Seniors recognized as 2021 National Merit semifinalists

Finalists to be announced in February

Isabella Zuluaga, Staff Editor

Senior Aishwarya Pathri was in band class when she was called down by her guidance counselor – Stephanie DiStasi – at which point she was handed a letter that recognized her as one of the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalists.

Semifinalists are the highest-scoring students from each state that have the opportunity to move onto the finalist stage where they are awarded scholarship money for college. 

Pathri said she “kind of already knew” that she would be a semifinalist because she had previously looked up New Jersey’s selection index cutoff score for the PSAT, which is calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math test scores. The score for New Jersey was 222, meaning she was within range. 

“Becoming a semifinalist is determined by the PSAT score as a junior,” DiStasi said. “Even if a student takes the PSAT as a sophomore and is [within range of the score for semifinalists qualifications] it doesn’t count for national merit.”

Seniors Wilbert Joseph, Benjamin Kahl, and Christian Whang were also announced as semifinalists for Pascack Valley. 

Whang said they had to submit an application and a 600-word essay, otherwise they would not be officially considered in the running as semifinalists. 

“There’s about 1.5 million entries and the top 50,000 [students] are in the merit scholarship category,” DiStasi said. “From the top 50,000 students, 34,000 are commended for their scores, but they don’t move on. From the 50,000, only 16,000 become semifinalists.”

DiStasi said that the four PV students are within the top 16,000 in the country, and therefore will be recognized as semifinalists. After being notified, each was instructed to fill out an application and write an essay to be considered for the finalist stage. 

Finalists are chosen based on the strength of their application; the criteria specifically considers the rigor of each class, grades, an essay, extracurricular activities, community service, and letters of recommendation from guidance counselors, according to DiStasi. 

“We, as their counselors, had to fill out a 10-part application,” DiStasi said. “We filled in every single one of their grades and classes, as well [as] write a letter of recommendation. We also have to rank the student and how we feel they are exceptional compared to other students.”

There’s another elimination process following the finalist stage that the guidance counselors are not a part of, according to DiStasi. 

“Students will find out in February whether [or not] they move on to become finalists,” DiStasi said. “From the 16,000 semifinalists, they pick around 7,000 students that receive about 2,500 dollars [each].”