DCSD Seniors Proceed in National Merit Scholarship Competition.

It’s a prestigious honor only 7,500 high school students nationwide achieve. It helps alieve stress associated with college and university expenses. It rewards not only hard work, but well-rounded individuals with a sense of balance.

It’s known as the National Merit Scholarship, and it has brought a considerable amount of excitement to a select number of DeKalb County School District (DCSD) students.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation recognized 17 DCSD high school students out of 15,000 nationwide as semifinalists for this year’s award. Since that announcement, that number has been halved to 7,500 finalists, with several DCSD students still in the running.

This includes Dunwoody High seniors Alexandra Bruhl, Alex Eldridge, Caitlin Howie, Seth May, Shreya Nainwal, Jacob Schiele and Jacob Starks; Druid Hills High senior Maya Rajan; and Chamblee Charter High seniors Keller Brogdon, Charles Holt, Brian Kang, Schuler Kleinfelter, Grayce Robinson, Sakshi Sehgal, Sophia Wiesenfeld and Benjamin Wolfson.

Should any DCSD students win the competition, they may earn up to $2,500 from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation; an undisclosed amount from corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards; and similar college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards.

According to finalist Maya Rajan, a lifelong DCSD student in the Druid Hills cluster, the overall experience of being a finalist is hard to describe.

“It feels good,” Rajan said. “It was surprising because I didn’t even think I was going to get far. I didn’t prioritize my SAT or PSAT. I was more focused on my grades and extracurriculars.”

Rajan qualified for the first phase of the National Merit Scholarship by earning an impressive 1470 on the SAT and an even higher score on the PSAT. As a semifinalist and finalist, Rajan wrote a personal essay about her love for robotics and technology. She was also required to submit a personal resume listing her personal and academic accomplishments, which include varsity soccer, FIRST robotics league, Fernbank Links volunteering, BETA Club, Math Club, Environmental Club, National Honor Society, Science National Honor Society, founder of the Feminist Empowerment Club, and the club Girls Who Code.

For internships, Rajan volunteered time at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a data analyst and also took a nine-week course at Eriksen.

“I really like technology and I’ve played soccer since I was in kindergarten,” Rajan said. “Robotics is all about creativity and solving problems in different ways—which I am all about. I’m also a team-centered person. I like working with others to create solutions. On my soccer team, everyone is passionate. Having a similar interest and working toward a common goal is just a good feeling.”

Rajan also had to submit recommendations from school personnel, which included Druid Hills High counselor Robin Wesley. Wesley said because of Rajan’s high grade point average—4.45—and consistent grades in AP and IB courses, the Druid Hills High senior has as good chance to earn a National Merit Scholarship.

“Maya excels at everything: history, science, language arts, math. And these are all IB courses, which are quite comprehensive,” Wesley said. “She plays soccer until 6 p.m. at night and then does Robotics Club. She’s done several internships during the summer. She spends almost every waking hour educating herself on what she likes to do, and then volunteers at science fairs. She’s a very humble student, but amazingly smart. She’s very well-rounded.”

DCSD Seniors Proceed in National Merit Scholarship Competition.Rajan said she’s excited to hear if she is selected, but considers it an honor to still be in the competition. She tells people—including herself—that it’s important to stay balanced and to not take academic performance as seriously as possible, as individuals often miss out on important aspects of high school.

For example, Rajan said she would have preferred to spend much of her time focusing on her love for software and code instead of earning the highest grade possible. In her spare time, Rajan has become an expert in multiple software across multiple platforms.

“When I was an underclassman, I was a lot more concerned about grades than I am now. I was really stressed about getting into college, which I consider a mistake because I didn’t focus on anything else that I liked. I could have been focusing on programming and developing my skills there, instead of directing unnecessary negative energy toward getting A+’s in every class,” Rajan said. “There’s more to school than grades. If you are trying to focus, that’s okay. But realize not to get stressed out because the cost is just not worth it. Explore what you want to do and what you’re passionate about, whether it’s technology or knitting. Being a student is about finding out who you are and what you want to do.”

Rajan said she plans to attend Georgia Tech upon graduation in May 2018, but is also considering Emory University, Oxford University, the University of Georgia, Carnegie Mellon, Texas Tech and more. She hopes to continue her passion for technology by studying computer science or another technology-related field.