, totaling 16,000 students, represents less than 1% of U.S. high school seniors and includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state. Bittmann was the only semifinalist from Douglas County.

From the approximately 16,000 semifinalists, a majority are expected to be notified in February that they are finalists. National Merit Scholarship winners will be selected from this group of finalists.

In order to prepare, Bittmann took practice tests for the PSAT, which she said were pretty similar to the prep work she did for her ACT. ACT prep included taking a separate course and an online prep during school.

She found out she was a semifinalist from her school counselor during a meeting.

“I was pretty thrilled,” Bittmann said. “The fact that it’s such a small group of people that get recognized ... that feels pretty cool that I’m up there with the other elite kids.”

Having a good academic standing and test taking isn’t all that she can do. She’s musically talented, switching between bassoon and alto saxophone in the school’s Wind Ensemble, and playing bassoon in the school’s full orchestra.

She’s heavily involved in other student organizations, including Math League, Knowledge Bowl, National Honor Society, jazz band and marching band. She participates in three sports: Nordic skiing, cross country and track and field. She is also an ambassador of the school.

Outside of school, Bittmann helps to lead a confirmation group at First Lutheran Church. She also has a part-time job working in the kitchen at Luther Crest Bible Camp.

She’s able to balance her schedule with the help of her independent studies in math and physics, and she said she’s learned how to manage her time well.

Bittmann has taken most of the AP classes in math and science and she is looking to do something in college with her main interests, math and physics. However, she is also considering pursuing some sort of engineering route.

As for where that will be, she is considering attending the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities because of the research she can do there. Plus, she loves the Cities. The running club also appeals to her. “For being a public research university really close to us, there’s a lot of good resources there.”

Before Bittmann goes to college, she still has some goals left to complete, including passing the two AP tests she’s independently studying for. “Other than that, I’m just trying to make the most of my senior year, really balance everything out and try some new things.”

She is hoping to help bring her knowledge bowl team to state this year and meet or beat her personal record of 21:42 for the 5K in cross country.

Assistant cross country coach Jerry Amundson taught Bittmann when she was an eighth grader in his ninth grade honors geometry class. Now as one of her coaches, he said she is a hard worker, down to earth and well prepared.

Bittmann has shown consistent improvements, beating her personal best times by 20 to 30 seconds, which is not expected for a senior this early in the season, Amundson said. She makes for a good role model for other students and brings enthusiasm.

And when it comes to off the running track? “She’s the first one to volunteer to do something, and the last one to leave,” he said.

“She has high expectations for herself. She’s going to make it work; she’s just driven.”