Two Brainerd High School seniors are among 16,000 semifinalists for the 65th annual National Merit Scholarship program.

Sarah Elizabeth Nesheim and Leigh Zhuo Preimesberger will continue in the running for 7,600 National Merit Scholarships offered next spring.

More than 1.5 million juniors entered the Merit scholarship program in 2018 by taking the qualifying test.

Semifinalists must fulfill several requirements to advance to the final level of competition. They must submit a detailed scholarship application with information about their academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership ability, employment and honors and awards received. A semifinalist must also have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed by a high school official, write an essay and earn SAT or ACT scores confirming the student’s earlier performance on the qualifying test.

More than 90% of semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing, and about half the finalists will win a scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar title.

Three types of National Merit scholarships will be offered in the spring of 2020. Every finalist will compete for one of 2,500 National Merit $2,500 scholarships that will be awarded on a state-representational basis. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit scholarship awards will be provided by about 220 corporations and business organizations for finalists who meet their specified criteria, such as children of the grantor's employees or residents of communities where sponsor plants or offices are located. In addition, about 180 colleges and universities are expected to finance some 4,100 college-sponsored Merit scholarship awards for finalists who will attend the sponsor institution.

National Merit Scholarship winners of 2020 will be announced in four nationwide news releases beginning in April and concluding in July. These scholarship recipients will join more than 345,000 other distinguished young people who have earned the Merit Scholar title.

National Merit Scholar Corp., a nonprofit organization operating without government assistance, was established in 1955 specifically to conduct the annual National Merit Scholarship program. Scholarships are underwritten by NMSC with its own funds and by approximately 400 business organizations and higher education institutions that share NMSC's goals of honoring the nation's scholastic champions and encouraging the pursuit of academic excellence.