17 students named National Merit Semifinalists


Photo via yearbook

17 National Merit Semifinalists pose for photo.

National Merit Semifinalists were announced on Sept. 15, and 17 students qualified — the most for the school out of any previous year. 

Semifinalists include Trisha Bhujle, Vincent Dang, D’Marco De Leon, Amber Du, Yoshua Kalluvilayil, Ryan Kerstetter, Nandita Kumar, Abigail Lux, Abigail Nguyen, Itihas Paluri, Vidhi Pujara, Tejaswini Ramkumar Babu, Reethi Ravi, Harsha Sirigina, Daniel Song, Christy Thomas and Lucas Wittrup.

“This year has the largest number of Semifinalist qualifiers we’ve ever had,” PSAT verbal teacher Kate Mayo said. “In previous years, we’ve usually hovered around 9-12 Semifinalists, so this year is a new record for us.”

In order to become a National Merit Semifinalist, students take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). Out of all students nationwide, less than 1% of seniors became Semifinalists. 

“Around 1.5 million students took the PSAT around the country, and the top 16,000 were recognized as Semifinalists,” head counselor Dr. Justin Fields said.

An additional 34,000 students nationwide who did not meet the Semifinalist cut-off but still scored highly were named “Commended.” Being either a commended scholar or a Semifinalist opens up possibilities for a variety of scholarship opportunities. If students advance to become a Finalist, many universities, like the University of Texas at Dallas,  offer full rides. 

“Even Commended students still qualify for numerous scholarship opportunities,” Mayo said. “As far as being a Semifinalist, it will open many doors for [them] as colleges really want to attract these types of students. Many colleges offer [generous] financial aid, and some even offer full rides if they continue on to become a Finalist.”

Once a student is selected to become a Semifinalist, the next step is to apply to become a Finalist. The application includes courses taken, grades and a personal essay. Out of the 16,000 Semifinalists, 15,000 are expected to advance to become a Finalist. 

“In order to become a Finalist, they’ll need to fill out an application with their respective counselor,” Fields said. “They’ll also need to take the SAT/ACT to confirm their PSAT performance. All of these things are due by Oct. 6, and students will be notified if they’re selected as a Finalist on [Feb. 14].”

The next PSAT/NMSQT for juniors will be held on Oct. 13. Mayo recommends students prepare by looking at Khan Academy videos and reading in their free time to expand their vocabulary and comprehension.

Senior Vidhi Pujara, who was one of the 17 Semifinalists, said she mainly recommends students get one of the free PSAT studying books offered by the school.

“The PSAT team is really good for test preparation, but I wasn’t able to join it because I was all virtual last year,” Pujara said. “The main thing I did was [take] lots of practice tests from the PSAT book and [review] them in-depth, specifically the answer choices I got wrong.”

Pujara said she was excited when she found out she was a Semifinalist because of the work she put in studying. She said she recommends juniors take the time to study for the upcoming test because earning a Commended, Semifinalist or a Finalist designation opens up scholarship opportunities and looks good for college applications. 

“I was pretty anxious when the index score cut offs were released, because I thought I might not make it,” Pujara said. “When I found out I made it, I was [really] happy. It was nice to see all of my effort pay off, and it motivated me to do better in other things.”