16 brahmas honored as semifinalists


Sixteen Diamond Bar High School seniors were named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists this month.

 The recipients are Sritaran Bondada, Emily Chen, Aaron Hao, Brandon Kam, Caitlin Lee, Camille McCurry, Celine Shen, Nathan Song, Claire Wang, Derek Wang, Benjamin Wu, Chelsea Wu, Breanna Yang, Jacob Zhi, Erin Zhou and Luke Zhou.

    Every fall, roughly 1.5 million juniors from about 21,000 high schools take the PSAT, also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test, to qualify for a chance at the title of National Merit Scholar, and possibly even a scholarship. From this group, 16,000 semifinalists are chosen, making National Merit semifinalist a title held by less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors.

    “I was definitely excited to be named a semifinalist. It feels like the hard work I have put in has paid off, so I was overjoyed when I found out,” Yang said via GroupMe.

    This year, DBHS senior grade level coordinators Stephanie Dueñas and Kevin Patterson took a unique approach to formally notifying the semifinalists by surprising each of them with balloons.

    “Mrs. Duenas and Mr. Patterson came to my house with balloons! It was very fun,” Wang said via Facebook.  

    After becoming semifinalists, students must apply to become National Merit Scholars. Though this part of the process is optional, semifinalists have many reasons to continue. Aside from the prestige of the title, which is a boost to students’ college applications, many more are motivated by the possibility of receiving a scholarship.

“A couple schools like USC offer hefty scholarships for National Merit Scholars, so that’s definitely something that I’m striving for,” Zhou said via Instagram.  

Winners had a variety of approaches to test preparation. Some utilized PSAT practice books and tutors, while others prepared for the SAT, which covers many of the same topics and is generally regarded as more difficult. 

“I didn’t study for the PSAT, I did an SAT bootcamp. Also my mother made me start doing SAT prep books the summer before freshman year, which I resented at the time but now am very grateful for,” Wang said. 

As these students prepare to submit their applications, they have started gathering the requisite materials for the NMSC. This includes a letter of recommendation from a teacher and an essay about an experience they have had, a person who has influenced them or an obstacle they have overcome, which may be reworked from a preexisting college application essay.

“I have gotten a letter of recommendation from one of my junior teachers and I am currently preparing an essay about some struggles I have encountered and how different school activities/ extracurriculars have impacted me,” Yang said. 

Out of 15,000 finalists, half are notified between March and June that they have been selected to be a 2021 National Merit Scholar. From there, they may receive a $2,500 scholarship from the NMSC, anywhere from $500 to $2,000 a year from a sponsor college they plan to attend or a corporate-sponsored scholarship of varying amounts.

“My biggest tip would be to constantly practice. For the weeks leading up to the test, I took a full real test (from online) every week and really drilled in the mistakes I made. Definitely focus more on the mistakes than the correct [answers],” Zhou said.