'Overachiever' earns perfect score on ACT exam

Along with her three sports, school club affiliations, church responsibilities and cattle royalty title, Hilmar High School senior Megan Stroup can now also add "teenage prodigy" to her list.

"I'm kind of an overachiever," Stroup understated. The 17-year-old is one of only 11 California students to receive a perfect score on the ACT exam given in June. Out of the 395,000 American students -- mostly seniors -- who took the ACT this June, Stroup is one of only 177 students in the country to receive a perfect score.

Stroup, who took the college entrance exam the week after her own finals, received a composite score of 36 on the test. This means she received perfect scores on the English, math, reading and science portions of the exam. "I thought it was a lot easier than the SATs," Stroup said of another college-entrance exam she took earlier in the year. "I felt way more confident."

She still received a 2,100 score on the SAT, only 300 points away from perfection.

Stroup found out about her perfect ACT score online while visiting her grandparents in Pennsylvania. She said as she pulled up the score, all she saw was the 36, which confused her. "I thought they were just showing the range," she said.

But Stroup's mom Patty knew better. "She went crazy," Stroup remembers. "She started looking online at statistics and scholarships."

According to the nonprofit Iowa company ACT Inc., the average 2007 exam score is 21.2 nationally and 22.1 in California. The score rose slightly over last year's average, which was 21.1.

But Stroup says she doesn't feel any smarter than any other student who might have taken the exam. "I just pay attention," she said, and does her homework diligently. "Teachers don't give you homework unless they think it's going to reinforce something you're learning."

But school work doesn't take up all of Stroup's time. She is also a three-sport athlete who has played volleyball, basketball and track all four years of high school.

This year, she is Hilmar High's yearbook editor; a member of student leadership, the foreign language club and the school's chapter of the California Scholarship Federation.

She is also a member of the Hilmar Colony 4-H club and was crowned the first alternate 2007-08 Dairy Princess for the California Milk Advisory Board's District 6.

The devout-Catholic also serves as captain of Hilmar High's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, teaches Sunday school at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Hilmar and went through her confirmation ceremony this summer.

"She's very versatile," said Hilmar High School counselor Marta Wickstrom. "Good from the word go."

And even though Stroup wouldn't have said the word "go" until she was 16 months old -- when she first talked and walked-- her mother said once she starts something, she never stops. "Megan always had this passion for learning," Patty Stroup said. "She was reading novels before she entered kindergarten."

Megan Stroup spent kindergarten and first grade at a school in Pennsylvania where her parents owned a dairy. The family -- including older sister Abby and younger brother Mike -- moved to Hilmar so their father Todd could manage a dairy in the area. "All three of my kids were co-valedictorians of their eighth grade class," Patty proudly pronounced. "We're not nerdy, but we do like to learn."

Mike is now a freshman at Hilmar High and Abby is a sophomore at Purdue University.

Megan said she hopes to attend either Northwestern or the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She wants to major in journalism and one day work for a magazine.

"One of her mottos is live a larger life," Patty said of her daughter, adding Megan has always made a point to look beyond her small-town atmosphere and dream big. "I could not have asked for her to turn out any better than she did."

Which turned out to be perfect in her ACT scores. So why does she want to become a journalist?

Reporter Abby Souza can be reached at 209-385-2407 or asouza@mercedsun-star.com.