National Merit Scholarship

What is National Merit scholarship :

By definition the National Merit Scholarship is a scholarship program available to U.S. high school students (that’s the “national” part), including students who are in high school in the U.S., the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, or who are U.S. citizens going to high school abroad.

For More Understanding

the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is an opportunity for US high school students to receive money to help them pay for post-secondary education. While the program does provide students with funds, becoming a National Merit Scholar is also indicative of extraordinary academic achievement. Students who become National Merit Scholar finalists can use that title in their college applications, which could give them a considerable advantage. National Merit Scholars may also receive other benefits, including renewable college-specific scholarships and corporate-sponsored scholarships to help with career advancement. There are many other scholarships available that can also help high school students succeed.

What is a National Merit Scholar in practice? Because the application process for the National Merit Scholarship Program is very straightforward, many students enter but very few win. According to the NMSC, the scholarship typically receives around 1.5 million applicants each year. Of those, 50,000 with the highest scores are selected for recognition, and 34,000 of those students will receive a Letter of Commendation for their efforts, which can help them with their upcoming college applications. The remaining 16,000 students become Semifinalists. Most of those students (around 15,000) will then become Finalists. Winners are chosen from the group of Finalists, and 7,250 winners receive monetary scholarships and are officially considered Merit Scholars.


National Merit Scholarship Requirements

You’ll be asked questions on PSAT/NMSQT test day to gauge your eligibility for the program by making sure you adhere to the following requirements:

  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT “in the specified year of the high school program” and no later than your third year in grades 9 through 11 (your junior year).
  • Must be enrolled in high school (traditional or homeschooled) and be making good progress toward graduation
  • You plan to go to college right after high school
  • You attend school in the U.S., the District of Columbia, or a U.S. commonwealth/territory

If you do not meet the last National Merit Scholarship requirement and attend school outside of the U.S., you may still be eligible if you’re:

  • A U.S. citizen
  • Lawful resident
  • Applied for permanent residence and haven’t been denied
  • Intend to become a U.S. citizen as soon as possible

To understand the National Merit qualifications, make sure to read the eligibility requirements on the National Merit Scholarship website before applying to ensure you have met each standard.


How to Get the National Merit Scholarship:

If you think you might make it to Semifinalist status, congrats. There are a few more steps you will need to go through to become a Finalist. First, National Merit Scholarship Corporation will contact you if you make it that far. In order to become a Finalist, you must then:


  • complete the National Merit Scholarship Application, which includes writing an essay
  • have a record of very high academic performance in all of grades 9 through 12 and in any college course work taken
  • be fully endorsed for Finalist standing and recommended for a National Merit Scholarship by your high school principal
  • take the SAT or ACT and earn scores comparable to your semifinalist PSAT score
  • provide any other documentation and information that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation requests

Each year, the top 50,000 PSAT get commendation letters from the National Merit program, and 16,000 of those students qualify as Semifinalists. The cutoff score for Semifinalists varies by state and by year. Semifinalists are invited to complete the National Merit Scholarship Application, which includes writing an essay.

Of the 16,000 Semifinalists, about 15,000 will be considered Finalists. About half of the Finalists will eventually be chosen as Merit Scholarship winners. According to the National Merit Scholarship Program, “scholarship recipients are the candidates judged to have the greatest potential for success in rigorous college studies and beyond.”


What score do yo/u need to become a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist ?

What score you need to become a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist depends on the state you live in. Each state has a preset 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, you would need to have a Selection Index score of 220 in order to qualify as a Semifinalist. If you live in West Virginia, you would have to score a 207.

The Selection Index score is calculated by using your section scores and this formula: 2RW+M ÷ 10. 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.


How to Become a National Merit Scholar

Students who take the PSAT must wait to hear about their scores before they can proceed with their applications. For a student who becomes a National Merit Commended Scholar—meaning that they received a Letter of Commendation but did not advance further—they do not need to take any additional steps. Those who have made it into each successive round of applicants will receive a notification. Students will also need to provide additional information about their academic records if they reach a certain level in the program.

That information might include their PSAT score, school transcripts, extracurricular activities, evidence of leadership potential, and a letter of recommendation from the student’s high school. The NMSC will also take into account the school’s methods for grading assignments, the school’s academic standing, and more. Finalists will be asked to write a personal essay explaining why they should be chosen to win a National Merit Scholarship.

Although only National Merit Scholarship winners receive financial compensation from the NMSC, Commended Students, Semifinalists, and Finalists may become eligible for Special Scholarships, which are not directly sponsored by the NMSC but are funded by some of their partners, including businesses. Relatively few students become National Merit Scholars, but that does not mean that it is pointless to apply. All students who receive Program Recognition have already proved that they were able to receive a very high score, distinguishing themselves among their peers.


In Conclusion

Staying motivated and committing yourself to all these goals will put you in the best position toward becoming a National Merit Finalist. Remember, only 15,000 students (< 1%) are chosen as Finalists, and of those, only about 7,500 students receive scholarships. On a percentage basis, it’s even more competitive than getting into the Ivy League, so even with all your hard work, you’ll still need a certain amount of luck!

NSMC notifies students if they have become finalists in February of their senior year. Scholarship notifications go out in March. By that time, most of your college applications will be done and submitted.

Now you just have to try to relax and wait for the decisions to come! If you complete all the steps mentioned above, you can be confident that you’ve done all you can – now hopefully the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will recognize all your hard work.




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