When thinking about college admission, “National,” “Merit,” and “Scholarship” all sound very attractive. Even better when you understand that you have already applied for this award simply by taking the PSAT in the fall of your junior year!
However, it can’t be that simple. In spite of the fact that more than 4.5 million high school juniors took the PSAT last year, only 7,500 were chosen as finalists for the National Merit Scholarship, according to the College Board. That amounts to less than 5% of the total.
What is the National Merit Scholarship in detail? How can a high school student qualify for the National Merit Scholarship? What does the admissions process signify for your prospects at prestigious colleges? Does receiving National Merit designation have advantages besides the initial scholarship opportunity?
Continue reading to learn how to be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship, how to comprehend the application procedure, and how to increase your chances of winning.
National Merit Scholarship Eligibility
A national academic competition for high school students to win scholarships that will pay for their college education is called the National Merit Scholarship Program. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation oversees its administration (NMSC).
Students that perform well on the PSAT are eligible for the National Merit program. Actually, the test’s full name is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT for short. Don’t take the PSAT 10, an alternative that won’t count for the National Merit Scholarship, but the official PSAT/NMSQT instead.
High scorers may be named Commended Students, Semifinalists, or (after submitting an additional application) Finalists by the NMSC after receiving their PSAT results. About 7,500 students are chosen from the Finalists to receive scholarships.
The following three main criteria must be met in order to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship:
- One, in order to participate in the high school program, students must take the PSAT/NMSQT in the specified year and no later than the third year of grades 9 through 12. Typically, this means that junior year students should take the test in the fall.
- Two, applicants must be in good academic standing, enrolled full-time in high school (conventional or homeschooled), and intend to seek admission to a college the fall after graduating from high school.
- Finally, in order to qualify, students must either be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are enrolled in high school overseas or who are attending high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or another U.S. commonwealth or territory.
please note that the NMSC will use a few factual questions at the start of the PSAT/NMSQT to establish a student’s eligibility for the program.
How Can I Become A National Merit Scholar?
The PSAT/NMSQT is the first step in the process of earning a National Merit Scholarship commendation and moving on to the semifinals or finals, but it’s not the last. The following stages of the procedure should be remembered:
1. Score Well on the PSAT!
Of course, acing the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior is the most crucial thing. Most students must have test results that place them in the top 1 percent of students in their state to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship. Accordingly, the score cutoff will vary depending on where you live and how well the PSAT scores of other students in your state were. If your score was high enough to qualify you for the semifinals, you’ll learn this in September of your senior year.
You could now be recognized as a Semifinalist or a Commended Student. Both achievements are noteworthy and should be listed on your college application. The National Merit program only awards praise to less than 5% of test takers.
2. Write a strong application
Congratulations if you are selected as a National Merit Semifinalist! The application process to be a Finalist is now open. This scholarship application is a vital step in the procedure because only a tiny number of semifinalists advance to finalist standing and get the grant. More details about this are provided below under “National Merit Semifinalists.”
3. Score Well on the SAT
Your testing isn’t finished yet; National Merit Finalists also achieve highly on the SAT in addition to performing well on the PSAT. Along with your scholarship application, you will also need to send in your authentic College Board SAT scores.
There is no suggested cutoff score for the SAT according to the NMSC or College Board; they only state that it should be “high enough to confirm your PSAT/NMSQT performance.” Therefore, it’s crucial that you continue studying for the SAT if you do well on the PSAT so that, should you move to Semifinalist standing, you’ll be in a strong position to apply to become a Finalist.
Scores need to qualify for National Merit Scholarships
The NMSC determines your final score after you take the PSAT. Each year, they compute selection index scores to assess PSAT results. Below is a list of the PSAT/NMSQT cutoff scores from last year.
The average cutoff score is 218. However, depending on where you reside, you might be able to get by with a lower score if you live in Wyoming or Iowa compared to Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Washington, D.C. In general, scoring 4-5 points above the typical cutoff score for your state greatly increases your chances of making the Semifinals.
High PSAT/NMSQT scorers may be recognized by the NMSC as Commended Students in September of their senior year. Typically, the top 3–4 percent of PSAT test takers—or around 35,000 kids—are recognized as commended students. This is undoubtedly a success, but it also indicates that these pupils did not receive the minimum qualifying scores required to be declared a semifinalist this cycle. Semifinalists often score in the top 1% of PSAT test takers.
However, the NMSC does send letters of appreciation to Commended Students in order to acknowledge their outstanding academic achievement in addition to their high PSAT score. Additionally, Commended Students frequently become candidates for unique merit scholarship awards provided by statewide organizations and corporate sponsors as a result of being recognized in this way, even though they are not eligible to compete for the official National Merit Scholarship like semifinalists are. More information on that is provided below under “Special Scholarships.”
National Merit Semifinalists
Semifinalists are awarded to PSAT test takers who earn the top 1% of scores, which is a noteworthy accomplishment. Around 16,000 high school students receive semifinalist status from the NMSC each year. Being named a National Merit Semifinalist is a notable accomplishment to highlight on college applications, and many universities and business sponsors award these individuals specialized scholarships even if they don’t advance to the final round.
Semifinalists, of course, are also qualified to apply for a scholarship to advance to the National Merit Finalist round. The application process for colleges is actually fairly comparable to this one. The NMSC requests the following from semifinalists:
- Transcripts from high school or another type of academic record
- A referral letter (usually from your high school principal)
- A personal essay typically describing a situation or challenge you have faced
Get criticism on your materials, especially the essay, from a dependable source. Achieving semifinalist status does not ensure that you will advance to the National Merit Finalist round. You need an excellent application that demonstrates to the NMSC why you’re not simply a strong student but also a fantastic all-around prospect for a merit award.
The National Merit Scholarship Finalists are chosen from the strongest semifinalist candidates, and they are notified in February of their senior year. Additionally informed, the principals of their high schools get Certificates of Merit to give to the Finalists.
The remaining Finalists are then narrowed down to 7,500 candidates who are chosen as Scholars. Winners of one of the three types of National Merit Scholarships receive their prize from March through the conclusion of the academic year. Several are given out by firms, foundations, colleges, and professional associations, while others are given out directly by the NMSC:
- a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship A group of high school counselors and college admissions experts assesses each Finalist. A state grants these one-time scholarships. Winners are chosen without taking into account the students’ financial situation, preferred college, intended line of study, or future ambitions.
- Merit Scholarship Awards Sponsored by Corporations. These prizes are presented to family members of workers, locals of the area where a company operates, or finalists whose chosen major and/or career are pertinent to the sponsor. While some scholarships are renewable for the entire four years of college, others are one-time grants.
- Merit Scholarship Awards from Colleges. Officials from each sponsor college then choose finalists who have both told NMSC that their first preference is that college and who have been approved for admission there. These honors from the college are re-eligible for up to four years. You may find the first-choice reporting deadline here.
Additionally, some 1,000 participants in the National Merit program who do not advance to the final round receive Special Scholarships from corporations and business associations. Students must submit an initial entry form and satisfy the sponsor’s requirements. Then, NMSC gets in touch with applicants via their high schools to seek longer scholarship applications. Later on in the academic year, after the NMSC has examined the candidates, awards are given. These grants may be given once only or may be renewed for up to four years.