Pasadena’s National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists Announced; Honor Seen as Important Among Many Colleges

Published : Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 6:55 AM

Eleven Pasadena high school juniors this week were named 2020 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists — four Westridge School for Girls students, three students each from Polytechnic School and Marantha High School, and one student from LaSalle High School.

Westridge had the most semifinalists with four: Elisa Dong; Reese A. Owen; Jaya R. Sadda, Leah Soldner-Garcia.

“These are great girls,” said Gary Baldwin, director of Westridge Upper School about the four semifinalists. “And we are very proud to see their hard work and engagement in their studies and the life our community recognized outside of Westridge.”

Pasadena’s other semifinalists are:

Polytechnic High School: Michael N. Deschenes; Caroline M. Hashimoto; Jordan D. Hershman

Maranatha High School: Justin C. Purnomo; Samantha T. Wu; Sara S. Wu

La Salle High School: Lance L. Tam

Nationwide High School Testing

Juniors in about 21,000 high schools across the United States took the 2018 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, known for short as the PSAT. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation selects 16,000 semifinalists for the award based on the results of the PSAT. The number of scholarship awardees is trimmed down to 15,000.

In this evolving age of diversity-valued education in many aspects, how important is the PSAT?

“It does look good on a college application, it looks good on a resume,” said Eileen Artemakis director of public information for the National Merit Scholarship Corp. “We see that people years later will have that on the resume or CV. It shows they’ve been vetted and went through a rigorous process here and it indicates their high caliber and academic ability and potential.

She said: “These students always do well in college and beyond. It’s a marker. The goal is to promote a wider and deeper respect for learning in general. We see that years later people will still have that recognition on their resume.”

Owen Hou, college counselor at La Salle High School said the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which distributes the scholarships is a smart marketer as the company is partnered on the PSAT.

The test is administered in public high schools and private schools in the U.S., causing many families tremendous stress and generates a several-million dollar-a-year industry in test prep sales.

The company sends out material about the program to schools, teachers and students ahead of time.

Many think it is an honor for the students to have proven their smarts on the PSAT/NMSQT, which is short for the Preliminary SAT / National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The two entities have worked together since 1971.

But while it is prestigious for people and academic institutions to say that they achieved this accolade, does it help a student get into college?

“Colleges look for many things and we do like to celebrate our students’ successes,” said Owen Hou, college counselor at La Salle High School. He congratulated the school’s semifinalist Tam.

But test scores are only one way to evaluate a college student and can often serve as marketing material for the high school, some say.

“For high schools you can say ‘Our students are the best and the brightest nationally,’” Hou said. “There are colleges that give out money to National Merit Scholars, in some schools you can go for free if you are a National Merit Scholar. But also there are other ways to get free tuition.

Hou said there are a lot of other ways to measure success than how they do on a test.

“Tests aren’t great at predicting how high the GPA is once they get to college campuses,” he said. “I think that’s a reason more and more colleges have gone the test-optional route.

Bates college, for example, which started 40 years ago in Lewiston, Maine has attracted students based on its test-optional policy.

“They found out that with the students, the difference in the SAT scores was 100 points, but the difference in GPA was .01 point,” Hou said.

Winners are expected to be announced nationally between April and July next year. The semifinalists are competing for a share of the $31 million the corporation awards through 7600 scholarships each year.

For more information on the National Merit Scholarship Corp., go here.

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