The National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced names of local students who are in the running for its prestigious annual scholarship awards.

Out of 16,000 semifinalists, 120 students from Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Irvine high schools made the list, which was released Wednesday, according to a news release.

National Merit Scholarship is a not-for-profit organization established in 1955 to conduct the annual National Merit Scholarship Program. The organization funds the scholarships with help from about 440 businesses and higher education institutions.

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About 1.5 million juniors in the nation entered the program this year by taking the 2012 PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to its percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.

About 90% of all semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing, and more than half of the finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship, earning the Merit Scholar title, the release said.

Finalists will compete for three types of college scholarships in spring 2014. Awards include a $2,500 National Merit scholarship, a corporate-sponsored scholarship and a college-sponsored scholarship.

Finalists and winners are chosen based on their scores on the PSAT and SAT exams, academic records, leadership abilities, an essay and a recommendation from a school official.

Scholarship recipients will be announced starting in April and ending in July 2014.