National Merit Scholarship Corporation: What is it & How to Apply

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is an organization that recognizes and honors academic excellence in the United States. Their goal is to identify and reward outstanding high school students like us.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a prestigious initiative that recognizes and celebrates academic excellence in the United States. It’s an opportunity for exceptional high school students to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication.

The program is organized by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The corporation is committed to identifying and honoring talented students nationwide. They aim to provide recognition, support, and financial assistance to those with outstanding academic abilities.

Participating in the National Merit Scholarship Program usually begins with taking the PSAT/NMSQT during our junior year of high school. This test serves as the initial screening process for the program. 

What is the National Merit Scholarship?

The National Merit Scholarship program is offered to US high school students (thus the “national” component). This also includes high school students in the United States, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, or US citizens studying abroad.

Students who attend home school are also eligible. National Merit Scholarships are divided into four categories below:

  • National Merit $2500 Scholarships
  • National Merit Special Scholarships
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards.

Students become eligible for the prize by demonstrating exceptional academic achievement (the merit component).

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation annually grants this scholarship to celebrate students who achieve exceptional PSAT scores.

The National Scholarship Corporation, other organizations, corporations, or colleges and universities may award scholarships.

Some bootcamps offer scholarships to eligible students. We have 21 of them here: 21 Best Scholarships for Coding Bootcamps.

Who is a National Merit Scholar?

Getting a high PSAT score is only the first step. National Merit Scholars are students who have completed all of the phases in the difficult application process—after the PSAT. They become Commended Students, Semifinalists, Finalists, and THEN Scholars (more on this now).

National Merit Scholar award is the aim of students who go through this procedure, indicating that they are academically brilliant.

Note that you are not compelled to apply for the National Merit Scholarship. While a good PSAT score can put you on this route. Applying for any scholarship is a decision you (and your family) must make based on what is right for you. 

Do you truly require financial assistance? If you are eligible for the scholarship, go for it!

Are you already so worried about the college application process that just thinking about it makes you want to scream? Perhaps this can help you decide whether obtaining a National Merit Scholarship is a good use of your mental energy.

Types of National Merit Scholarships

There are many kinds of National Merit Scholarships. You need to understand all the different ways you might earn extra money to help pay for college. Don’t worry; we’ll walk you through it.

National Merit $2,500 Scholarships: The National Merit Scholarship Corporation awards one-time scholarships to extraordinary students who meet all eligibility standards.

National Merit Special Scholarships: one-time OR renewable awards given by private firms and businesses to deserving students who do not advance to the $2,500 Scholarship round.

Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships: These are one-time or renewable scholarships offered by private corporations and businesses to employees’ children (put your parents to work to find out whether they work somewhere that gives these scholarships!)

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College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships: These are multi-year/renewable scholarships offered by colleges and universities to students who will attend their institution.

How do You Qualify for a National Merit Scholarship?

Taking the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Student Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is the first requirement for eligibility for a National Merit Scholarship.

Since the PSAT/NMSQT is the only PSAT test that will allow you to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, please verify to ensure this is not the same as the PSAT 10 before registering.

Additional Prerequisites

There are a couple of additional prerequisites in addition to taking the PSAT/NMSQT, which most students do in their eleventh-grade year:

To qualify, a student must

  • enroll full-time in high school, making satisfactory progress toward graduation, and intending to enroll full-time in college the fall after high school graduation;
  • Be a citizen of the United States, being a lawful permanent resident who plans to naturalize legally. Or has applied for permanent residency to do so as soon as is reasonably possible without having that application denied; and
  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in the designated high school program year, which is typically the junior (11th grade), and typically at one’s school.
  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) during your assigned high school program year, which is often junior (11th grade), and at your school. Students who graduate from high school in three years or less must take the exam while in their senior or nearly senior year. Students who were unable to take the exam due to an extenuating condition, such as a significant illness or natural disaster, may be allowed to substitute for future SAT scores if they make arrangements with NMSC no later than March 1 following the missed exam.
  • Students from abroad who enroll in high school: A student attending high school outside of the United States must be a citizen of the United States or a lawful resident of the United States (or have applied for permanent residence, and the application has not been denied).

And must intend to become a citizen of the United States at the earliest opportunity permitted by law.

If you are in high school, do not miss out on these Top 60 Scholarships for High School Students Graduating.

PSAT Selection Index

Regarding National Merit Scholarships, PSAT/NMSQT scores correspond to the Selection Index, which ranges from 48-228. By multiplying the sum of your Reading, Writing, Language, and Math test results, this score determines the weight of your component scores.

So, let’s take, for instance, you scored 33 in reading, 33 in writing and language, and 35 in math. To determine your Index score, add these up and multiply the result by two.

33+33+35=101

101 x 2=202

Your Index score is 202.

It’s a little difficult to give a precise answer because PSAT/NMSQT qualifying scores vary from year to year, depending on the results of all kids who take the test that year.

How to Enter the Competition

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) is given by high school students who meet the stated program enrollment and participation requirements at the allotted time in the high school program, generally as a junior. The PSAT/NMSQT is the required yearly exam to enter a certain year’s tournament.

The qualifying exam for entry into a particular year’s tournament is the PSAT/NMSQT each year.  Instead of individual students, secondary schools register for the exam.

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At the start of the school year, interested students should consult with their counselor to establish plans to take the PSAT/NMSQT at the school in the fall.

Semifinalist

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation determines Selection Index qualifying scores for further recognition by state and US boarding schools.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation chooses roughly 16,000 out of the 50,000 applicants as National Merit Semifinalists. States and years have different requirements for Semifinalist status according to the Selection Index.

Based on the proportion of seniors graduating from that state’s high schools among all seniors in the country, each state is given a certain number of Semifinalists. National Merit Scholarship Corporation determines the minimal qualifying score for each state.

High school administrators receive mail-in notifications regarding their semifinalists in August, following the PSAT. Although some misinterpreted the NMSC materials and withheld the results until the NMSC press release in mid-September, principals let their students know the findings.

About 34.000 50.000 test takers and 3-4% of all PSAT takers who do not qualify for Semifinalist status receive a Letter of Commendation; they are not eligible to compete for Merit Scholarship prizes.

Finalist

Semifinalists must complete additional requirements and advance to the finalist level of the competition for the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to consider finalists.

Approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists advance to Finalist status by submitting SAT scores that validate the previous PSAT/NMSQT performance, having an outstanding academic record, and getting a recommendation from a high school administrator.

They must also submit an application that contains high school courses and grades, extracurricular and volunteer activities, and a self-descriptive essay.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses the information of semifinalists to select scholarship winners. All Finalists get a Certificate of Merit to recognize their great accomplishments in the competition.

Scholarships

Around 8,000 of the 15,000 Finalists win Merit Scholarship grants. All Finalists are eligible for one of the 2,500 $2,500 National Merit Scholarships.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation chooses National Merit $2,500 scholarship recipients from amongst finalists in each state. The finalists must have the best mix of accomplishments, talents, and prospects for success in hard college studies.

The number of winners named in each state is proportionate to the percentage of graduating high school seniors in that state. 

A committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors selected these Scholars after reviewing a substantial amount of information submitted by both the finalists and their high schools:

  • The academic record, including the difficulty level of subjects studied and grades earned
  • Scores from two standardized tests
  • Contributions and leadership in school and community activities
  • An essay by the finalist
  • A recommendation written by a high school counselor

NMSC’s money supports the majority of these prizes. However, corporate sponsors help cover these awards with donations they provide to NMSC instead of administrative fees.

Corporate sponsors grant around 1,100 Merit Scholarship prizes to Finalists who match the sponsor’s standards. 

Most of these rewards are for the children of the sponsor’s workers, Finalists residing in a certain geographic area, or Finalists with career plans the sponsor desires to encourage. These two kinds of awards are transferable to any regionally accredited institution or university in the United States.

Around 4,600 Merit Scholarship grants from colleges for Finalists who plan to attend a sponsor college.

Finalists must report to NMSC their top college choice (College-Sponsored Merit Awards). In addition, around 1,500 program participants who are not finalists receive Special Scholarships from business sponsors.

Payment

A Merit Scholarship winner must 

  1. Notify NMSC of plans to enroll in a college or university in the United States that the regional accrediting commission on higher education accredits
  2. Enroll full-time in an undergraduate course of study leading to a traditional baccalaureate degree. Stipends for NMSC scholarships are not paid for enrollment at US service academies, distance learning programs, or some institutions with limited purposes or training.
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Many National Merit Scholars do not get monetary rewards because their educational goals or other honors restrict them from receiving a monetary scholarship. Nonetheless, these students may get honors as Honorary Merit Scholars, a designation that recognizes achievement but does not provide financial support.

Special Scholarships 

Approximately 800 National Merit Program participants who are great students but not Finalists receive Special Scholarships from corporations and business organizations every year.

Students must meet the sponsor’s standards and the National Merit Scholarship Program’s entry requirements to be eligible for a Special Scholarship. In addition, they must submit an entrance form to the sponsoring organization.

NMSC contacts a pool of high-scoring individuals via their high schools. These pupils, along with school authorities, submit thorough scholarship applications.

The expert staff at NMSC reviews information regarding candidates’ abilities, skills, and accomplishments before selecting recipients of the sponsor’s Special Scholarships. These scholarships can be renewed for up to four years of undergraduate education or one time only.

The PSAT/NMSQT® Student Guide includes a list of corporate entities that support National Merit Scholarships or Special Scholarships.

Deadline for the National Merit Scholarships

To submit your National Merit Scholarship Application, go to NMSC’s Online Scholarship Application (OSA). Follow all procedures to ensure your application is complete and no information is truncated. Completed National Merit Semifinalist Application is due to NMSC on October 5.

FAQ

How much is the National Merit Scholarship Corporation?

National Merit Scholarship Corporation invoices Sponsors annually for scholarship costs, which include stipends provided to winners and nominal grants used to fund National Merit® $2500 Scholarships, which are open to all Finalists.

What is the National Merit Scholarship program?

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a national academic competition for high school students to receive college financial aid. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) oversees its administration. Students that achieve a high PSAT score qualify for the National Merit program.

How do I know if I’m a National Merit Scholar?

NMSC uses a measure known as the Selection Index to decide who is eligible for National Merit. To calculate this, NMSC sums your Math, Reading, and Writing section scores, which range from 8 to 38, and then multiplies the total by 2. As a result, the PSAT NMSC Selection Index spans between 48 and 228.

What is the difference between National Merit Commended and Semifinalist?

Those who score in the top 3-4% are Scholars, while those who score in the top 1% are Semifinalists. National Merit Scholarship Corporation compares students at the state level. The NMSC Selection Index, based on PSAT section scores, ranges from 48 to 228.

Conclusion

More information about the PSAT/NMSQT® and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT® Student Guide, distributed to high schools before the test.

The NMSC section details the National Merit Scholarship Program’s entry requirements, the competition’s steps, groups of students honored, and scholarships provided.

The exam-Taking Help area contains crucial information on the PSAT/NMSQT, such as exam regulations, sample test questions with directions and tips for completing them, and a self-scoring pull-out practice test.

The College Board co-sponsors the exam and offers additional test-taking material at collegeboard.org.

References

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