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Keep an eye out for Bishop McCort High School senior Mark Pesto because he is going places.

The 17-year-old was recently named a 2011 National Merit Scholarship Program Semifinalist and achieved this honor by scoring 236 out of 240 on the PSAT exam he took last fall. Only 26 students out of 1.5 million seniors in the country scored the same or higher.

“It’s a great honor and I really didn’t expect this,” he modestly said.

“I thought this was pretty good, but I didn’t realize how good it is, so it’s tough to comprehend.”

The national pool of semifinalists, who represent less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest scoring entrants in each state.

To then become a finalist, a semifinalist must have an outstanding academic record throughout high school, be endorsed by the principal and earn SAT scores that confirm the student’s earlier performance on the PSAT.

Roughly 15,000 semifinalists are expected to advance to the finalist level and from that group National Merit Scholarship winners will be chosen.

Pesto said he didn’t study for the test, but credited advanced placement classes as what helped him to prepare.

“I don’t really talk about it too much with my friends, but my parents wanted to know how this can help me with college,” he said.

Pesto hasn’t made up his mind yet in terms of college, but he said he’s looking at

Penn State, Pitt, Case Western Reserve University and a handful of other larger universities.

A huge benefit to being a semifinalist is that institutions of higher learning are usually champing at the bit to get these students into their schools.

“I’ve already received a full scholarship to the University of Alabama,” Pesto said.

He plans to major in geology and also study foreign languages.

Pesto is capitan of the Scholastic Quiz Team, which is currently the defending state champion, and a member of National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, German Club, Theater Club and Environmental Club. He also participates in cross county, track and field and swimming at the school.

He is the son of Keith and Nancy Pesto of Westmont.

In addition to Pesto’s accomplishment, students Timothy Kralik and Mason Del Rosario were named National Merit Scholarship Commended Students and achieved scores on the PSAT that placed them in the top 5 percent of senior students in the county.

“I was really surprised and amazed,” said Kralik, 17. “I didn’t think I did badly on the test, just not this well.”

He said he’s looking at Penn State and California University of Pennsylvania and plans to major in electrical engineering.

Kralik is active in the Key Club, National Honor Society and Ski Club and plans to run track in the spring.

He is the son of James and Suzanne Kralik of Richland.

Del Rosario, 18, said he went into the test with the goal of earning some National Merit distinction.

“I was ecstatic when I heard, and I did tutoring and practice tests to get ready,” he said. “Having that National Merit label opens up a lot of doors.”

He’s been accepted to Carnegie Mellon University, but also plans to apply to MIT and Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass.

Del Rosario is the senior class vice president and a member of National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta, Spanish Club, Spanish Honor Society and Scholastic Quiz Team. He also is a four-year member of the basketball team.

He is the son of Michael and Gail Del Rosario of Westmont.

Principal Ken Salem said that although McCort has had semifinalists in the past, Pesto received the highest score the school has ever seen and it’s a great honor to have two other students achieve such good scores.

“We are very proud of these students and it’s quite an accomplishment,” he said.

“They’re motivated students and involved in the school in some way.”

Salem added that it is a true testament to the faculty as well because they are the ones motivating the students to work hard.

“It’s because of our advanced programs that helps give us that competitive edge and gives our students an advantage.”

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