Viera High School seniors Emma Carpenter, left, and Brianna Nguyen have been named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists.

They worked hard for it.

They earned it.

And now, after the formal announcement by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation last month, they get to celebrate it.

Viera High School seniors Emma Carpenter and Brianna Nguyen have both been named National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists.

The two are among a group of more than 16,000 students from across the country to receive the honor. From that, approximately 95 percent will advance to the finalist level of the 68th National Merit Scholar Program and compete for 7,250 National Merit Scholarships worth nearly $28 million that will be awarded next spring.

“When the PSAT scores came out last year, I looked at the past cutoffs for other years and for our state,” Carpenter said of being named a semifinalist.

“I knew I was well above it, so I was kind of expecting it. But it was still a nice surprise when I got the news.”

Nguyen likewise said she had a feeling she would qualify based on her PSAT score, but added it was nice to find out she had actually made it.

“For me, the National Merit Scholarship was something I knew about beforehand, so it was something that I wanted to aim for, like as a goal. ... It definitely feels like my hard work has paid off,” Nguyen said.

According to a press release from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, high school juniors entered the 2023 NMS program by taking the PSAT. The nationwide pool represents less than one percent of U.S. high school seniors and includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

Nguyen and Carpenter had each taken the PSAT as sophomores, but dramatically improved their scores the second time around.

Carpenter went from 1,270 to 1,490 in her second try and Nguyen saw her score of 1,380 jump to 1,500.

“The second time I saw the scores, I was like, ‘Is this real?’ I was not expecting that,” Nguyen said.

To become a finalist, students and a high school official must submit a detailed scholarship application providing the semifinalist’s academic record, participation in school and community activities, demonstrated leadership abilities, employment and honors and awards.

There is also an essay to write and an endorsement from a high school official is needed.

Carpenter, who has a 4.0 GPA (4.48 weighted), participates in Science Fair and is also involved with student government, where she recently helped organize a school blood drive.

Nguyen has a 3.98 GPA (4.5 weighted) and likes art and music. She plays clarinet and bass clarinet in the school band.

She is interested in a career in the medical field and has applied to schools in the Ivy League, as well as the University of Florida.

Carpenter is not sure what career path she will follow, but she wants to do something in physics.

“I’m applying to the Air Force Academy and then schools in Florida,” she said. “But I’m not sure (where I’m going) yet. I’m going to wait to see where I get in.”