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National Merit Scholarship

by Angela Xu

What is the National Merit scholarship?

If you’ve already taken the PSAT, chances are you’ve heard about the National Merit Scholarship Program. Of course, that doesn’t mean you know exactly what it is or how to get it. If you haven’t taken the PSAT yet but plan to soon, National Merit is the scholarship to keep in mind. The best part is you’ll be killing two birds with one stone: you get to practice for the SAT and you just might earn a scholarship in the process!  The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition where you can potentially get recognition and qualify for scholarships based on your PSAT score. High school students can become eligible for the program by first taking the Preliminary SAT (PSAT)/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).

Why should I strive to get the National Merit scholarship?

National Merit Scholarships provide $2,500 towards the student’s freshman year of college. Even better, winning this scholarship (or being a finalist) is prestigious. Some colleges even boast about the number of “National Merit Scholars” they enroll. College-sponsored Merit Scholarships are four-year renewable awards ranging from $500 to $2,000 per year if the winner attends the college sponsoring the award. Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarships are four-year renewable awards ranging from $500 to $10,000 per year, or single-payment awards ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Qualifications are set by the company.

How do I apply or obtain the National Merit scholarship?

The National Merit Scholarship competition begins with the PSAT in October of your junior year of high school and ends in the spring of your senior year. Students must pass several qualifying stages to receive a National Merit Scholarship: 

Program Recognition Students: The 50,000 top scorers on the PSAT are selected out of about 1.5 million entrants. These students are notified in April of their junior year.

Semifinalists: Chosen from the Program Recognition Students, the Semifinalists are the highest PSAT scores from each state. Only they can apply for National Merit Scholarships.

Commended Students: In late September, about two-thirds of the entrants who were not selected to be semi-finalists receive Letters of Commendation. They are now out of the running for the National Merit Scholarships, but some may receive merit scholarships sponsored by corporations.

Finalists: In February, about 15,000 finalists are named. Your high school will be notified and so are will colleges they’ve selected. Reaching this level of recognition is noteworthy.

Merit Scholars: Finally, about half of the finalists are named “Merit Scholars” and receive National Merit Scholarships. These winners are notified beginning in March.

Semifinalists to Finalist: Semifinalists must fulfill several requirements, which are provided in the information they receive with their scholarship applications and are also listed in the PSAT/NMSQT® Student Guide. These include completing an application, having a consistently very high academic record, writing an essay, being endorsed and recommended by a school official, and taking the SAT® or ACT® and earning a score that confirms the PSAT/NMSQT performance.


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