Mastering Merit: Q&A with Aneesh Poddutur


Aneesh Poddutur (12) prepares for an AP Statistics test. Poddutur reflected on his experiences, efforts and accomplishments after being named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist along with Claire Lavoie (12).

Nitya Shah, Comet Editor-in-chief

Q: What exactly does it mean to be a National Merit Scholar?


A: “Being a National Merit Scholar entails scoring well on the PSAT, which acts as the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. About 16,000 0ut of the 3.5 million PSAT test-takers get selected as Semi-Finalists, and are then invited to apply to become Finalists. Out of about 15,000 Finalists, 7,500 are chosen as National Merit Scholars based on their academic records, SAT scores, extracurricular and leadership experiences and application essays. Scholars win either a $2500 scholarship or other corporate and college-sponsored scholarships. Claire LaVoie and I were chosen as the Finalists from Lake Central, and I have recently learned that I was chosen as a Scholar.”


Q: Was this achievement a goal of yours from the start? How did you prepare to receive this recognition?


A: “I heard about this achievement before taking the PSAT, and I aimed to do well on the test and become a National Merit Scholar. I worked on plenty of practice problems and took a few practice tests, especially in areas that I was not familiar with at the time, like statistics. I also participated in several clubs, like BPA and Academic Super Bowl, which helped me discover my passions, work on individual skills and build a stronger application for becoming a Finalist.” 


Q: What does it mean to you to get such a prestigious qualification?


A: “I am incredibly honored to have earned this qualification and was extremely excited to learn that I had won the scholarship; to me, the award is a reflection of the work I put in over the past few years of high school. Learning all sorts of new things and working on different subjects through classes and extracurriculars helped me become a more well-rounded student and pursue my own projects outside of school, including photography, music and iOS development.”


Q: How would earning a scholarship affect your college plans? Have you made a decision on where to go yet?


A: “I’m looking forward to majoring in Computer Engineering and minoring in Management (or possibly vice-versa) and working on improving industrial and consumer-grade augmented reality technology and content. I’m still waiting to hear back from a few colleges, and have therefore not made a decision on which college to attend. However, earning this scholarship has made tuition a bit more affordable, and has made the option of studying at an out-of-state school much more plausible.”


Q: What advice do you have for students who are aiming for the same recognition?


A: “I would encourage students who are aiming to become National Merit Scholars to do two things: first, search for pursuits that you excel at and enjoy, and make every effort to succeed in these activities. Not only will they make you a better student, the extracurricular and leadership experience looks great on your application. Second, I would advise students to study as much as possible for the PSAT. Take plenty of practice tests, identify topics that you are struggling with and work on as many practice problems for these areas as you can.”