Two AHS students named as 2020 National Merit Semifinalists


2020 National Merit Semifinalists Zak Belkhayat (left) and Susan Connell (right).

Frances Montevilla and Manny Precht

Out of 237 students across 18 high schools in FCPS named as 2020 National Merit Semifinalists, two of them are our very own. Seniors Zak Belkhayat and Susan Connell have been recognized for their Preliminary National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) scores.

Approximately 16,000 high school seniors nationwide were named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists for 2020, which is only less than 1% of the 1.5 million juniors who entered the 2020 National Merit program by taking the 2018 PSAT/NMSQT®, which served as their initial screen of program entrants.

On an ordinary day, Connell received an email from her counselor, Stacey Marville, telling her to meet her after school for a special announcement. Little did Connell know that this news was one that would catch her by surprise. She was handed a letter from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation that revealed her to be a semifinalist. “I wasn’t really sure what the National Merit Scholarship was at first, but I knew enough about it that I felt really honored when I first found out,” Connell said. “I was definitely not expecting it, that’s for sure.”  

However, this experience was not shared by Belkhayat. On the same day that FCPS publicly revealed the names of the semi-finalists from the county, which was September 12, his parents and him were surprised by the news. When he arrived home, he was greeted by proud parents. Unlike Connell, Belkhayat was not notified by his counselor of the news. “I was surprised and really happy, but then upset that I hadn’t been told beforehand,” Belkhayat said.

Besides both being IB Diploma Candidates, the two also participate in extracurricular activities, such as marching band/color guard. Like most high school students, Connell and Belkhayat did not study for the PSAT, but what they did do is study for the SAT, which enabled them to score high on the PSAT.

Now, the next step for the two is to fill out an online application, which will then be reviewed by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to determine if they qualify as a finalist, and hope for the best. The application includes personal information, a list of extracurriculars and achievements, and an essay. 

As semi-finalists, Connell and Belkhayat are eligible to compete for 7,600 National Merit Scholarship awards, which will be awarded in spring 2020.

“Regardless of the outcome, I’m very happy to have made it this far,” Connell said.