Every year, high school students are invited to apply for the national merit scholarship program in the US.
“National” “Merit” and “Scholarship” all sound very good when considered in the midst of college admission. Even better when you realize that just by taking the PSAT in the fall of your junior year, you’ve already entered yourself for this award!
But surely it can’t be as easy as that. After all, according to the College Board, in 2021 more than 4.5 million high school juniors took the PSAT, but the National Merit Scholarship selected only 7,500 finalists. That’s less than a fifth of a percent.
What exactly is the National Merit Scholarship, and how does a high school student become a semifinalist or finalist? What does the selection process mean for your chances of admission at top colleges? And are there benefits to gaining National Merit recognition outside the initial scholarship opportunity?
Read on to find out how to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, how to understand the process, and how to maximize your chances of becoming a winner.
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What is the National Merit Scholarship Program?
The National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP) is an annual scholarship competition for college undergraduate students. This scholarship is being organized by the National
Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).
The main aim of the National Merit Scholarship Program is to identify and honor intelligent USA high school students and encourage them to pursue rigorous college studies.
The National Merit Scholarship was established in 1955. NMSC, the body that organizes this scholarship is a privately financed not-for-profit organization that operates without any assistance from the US government.
The competition is open to all USA high school students who meet the participation requirements. The Scholarship winners are chosen based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments.
National merit scholarship Requirements
To apply for the NMSP 2023, you must meet the following conditions;
- Be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school, and planning to enroll full-time in college no later than the fall following completion of high school.
- Take the PSAT/NMSQT in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern; and
- Attend high school in the United States, District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealths and territories; or meet the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States.
To be eligible for the 2023 National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP), a student attending high school outside the United States must be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law
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Applying for the National merit scholarship
You can apply for the National Merit Program Scholarship by taking the Preliminary SAT /National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQ) and meeting other program entry requirements. The test, administered annually in the fall, is cosponsored by NMSC and College Board.
NMSC uses the PSAT/NMSQT as an initial screening of a large number of applicants. A particular year’s test is the entry vehicle for a specific year’s competition. For example, the 2020 PSAT/NMSQT was used for entry to the 2023 National Merit Program. Most 2023 program participants will enter college in fall 2023. The announcement of Semifinalists in September 2021 marks the midpoint of the 2023 competition; it will conclude in the spring of 2023 when winners of NMS are notified and their names are released to the news media. The 2023 program begins with the PSAT/NMSQT administration in the fall of 2020 and ends in the spring of 2023. Each competition spans about one and a half years.
Different types of Awards
Three types of NM scholarships for undergraduate studies are offered each year namely;
- National Merit $2500 Scholarships (Number of scholarships offered: 25,000)
- College-sponsored scholarships (Number of scholarships offered: 2,100)
- Corporate-sponsored Scholarships (Number of scholarships offered:4,100)
While the first two are offered only to finalists, the corporate-sponsored
awards may be reserved for Finalists or special scholarships offered to other outstanding students.
Key Dates in 2023
|February 1||Certificates of Merit for Finalists mailed to principals.|
|February 8||Notification of advancement to Finalist standing mailed|
to Semifinalists’ home addresses.
|March 10||Mailing begins of corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship® awards and Special Scholarships to winners at their home|
addresses and confidential notices to their principals.
|March 25||Mailing of National Merit® $2500 Scholarships to winners|
at their home addresses and confidential notices to their principals.
|May 3||Mailing begins of college-sponsored Merit Scholarship|
awards to winners at their home addresses and confidential notices to
|Mid-May||Finalists not chosen to receive a National Merit Scholarship|
are notified at their home addresses. Candidates not chosen as Special Scholarship winners are also notified.
|April 21||Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship winners|
|May 12||National Merit $2500 Scholarship winners|
|June 2||College-sponsored Merit Scholarship winners|
|July 12||Additional college-sponsored Merit Scholarship winners|
A few additional National Merit $2500 Scholarship winners and
corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship recipients will be announced
individually during the summer.
|April 1||Postmark the deadline for students who missed taking the|
2020 psat/nmsqt to request consideration for alternate entry to the
2023 National Merit Program
|Mid-April||High school principals are notified if any of their students are among the 50,000 entrants with the highest psat/nmsqt|
|Early September||Principals are notified of their Semifinalists in the|
2023 National Merit Scholarship competition.
What Score Do You Need To Become A National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist?
Each state has an already determined number of Semifinalists, and once scores come in for students that determines the cutoff score for that year in that state. For example, if you live in California and took the PSAT in October 2017, you would need to have a Selection Index score of 223 to qualify as a Semifinalist. The Selection Index score is calculated by multiplying the sum of your Reading, Writing, Lane, and Math Test scores y two (2). In addition to varying by state, this number can vary by year. Regardless of the exact cutoff for your state, all of the students who qualify earn high scores—less than the top 1% of high school students advance to become Semifinalists.
Take a look at your score report if you have it. To calculate your Selection Index, add your 3 test scores together and double it. The College Board also includes this on your report if you’re eligible.
National Merit Scholarship Selection Index Score
Once you’ve taken the PSAT, the NMSC calculates your overall score. They calculate selection index scores to evaluate PSAT scores each year. The cutoff scores for last year’s PSAT/NMSQT are listed below. Note that these selection index scores vary by state, so find yours to see how competitive the National Merit Scholarship Competition will be in your area:
|STATE||SELECTION INDEX SCORE|
From the information above, the average cutoff score is 218, but if you live in Wyoming or Iowa, you might qualify with a lower score, whereas if you live in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or DC, you will likely need a higher score. In general, your chances of becoming a Semifinalist are greatly improved by scoring 4-5 points above the average cutoff score for your state.
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National Merit Scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarship awards for college students. In addition to becoming a National Merit Scholarship winner, there are some additional benefits to participating in the National Merit program. Reaching the status of Commended Student or Semifinalist is a strong indicator of your academic excellence to include in your application, and may enable you to apply for Special Scholarships.
We, therefore, advise you to take this application process very seriously. Do a lot of research and don’t forget to use the comment form below if you have any issues with your application.
Frequently Asked Questions About National Merit Scholarship
To enter the competition, a high school student must take the PSAT/NMSQT® at a local high school or approved location in the specified year of high school and meet NMSC’s published program participation requirements. See “How to Enter the Competion” for further information.
Yes, if the student is spending the usual four years in grades 9 through 12
Yes, but the test must be administered at a local high school or approved location. Contact the principal or guidance counselor well in advance of the test day to make arrangements to take the PSAT/NMSQT at that school.
A student who misses the PSAT/NMSQT test due to illness, an emergency, or other extenuating circumstance, but meets all other requirements for NMSC program participation, may still be able to enter the competition.
Students should check their PSAT/NMSQT Score Reports to see whether an asterisk appears next to their Selection Index scores. If an asterisk is present, then the student does not meet entry requirements for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students should compare their responses on the Entry Requirements section of their score reports to those listed on the National Merit Scholarship Program page.
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