20 Seniors Qualify to be National Merit Semifinalists


Alyssa Tang, Staff Writer

Twenty students from University High School qualified as semifinalists for the  67th annual National Merit Scholarship (NMS), among the top one percent of test-takers nationwide. The semifinalists this year are seniors Neha Bhardwaj, Arthur Facredyn, Simona Forester, Vansh Goel, Deven Gupta, Emily Hsi, Erin Jeon, Grace Jin, Krishna Khawani, Eun Hae Lee, Zachary Lin, Matthew Lou, Michael McPhie, Robert Ni, Raiyan Rizwan, Vidya Sundaram, Julia Swanson, Kayla Vakilian, Erix Xu, and Yuchan Yang.

These students attained PSAT index scores of at least 221 points, this year’s cutoff for California. Though the PSAT uses a 320–1520 scale, the Selection Index is calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math section scores, giving more weight to the verbal sections. Each state has its own cutoff based on the students’ performance as a whole in that state.

The list of semifinalists determined by the student scores on the 2020 PSAT was announced on Sept. 15. The 16,000 seniors named National Merit Semifinalists will compete to be among the 15,000 to advance to the Finalist level. 7,500 of the finalists will receive the National Merit Scholarships, totaling nearly $30 million.

With many seniors studying for the SAT and ACT during the time of the PSAT administration, many students felt prepared for the PSAT. 

“I think the PSAT was supposed to be literally a week apart from my SAT or ACT date. Then it got […] postponed till February, but I was all prepared for the PSAT,” Hsi said.

However, students did find it more difficult to focus while studying alone during the pandemic. 

“I like to talk to my friends when we’re preparing for tests like these. Talk about how they are studying, how they are learning […] When you’re alone, trying to study on your own, it’s harder to focus. Also, I’m not getting the motivation and support from other friends,” Ni said.

Test cancellations in some schools also affected the PSAT in 2020.  According to the College Board, participation in the PSAT for the class of 2021 was down by approximately 50%, from 3.76 million the year before to 1.85 million.

“I feel like COVID definitely decreased the volume of test-takers last year. I was on online forums and a lot of the people were saying that some of their schools weren’t even offering the PSAT,” senior Grace Jin said.

For schools that did not offer the PSAT in 2020, there was an alternative entry option that allowed students to submit their SAT scores.

After taking the PSAT in October 2020, the scores were released in December. 

Even after receiving their scores, students had to wait until September 2021 to find out the Selection Index cutoff for each state. Once College and Career Counselor Mrs. Angela Gatlin received the results, she notified the semifinalists of the news.

Some seniors offer advice to the juniors taking the PSAT coming up in October.

“Don’t take it too seriously. I feel like it’s important to prepare well and you want to do well but don’t be too stressed out. You can’t really lose; it is just an added bonus,” Jin said.