Class of 2020 takes crown for most semifinalists in county


photo by Michelle Zou

Senior Paul Handberg describes an image to Maya Pommet during a drawing activity in AP Art History.

On Tuesday, Sept. 17, administration announced the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists. This award is given to students who score in the top 1% nationally on the PSAT/ NMSQT. Ten students achieved this title, a school record, and Hagerty now has the highest number of semifinalists in the county. The semifinalists are: Brandon Adams, Marcelo Felix, Paul Handberg, Samuel Jones, Aidan Kramer, Max Logalbo, Rachel Pyros, Nathan Weaver, Caitlin White and Julia Zhu.

 In total, Seminole County had 36 semifinalists, and results were released by National Merit on Tuesday, Sept. 10 to news media outlets. The official list was released online on Wednesday, Sept. 11, and administration held a small celebration for semifinalists on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

“[The administration] called all of the semifinalists into a room, clapped for us, and gave us the information for what came next,” Jones said. 

Every year, the PSAT/NMSQT is administered in mid-October for sophomores and juniors. However, the score for this test does not count towards the National Merit Scholarship until a student takes it in their junior year. Semifinalists are announced almost a year after students take the test, the next September. 

Composite scores for the PSAT range between 320 and 1520, but semifinalists are determined by a student’s overall performance on the test, with their NMSQT selection index, which is calculated by taking the three sections (Math, Reading, and Writing), adding up the section scores and multiplying the result by 2. The cutoff for Florida students to qualify as a NMS semifinalist was 219, which has remained the same for the last three years. 

As the cutoff is high and not many people reach it, studying for the test is an important part in achieving a National Merit Scholar title. 

Make sure to take the test seriously and consider doing a practice test beforehand to see what you can improve on before the exam,” Handberg said. 

Long before the official lists of semifinalists came out, students generally know whether they made it past the cutoff or not, unless they fall on the borderline. Jones knew that he was safely above the cutoff score, but he was still excited when he found out he became a semifinalist.

“When I found out, I ran into my living room and told my parents about it, and had ice cream the next day,” Jones said. 

Becoming a semifinalist is only one of the steps in the process of becoming a finalist. Semifinalists still have to fill out an application in order to qualify to be a finalist. Out of approximately 16,000 semifinalists, 15,000 of them become finalists. 

“It is similar to a college application in the sense that you have to be able to back up your PSAT score with academics, extracurriculars, and an essay,” Handberg said.

Finalists are nationally recognized, and students can win scholarships from it. For example, the Benacquisto Scholarship  in Florida. This scholarship pays for four years of tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other things at most major universities. To be eligible, students have to choose one of the eight NMS college sponsors such as UF, UCF, and USF. They will also have to maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, and earn credit for all classes taken in college. 

Students will be notified if they are finalists in February.

Photo by Robert Frasca. These are eight National Merit semifinalists.


Photo by Robert Frasca. These are the other two National Merit semifinalists.