The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is offering the National Merit program to identify and honour academically talented US high school students.
The award is an academic competition that invites approximately 1.6 million high school students each year in the United States.
Many student have been asking us about what National Merit Scholarship entails and how they can qualify for it? Well, the short answer is, it depends on how you score on the PSAT, but there’s more to it than that. Below you’ll find a basic explanation of what this award is all about, plus a handy table of qualifying scores for the class of 2018.
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.
What is National Merit Scholarship Program?
When it all comes down to it, 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).
There are three main requirements for entering the National Merit Scholarship Program:
- Take the PSAT/NMSQT when you are in high school grades 9 through 12
- Be enrolled as a high school student (traditional or homeschooled)
- Be a US citizen, lawful permanent resident, or planning to become a citizen as soon as possible
The PSAT/NMSQT has questions specific to the National Merit Scholarship Program, and your responses to these questions help determine whether you qualify. Also keep in mind these are just the general entry requirements. Things get more complicated the further you advance…
- University or Organization: National Merit Scholarship Corporation
- Department: NA
- Course Level: Undergraduate
- Award: $2,500 each
- Access Mode: Online
- Number of Awards: NA
- Nationality: US Citizen
- Awards can be taken in the USA
- Eligible Countries: Applications only open for the United States
- Acceptable Course or Subjects: The awards will be awarded the undergraduate study in any subject.
- Admissible Criteria: To participate in the National Merit® program, a student must check the following:
- Take the PSAT/NMSQT® in the definite high school program year and no later than the 3rd year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or learning pattern.
- Must be registered as a high school student in traditional or homeschooled, moving ahead usually for graduation or high school completion and planning to admit to college no later than the fall following completion of high school.
- Join a high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or US commonwealth and territory; or check the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States:
- Students attending high school outside the US: Students joining high school outside the US should be a US citizen, or be a US lawful resident (or have applied for permanent residence) and intend to become a US citizen at the earliest chance allowed by law.
How to Apply
- How to Apply: Students must submit a National Merit application to your high school office by using NMSC’s Online application (OSA).
- Note: On test day, students are asked some questions to determine entry to the National Merit program.
- Supporting Documents: If you attend high school outside the United States and have not yet become a US citizen, to become a Finalist must submit with the completed Application: A letter signed by you explaining your ideas for becoming a citizen, including the date on which you expect to be eligible and will apply for US citizenship.
- And, if you are a US lawful permanent resident, a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) copy; or a passport copy together with the identity/biographical page and the “I-551” stamp showing that you have been approved lawful permanent resident status.
- Or, if you have applied for US lawful permanent residence, a copy of Form I-797 Receipt Notice from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) that verifies you filed the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status” (Form I-485).
- NMSC must receive your letter and documentation on or before January 31, 2020.
- Entry Requirements: High School students must meet the program entry and participation requirements for the National Merit program by taking the PSAT/NMSQT at the specified time in the high school program, usually as juniors.
- Language Requirement: All students need appropriate English language skills to achieve the National Merit® program.
- The winner of the National Merit support will receive $ 2500 support for college studies.
- The award can be applied only for attendance at a US college or university that holds accredited position with a regional accrediting commission on higher education.
Application Deadline: January 31, 2020.
National Merit Cutoff Scores and How to Qualify
So, how does the National Merit Scholarship work? Every year, after all PSAT/NMSQT have been taken and scored, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) calculates the annual Selection Index Scores.
About 50,000 entrants with the highest Selection Index Scores qualify for recognition and the National Merit Scholarship Program; those students are then broken down further into Commended Students or Semifinalists, depending on their PSAT scores. (Their high schools will notify them if they qualify as a Commended Student or Semifinalist.)
Commended Students are notified by late September after taking the PSAT. They’re chosen based on the national Selection Index Score, which varies annually. Commended Students scored lower than the score needed to be a Semifinalist (more on that below). Commended Students don’t get to continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships but they do receive letters of commendation recognizing their academic promise.
In early September, about one-third (approximately 16,000 students) of the 50,000 high scorers qualify as Semifinalists and are chosen to represent the state they live in. The table below shows the semifinalist cutoff scores by state for the Class of 2017. Anything below the following National Merit cutoff scores would result in a student being ineligible to be a Semifinalist.
In February, about 15,000 Semifinalists advance to Finalist standing. Within the Finalist group, winners are chosen for the Merit Scholarship based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments. About 7,500 finalists will be selected to receive a Merit Scholarship in between the beginning the March and mid-June.
How to Win the National Merit Scholarships
Once you get to the Finalist round, high academic standards and requirements must be met. To become a finalist in the 2020 National Merit Scholarship Program, students had to:
- Meet the three requirements above (under “What is the National Merit Scholarship Program?”)
- Get a recommendation from your high school principal or someone designated by the principal
- Have a record of high academic performance throughout high school
- Submit a completed scholarship application
Lastly, Finalists must take the official SAT and earn scores that confirm their performances on the PSAT/NMSQT and have the official report sent to the NMSC.
The three main types of National Merit Scholarship awards:
- The National Merit $2,500 scholarships are single-payment scholarships that are awarded by state.
- The Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarship awards can be renewable for four years of undergraduate study or awarded just one time. They are given to children of the company’s employees or members, for residents of the company’s community, or to Finalists with career plans related to the company. The awards vary in what they’re worth.
- The College-Sponsored Merit Scholarship awards are renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study at the Finalist’s chosen college or university. The sponsoring college or university chooses the winners. The awards also vary in what they’re worth.
In addition to these awards, about 1,200 students who participate in the National Merit Program who are considered outstanding but do not qualify as Finalists are awarded “Special Scholarships.”
National Merit Scholarship 2021/2022 Students Portal Updates.
National Merit Scholarship 2021: The National Merit Scholarship Program is a United States academic scholarship competition.
University scholarships administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a privately funded, not-for-profit organization based in Evanston, Illinois. The program began in 1955
If you’ve been named a National Merit Semifinalist, you passed the first hurdle to becoming a finalist. Only about 16,000 students earn the PSAT score required to enter the National Merit Finalist race, so you’re in great company.
But with all the next steps for National Merit Semifinalists, you may feel like earning a great PSAT score was the easy part. That’s why we put together a guide to help you organize all your next steps and (hopefully) make them a little more manageable.
Update: 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program Score Requirements
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous disruption in education, and the National Merit scholarship program was also impacted. As a result, standardized test scores typically required to become a finalist in the program have been waived for those students starting college in 2021:
“Due to the global pandemic and the resulting lack of available test administrations, SAT and ACT scores will not be required or considered for Finalist standing in the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program.”
This testing update is a response to the current health crisis, and it is not anticipated to become a permanent program change. All other steps to become a National Merit Finalist will remain in place:
5. Ensure You Meet All Program Requirements
Before you even get started advancing toward finalist status, you must ensure you meet all the academic, residency, and enrollment requirements. To continue on in the competition to become a National Merit Finalist, you must:
- Be progressing normally toward high school graduation or completion as a traditional or homeschooled student
- Be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or have applied for permanent residency and intend to become a U.S. citizen as soon as possible
- Be enrolled in your last year of high school and plan to enroll full time in college in the fall after your senior year
- Be fully endorsed and recommended for Finalist standing for a National Merit Scholarship (by your high school principal or designated school official)
4. Display a Consistently Excellent Academic Record
This proof of academic accomplishment needs to extend all the way from grade 9 through your senior year. It also includes any college courses you took. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation needs to see exceptional academic performance over a long period, not just the past year.
According to NMSC, your high school must “provide a complete record of high school courses you have taken, grades earned, and course work you will take in grade 12.” Your school is also obligated to tell the NMSC about “any noticeable decline in your academic performance during the current year.” If you’re currently enrolled in college, you must submit an official transcript of your record.
3. Complete the NMSC Application
Submit all the NMSC application requirements:
- Academic record
- Activity and leadership information
- School curriculum and grading information
- A personal essay
- Recommendation (from your high school principal or designated school official)
- Your first-choice college (see more below)
To submit these items, create an account with the NMSC.
2. Report Your First-Choice College
You don’t need to indicate a college choice to qualify as a National Merit Scholar Finalist. However, the National Merit Scholarship can only be used at colleges in the U.S. that hold accredited status with a regional accrediting commission on higher education. NMSC needs to know that you will attend a qualifying college, so they will request you name a first-choice college.
If you’re not sure where you’d like to attend, you can mark “undecided.” However, to qualify for a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award, you must have named that school your first choice. These awards are not transferrable, unlike the National Merit Scholarship and most corporate-sponsored awards.
Don’t worry if you named a school as your first choice but you’re unsure. You can always log in to your application and change the school you selected.
1. Promptly Provide Anything NMSC Requests
The National Merit Scholarship Program is a competitive opportunity with big dollars at stake. National Merit Scholars at USF receive a scholarship that covers their full cost of attendance for fall and spring, study abroad scholarships, and many other exclusive opportunities.
With available benefits like those, it’s vital you hit all the deadlines and provide all the required documents as soon as possible. NSMC will tell you if you’ve been selected as a finalist in February of your senior year. Until then, continually monitor your email and NMSC account for anything you may be missing.
What score do you need on the PSAT to qualify for National Merit distinction? The answer to this question depends on where you live. To achieve National Merit recognition, you need to match or exceed the cutoff score in your home state.
We’ve compiled the National Merit Semifinalist state cutoffs based on the most recent data from the fall of 2019. Before checking out the qualifying scores, let’s discuss how the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) determines who is named Commended Student or Semifinalist.
How to Qualify for National Merit
National Merit is open to U.S. citizens who test in the U.S. in the fall of 11th grade. Only your junior year PSAT counts toward National Merit distinction and scholarships, though taking the PSAT as a sophomore or freshman can be good practice, especially if you’re aiming for top scores.
Students who achieve top scores may receive recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. NMSC compares your PSAT scores with those of other students in your state using its own Selection Index, which falls on a scale between 48 and 228.
The top 3-4% of scorers are named Commended Scholar. The top 1%, usually about 16,000 students, are named National Merit Semifinalists. Semifinalists may go on to apply for Finalist status and potentially win scholarship money.
As I mentioned above, NMSC uses its own Selection Index along with state percentiles. Let’s take a look at how your scores convert to this index.
Just how many different scoring scales are actually on the PSAT?
Does your school report your GPA as weighted or unweighted? What would your GPA be, considered on a 4.0, 5.0, or 6.0 scale? Use our tool to calculate your unweighted and weighted GPA to figure out how you stack up against other college applicants. You’ll also get our proprietary college core GPA calculation and advice on where to improve to be a better college applicant
Understanding Your Scores on the PSAT
To understand your National Merit eligibility, you mainly need to pay attention to your PSAT section scores for Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. Each section is scored between 8 and 38.
NMSC adds each section score together and then multiplies by 2. Let’s say you got a 30 on Math, a 31 on Reading, and a 32 on Writing and Language. Added together, the sum of these scores comes out to 93. Multiply by 2, and you get your National Merit Selection Index Score: 186.
As an equation, this would look like: (30 + 31 + 32) x 2 = 186.
Based on our estimates for the qualifying PSAT scores, a score of 186 wouldn’t make it into the top 1%. Check out the cutoff scores below.
Does your PSAT score report look like a jumble of numbers? For National Merit, you just need to understand one: your Selection Index.
Predicted National Merit Scholarship Cutoffs
The cutoffs in the chart below apply to students who took the PSAT in October 2019. (In other words, these are the cutoffs for the Class of 2021).
Here’s the full list of Selection Index scores that qualified for National Merit Semifinalist.
If you tested in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Washington DC, then the bar was especially high. You had to score at or above a 222. North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had the lowest cutoffs at 209. The average cutoff for all states was 215.
If you haven’t taken the PSAT yet and are aiming for National Merit, you should aim to get a Selection Index score 2-5 points higher than the cutoff score for your state. The reason you should aim a little higher is that qualifying scores can fluctuate a little from year to year.
Beware of Fraudulent Calls on National Merit List 2021
National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) has recently received reports of fraudulent phone calls being made by callers posing as employees of NMSC who are contacting students/families attempting to sell test preparation products and requesting sensitive personally identifying information, such as credit card numbers. Please know that these calls are not originating from NMSC and should be reported to the FCC.
This type of activity, known as telemarketing fraud, is a crime. If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to work for NMSC, even one that specifically identifies NMSC (or “National Merit Scholar”) on the caller I.D. (some of these callers engage in illegal “spoofing” to make it seem as if the call is coming directly from the organization), do not provide the caller with any personal information.
NMSC does not make unsolicited phone calls to students or families requesting this type of information. Representatives of NMSC only make calls to students and their families in response to student-generated inquiries and/or to follow up on materials related to a student’s participation in the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Should you have a question about the origin of a phone call you have received in which the caller claims to be from NMSC, please contact us immediately at (847) 866-5100.