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National Merit Finalists: Stella Koh and Sonia Zhang

Arcadia High School’s orchestra program is unlike any other; students are trained musically, theatrically, and contribute to one of the best sounding high school orchestras in California. But going beyond music, our musicians also have talents of their own. Many participate in numerous outside curricular activities, not to mention, their stellar academic records. This year, two students in AHS’s orchestra were named National Merit Scholarship Finalists. Sonia Zhang and Stella Koh, both seniors in Symphony orchestra, took the PSAT/NMSQT and had scores allowing them to move on as semifinalists.

Sonia Zhang pictured above

To be considered a finalist, aspiring qualifiers must score highly on the PSAT as well as answer short essay questions. Outside extracurriculars and leadership services are also factored into the decision. Nationwide, there are only 15,000 finalists, less than 1% of the total students who take the PSAT.

Both Sonia and Stella found out about the National Merit Scholarship in 9th grade. Like thousands of other highschool seniors, they went into the test hoping for the best.

“I didn’t really prepare specifically for the PSAT,” said Sonia. “Although I did do preparation for the ACT before that.”

Stella had a similar story, saying, “I didn’t prepare specifically for the PSAT but I was planning to take the SAT a few months before.”

“The easiest part was signing up for the test. The most difficult part was ‘pro-guessing’ the English passages correctly,” said Sonia.

“The easiest part was probably bubbling the three or four prerequisite questions on the PSAT/NMSQT ensuring that I qualified to compete for National Merit. The most difficult part was the painfully slow waiting period before they announced the cutoffs for 2022,” Stella remarked.

Pictured above is Stella Koh

Sonia and Stella have each been playing the violin for nearly a decade, eight years and nine years respectively. Sonia has also played piano for 12 years, and recently started dabbling in guitar. They’ve also each been in orchestra since sixth grade.

"I enjoy being exposed to new pieces and vibing to them when we can finally play it decently,” said Sonia. Being in orchestra “helped me develop quick thinking, especially from sight reading, although it’s hard to say. Too many concurrent factors to isolate the effect of playing an instrument. Jokes aside, music is definitely beneficial for developing thinking skills.”

For Stella, playing an instrument has “helped [her] learn to persevere through problems through a combination of repetition and varied approaches.”

Aside from orchestra, these two phenomenal students have been busying themselves with many other clubs and teams. Stella is on the AHS Tennis team, Math team, and tutors outside of school. Sonia is in Science Bowl, the Math Team, and Science Olympiad. She also played tennis for the school team throughout her first rhee years of high school.

In college, Sonia hopes to major in biomedical engineering, though that “could change depending on [her] interests later.”

Stella is still deciding, and hopes to take on the general scope of statistics, finance, or applied mathematics. She wants to continue to include music in her life through playing violin in her free time, or by listening to favorite tunes.

Sonia also noted the likelihood that she would continue playing the violin.

“I hope to continue playing my instrument for pleasure regularly, otherwise I would’ve wasted a lot of money!”

In closing, we would like to congratulate Stella and Sonia for advancing on to become Finalists. It was no easy feat, and we wish both the best in all future endeavors.

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