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Saloni Somia is on her way to Brown University to pursue a career in medicine. And she's doing so with the help of a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship.

The Minnetonka High School graduate is one of 158 students from Minnesota to earn a National Merit Scholarship this year.

"It's a really great validator," Somia said. "It's nice to have that support and backing as you go into college."

Students from three high schools — Wayzata, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — represent more than a quarter of the scholarship winners. Seven Minnesota schools produced at least five National Merit Scholarship recipients.

At Wayzata High School, which enrolls about 3,500 students, 21 students won a scholarship. Seven of those students were awarded the prestigious National Merit Scholar title.

"We are extremely proud of all our students who earned National Merit status and the related scholarships that followed," Principal Scott Gengler said in a statement. "It's a tribute to the incredible work ethic of these students and the cooperative partnerships within our school community who helped provide successful learning experiences throughout their K-12 journey."

Minnetonka High School, which also has about 3,500 students, produced eight National Merit Scholars, including Somia.

Forty-four Minnesota students won that top-tier distinction, which comes with a $2,500 prize. Students who have been named National Merit Scholars have demonstrated top-notch academic and extracurricular achievement and show the most promise in their collegiate plans, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corp.

To qualify, students must score highly on the PSAT exam to qualify and then earn another high score on the SAT or ACT that confirms their performance.

National Merit Scholars are then selected by a committee of high school counselors and college admissions officials. That panel rates each entrant's academic record, which includes a survey of their grades and the difficulty of their coursework. Finalists are also judged by a personal essay and letter of recommendation from an educator.

The remaining 114 Minnesota students won $1,000 National Merit Scholarships sponsored either by a corporation or by the college or university they plan to attend.

Somia's application focused on the disparities people of color experience in securing medical care. Her essay detailed how she'd tackle those disparities as a professional.

"There's this misconception about certain underserved populations, like people can't access medical care because they've done something wrong," Somia said. "That's just completely untrue. It's a geographic and genetic lottery."

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