Local Students Recognized As National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists


With graduation still a distant thought for many teens, three local National Merit Scholarship semifinalists are looking forward. Though their scores may be similar, senior semifinalists Allison Chang, David Donze and Sam Bruce are unique.

Allison Chang

Chang is a senior at Severna Park High School and spends her time participating in many of her school’s extracurriculars. Chang is involved in the school’s math team, the math and science honors societies, and Key Club. She is an officer for both honors societies, and she runs two service events for Key Club, including Harvest for the Hungry and Prom Fashion Show.

Chang first took her SAT as a freshman as part of the application process for a program at Johns Hopkins.

When it comes to studying, Chang said she takes detailed notes and goes to Starbucks.

“I find that I can focus better there,” Chang said. “When I studied for the SAT … I would go to Starbucks, I would read articles on how to do well and then I would take practice tests.”

Chang’ s first college applications will be in for the November 1 deadline at many schools such as the University of Maryland, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and California Institute of Technology. Though these are her first applications, Chang considers MIT and Stanford to be her top schools.

“I’m really interested in going into STEM, so I’m applying for computer science programs,” Chang said.

Chang participated in a summer internship with NASA Goddard and is currently interning at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. After college, Chang hopes to work for tech companies and later attend graduate school.

Chang isn’t holding back with her dreams. “I think it would be really cool eventually being a CEO for a tech company or something like that,” Chang said.

When it comes to taking the SAT, Chang said the key is to practice.

“Just getting to know the test and how the questions are worded [is important],” Chang continued.

David Donze

Donze is a senior at Broadneck High and spends his free time enjoying his love for music and math.

Donze played piano as part of the Performing and Visual Arts program. He is part of a jazz band and tutors kids at Mathnasium. Donze found that he had a passion for working with kids while working at Arlington Echo Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Center.

“If there was a summer camp that just ran all year, I would love that so much,” Donze said.

Donze is also taking Calculus 3 at Johns Hopkins and is involved in his local and regional Jewish youth group.

Donze will submit his first college applications for math programs in October for early action, including his dream school.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always dreamt of going to MIT,” Donze said. As well as MIT, he plans to apply to Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, Princeton and Oxford.

While in college, Donze plans to continue to pursue music as a passion and possibly a minor.

“I really do enjoy [music],” Donze said. “I’ve been working on some compositions recently. Nothing publishable yet, but I really enjoy messing around a little bit and composing, so I want to get better at that.”

Donze feels that his best studying tactic is self-evaluating and prioritizing the work he has the most trouble with, spending the most time on the most important thing.

When it came to the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), Donze didn’t study because he wanted the test to act like a baseline for him. It helped him when studying for the SAT. He used the Khan Academy free SAT study program to prepare for his first test in March.

“[The program] took the PSAT and said, ‘Look, this is what you got wrong and here are some practice problems to focus on.’”

After his first test, he returned to the Khan Academy site to focus his studying on the area he needed the most work. He then took the SAT a second time in August to improve his score.

For people looking to take the test or improve their scores, Donze suggested finding a program that works and focusing on the parts that need the most improvement, but also finding a balance between studying and doing the things you love.

“At the end of the day, [the SAT] is just one part of your college resume … don’t spend too much time studying for it,” Donze said.

Sam Bruce

Severn School’s Sam Bruce took the PSAT after the SAT, so he was prepared for the standardized test.

“I did about 20 hours of tutoring, 10 in English, 10 in math, and a lot of practice tests to prepare for the October SAT, and after that, I felt prepared for the PSAT as well,” said Bruce, a Severna Park resident.

Math and computer science are his favorite subjects. “I really enjoy these subjects because I enjoy following the logic and I enjoy solving the problems, almost like a puzzle, and seeing the pieces fit together in the end. Especially in computer science, there is little more fulfilling then seeing your program run successfully after hours of writing.”

During the winter, he wrestles for Severn. The sport “keeps me in shape and mentally tough,” he said. Bruce also participates in Cyberpatriot, a cybersecurity competition, and Severn’s historical society, in which he compiles and publishes notable essays from peers.

Bruce also sails, usually five days per week, 40 weeks a year. “I still enjoy it after all this time because each day is different,” he said. “Each day presents me with something new to work on, something new to see. This keeps the game fresh, and allows me to learn and improve every day, even after 10 years. Through sailing, I have met many amazing people and been to many amazing places, and I am really glad that I picked it up when I was young.”

After high school, Bruce plans to study computer science and engineering. “I like the mix because I love computer science as I mentioned above, and I find the mindset of engineering really interesting,” he said. “Both of my parents are engineers, and listening to the types of projects they work on fascinates me. I would love to work on making something new and original, and I think that studying computer science and engineering would be the best way to get there for me.”

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a national competition in which students enter by taking the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. These tests serve as an initial screening for approximately 1.6 million applicants, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) website.

The NMSC then selects the top 50,000 scorers, who are notified by their school that they have been chosen as either semifinalists or commended students. Only about 16,000 of these students are considered semifinalists and are still in consideration for the scholarship. The finalists are chosen from this pool of students in February. Approximately 7,500 winners will be notified starting in March and continuing through mid-June.


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