Stellar student: Holly Pond senior Zack Reynolds scores 35 on ACT, named National Merit Scholarship Finalist

‘He’s one of the most impressive students we’ve ever had at our school’

Holly Pond High School senior Zack Reynolds, 17, poses for a photo at Holly Pond High School Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

HOLLY POND, Ala. – Holly Pond High School senior Zack Reynolds just this week learned he has been named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist. Before that, the all-around stellar student added another achievement to his growing list. Reynolds scored a 35 on his ACT.

The ACT is a standardized test used by colleges to measure high school achievement and readiness for college-level academics. The ACT consists of tests in English, mathematics, reading and science, each scored on a scale of 1-36. A student’s composite score is the average of the four test scores.

Just how good is a 35? According to and, in the class of 2018, 1,914,817 students took the ACT, with an average composite score of 20.8 out of 36. Of those, just 14,928, only 0.780%, scored a 35. That puts Reynolds in the top 1%.

HPHS Principal Steve Miller is full of compliments for his star pupil.

“He works extremely hard on top of being very intelligent,” he said. “He’s not just a kid with talent on his side; he also works extremely hard. In a classroom and anywhere he is, he’s a selfless sacrificial leader and the fact he can work behind the scenes or lead in the front shows how he does things. He’s one of the most impressive students we’ve ever had at our school. It’s great to see who he is and how he does things. He’ll be hard to replace next year.”

Reynolds said his parents have been a big influence on him, championing his educational pursuits.

“My mom has been really involved in my education and she’s pushed me to pursue my education really fiercely; it’s been my main goal for my whole life so far,” he smiled. “My mom was there with me throughout the entirety of elementary school and she was always pushing me to try my hardest on my tests and she would help me study when she could. It’s the same way for a lot of parents- they help their elementary kids a lot, but as they get into harder subjects, they can’t help as much. It’s just how it is. Neither of my parents graduated from college; my dad didn’t graduate from high school. They’re not as educated as they wanted to be, and that’s why they push me. They want me to have the things they didn’t. My parents always tell me, ‘We want you to work with your head, not your back.’ Because they’ve put their bodies through a lot of strain and they’re both disabled.”

He’s not only a scholar; he’s also an athlete and involved in many clubs.

“I started to do sports in middle school, do track and cross country,” said Reynolds. “I’ve been doing track since seventh grade and cross country since eighth grade. I’m also involved with Key Club- I’m the treasurer, I have been for the past two years. I’m the president of SGA (Student Government Association) and I am a co-vice president of FFA (Future Farmers of America), so I’m pretty involved with the clubs in high school as well. I try to stay involved as much as I can, especially with the clubs like Key Club that work with the community and SGA running things like homecoming and the yearbook.”

National Merit Scholarship Finalist

Students qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program by first taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), after which, according to, “Of the 1.6 million entrants, some 50,000 with the highest PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index scores (calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores) qualify for recognition in the National Merit Scholarship Program…. In early September, about 16,000 students, or approximately one-third of the 50,000 high scorers, are notified that they have qualified as Semifinalists.” That number drops to just 15,000 finalists.

“I became a finalist Tuesday (Feb. 11, 2020),” Reynolds shared.

So, what’s he going to do now?

“I applied for the QuestBridge program,” he said. “It’s a type of scholarship I guess- it’s a program that matches you with ‘partner-colleges,’ is what they’re called, and if you match with a partner-college, you get a full four-year ride, all tuition paid, room and board, everything. I did that, and I was lucky enough to become a finalist in that as well. I got to match and I’ve matched with a college named Bowdoin College. It’s up in Maine. I went and visited earlier this year in September and I really loved it there; the weather was amazing, everything was amazing, the people were great and I just fell in love with it.

Reynolds continued, “My original plan was to maybe go to Auburn and do bio-medical engineering, but after talking to a bunch of people I realized that I don’t want to go to a university. Especially engineering, you get locked into a degree and that’s all you really know how to do. I wanted to broaden my range of just what I can learn because I don’t know what I’m going to love until I try it. That’s why I wanted to go to a liberal arts college and there (at Bowdoin) I’ll probably do a bachelor’s in maybe physics or math I think, I’m not quite sure yet, but probably lean that way since my strength is math, and after that I do want to go to graduate school. I don’t know if I’m going to pick up a job after undergrad or if I’ll go straight to graduate school, it just depends on what scholarships I’ll get, how much money I’m going to be needing to pay, but that’s my plan for right now.”

When asked what advice he would give other students, Reynolds said, “Definitely put in effort. That’s the thing- a lot of kids around, they’re smart. Everyone can be so smart. It’s a matter of just putting in the effort. A lot of the time, it’s easy to just not try your hardest or just not try at all; it’s a lot easier to do that than to put in effort and try to be your best. Procrastination is one of the main symptoms of that; you wait until the last minute to do something and you can’t give your full effort because you’re so rushed, you don’t have time to think things through and be patient. It’s just giving effort in anything. It doesn’t have to be just school, it can be sports, your clubs, whatever it is, as long as you’re giving effort, you’re doing your best, there’s going to be improvement and there’s going to be success.”

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