Gather up a group of 50 seniors at Oakland Mills High School.
One of those students is probably a sports nut.
One is probably fond of drama or likes computers.
And, this year, one is more than likely a National Merit or a National Achievement finalist.
Three seniors at Oakland Mills were recognized this week by the National Merit Scholarship Corp. as Merit scholars. One was recognized as an Achievement scholar.
Some schools have more, but for the relatively small number of students in the Columbia high school's senior class -- 203 -- that number is pretty impressive.
"You're going to have to look a long time to find a public school that's not a magnet school that has a ratio like ours," said Principal Marshall Peterson.
The National Merit Scholarship Corp. gives out the prestigious awards each year to students who have scored exceptionally well on their eleventh-grade PSATs and have above-average grade point averages in school.
In Maryland, 277 high school students were named National Merit Scholarship finalists. Nationwide, 1,200 finalists were named in the Achievement category, which is targeted to African-American students.
The program is recognized by colleges and universities, and often leads to scholarship opportunities for finalists, especially those in the Achievement category. If not, the nod from either program often is enough to ensure acceptance into many of the bigger-name schools.
The corporation that gives out the awards doesn't keep statistics that would indicate whether having one finalist out of every 50 students is unusual, said spokeswoman Gloria Ladendorf. But, Ladendorf added, many schools have only one or two -- if they have any at all.
By that measure, Howard County did particularly well.
Centennial High School in Ellicott City had three National Merit finalists as well, but the school's senior population is closer to 257.
The school reported no National Achievement scholars.
River Hill tops list
River Hill High School reported the most finalists in either category -- six Merit finalists and two Achievement scholars.
There are about 385 seniors at the Clarksville school.
River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer attributes the large number to the school's "excellent instructional program."
"These are the first set of graduates who spent four years at River Hill," which is one of the county's newest high schools and a technology magnet school, Pfeifer said. "So they've only known our school."
Pfeifer said that continuous exposure to high academic standards and excellent teachers might have contributed to this year's pool of finalists.
Principal praises school
At Oakland Mills, Peterson said the school's staff encourages students to take the PSATs in 10th grade, for practice, and also urges parents to sign up their children for various PSAT and SAT prep courses.
Peterson also said the school creates a culture that considers academics the most important part of the school, before sports or other activities.
The four finalists have been introduced to new students at orientation and meetings, and highlighted on the marquee on the school's front lawn, Peterson said.
"I try to call all the parents of the finalists to congratulate them and then you play it up big on the PA system," Peterson said.
"Kids and parents are going to react to what they think you value," he said.
Finalists Howard County scholarship finalists*:
Atholton High School: Craig M. Smith (Merit)
Centennial High School: Andrew Yang, Brian Tsang, Albert Luo (Merit)
Hammond High School: Margaret S. Tilley (Merit)
Long Reach High School: Keiron Bryan (Achievement)
Oakland Mills High School: Rachel Gealy, Kimberly Morrow, Jennifer Segawa (Merit); Paul B. Phillips (Achievement)
River Hill High School: Andrew Chen, Alexander M. Mekelburg, Elizabeth R. Schemm, Benjamin W. Shirley-Quirk, Austin M. Stahl, Eric G. Tung (Merit); Adom Crew, Dyami Jenkins (Achievement)
Wilde Lake High School: Andrew Daniller (Merit)
Glenelg Country School: Sarah E. Siegel (Merit)
* Some students had not been notified and some schools could not confirm finalists, so a complete list was not available.