Eight Hilliard seniors are among the approximately 16,000 semifinalists recently named by the National Merit Scholarship Corp.
They will continue in the competition for 8,000 scholarships worth about $35 million.
About 1.5 million juniors in more than 22,000 high schools entered the 2014 National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the 2012 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, which served as an initial screen of program entrants.
The nationwide pool of semifinalists, representing less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state.
Four seniors from Davidson High School, three from Darby High School and one from Bradley High School comprise the eight semifinalists.
Rachel Baker, 17, is the first Bradley student to achieve the distinction since Hilliard's newest high school opened in 2009.
"Rachel is the epitome of the perfect student," Bradley Principal Mindy Mordarski said.
Baker said a teacher, upon learning her score, advised her "she had a good chance" of being named a semifinalist.
"It's a thrill," said Baker, whose extracurricular activities include marching band, in which she plays the mellophone, and serving as class secretary.
Baker said her top choice for college is Ohio University, where she plans to major in psychology, with a minor in Spanish.
At Darby High School, Jared McCollum, Ellen Slater and Sarah Vermillion were named semifinalists.
"These are very talented and highly motivated students who all excel in their own areas," Darby guidance counselor Joe Palazzo said.
McCollum, who skipped the third and eighth grades to arrive at his senior year at the age of 15, is two years younger than his counterparts.
But you won't find McCollum at Darby High School: He attends post-secondary classes four days a week at Ohio State University.
McCollum lists Wake Forest University and the University of Chicago as his preferred colleges.
McCollum expects to major in clinical psychology, but wants to couple it with creative writing.
"I write a lot of poetry," said McCollum, adding that creative writing and poetry "keeps me grounded" and provides a respite from the more-structured study of psychology.
McCollum is a member of the drama department at Darby High School.
Slater also has an affinity for the written word.
The editor-in-chief of the Darby student newspaper, the Panther Press, Slater plans to attend the University of Chicago to study actuarial science, following in the footsteps of her father.
"I am good at math and always knew that's what I wanted to do," Slater said.
She is a member of Key Club and the Darby student cabinet.
Vermilion is considering enrolling at Emory University in Atlanta or Swarthmore College in Philadelphia.
Her intended major is eastern Asian studies and she plans to visit Japan next summer.
"I want to work abroad after I graduate (from college) as a teacher," she said.
Vermillion is a member of the cross country team.
The four Davidson semifinalists are Jason Ng, Kevin Qian, Elizabeth Sarkel and Jonathan Wegener, all 17 years old.
"The four seniors who achieved semifinalist status is indicative of this exceptionally strong academic senior class," said Davidson Principal John Bandow. "Each semifinalist has carved a niche within our school and community."
Ng plans to major in engineering, perhaps at Ohio State University or Columbia University.
"Urban development interests me," said Ng, who is a member of the Interact Club, In the Know and Chamber Music Connection.
Qian lists Stanford University as a possible college choice.
"I plan to study in the field of biology," Qian said.
His extracurricular activities include Chamber Music Connection and playing tennis.
Sarkel also has an interest in biology and plans to major in the subject.
"I spent last summer at the University of Chicago at a plant lab studying plant hormones, and I want to work in biology," she said.
Sarkel's extracurricular activities include French club and chamber orchestra. She also is a cello instructor.
Wegener's activities include theater, volleyball and performing in the Boys in Blue and the madrigals, select vocal groups at Davidson.
"I plan to attend Ohio State and major in structural engineering, with a minor in architecture," Wegener said.
In addition to the eight National Merit semifinalists, 21 Hilliard students were recognized as Commended Students. About 34,000 students earn mention as Commended Students, meaning they were in the top 3 percent of scorers on the qualifying test.
The commended students are:
* Bradley -- Kinsey Cantrell, Connor Jenkins, Mark Lust, Jonathon Morrison, Evan Pliska and Rich Tarney.
* Darby -- Abigail Connell, Joshua Courtney, Mohammed Faiz, Jacob Huss, Katherine Kallis, Alexander Keller, Aisha Keshik, Sanjana Naidu and Sounak Roy.
* Davidson -- Mary Carson, Bradley Petrella, Edward Powers, Emily Prior, Collin Reis and Joshua Sines.
"This is a great honor for the students and the Hilliard City School District," said Superintendent John Marschhausen.