National Merit Scholarship

Every October, over one million juniors take the PSAT/NMSQT (quite an acronym isn’t it). The PSAT is the Preliminary SAT which functions as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. But how does one actually obtain this scholarship? What’s the scholarship worth? What does it mean?

What is the National Merit Scholarship?

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation is privately funded, non-profit organization that annually awards approximately 8,000 seniors one-time merit scholarships of $2,500 to be applied to any accredited four-year college in the United States.

What is the eligibility criteria?

All students taking the PSAT/NMSQT in their junior year are eligible to compete for the National Merit Scholarship. The top 16,000 students, on a state representational basis, are selected as semifinalists. As a result, the scores students need to advance to semifinalist status vary from year to year and from state to state. In less competitive states like Montana, students often need scores only around 201. However in more competitive states like California, students may need scores as high as 223. Students who meet this criteria are notified in September of their junior year.

How do I compete for the scholarship?

All eligible semifinalists must submit verification of their PSAT scores to be considered for the finalist round. What this means is that the College Board requires students to submit grades and SAT or ACT scores that are consistent with your PSAT scores. They want to make sure that the PSAT score wasn’t just a fluke and is indicative of your ability. Of the 16,000 semifinalists, 15,000 become finalists.

From there, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation selects 8,000 scholarship winners on a state representational basis. NMSC selects students based on letters of recommendation, academic record, standardized test scores, leadership and extracurricular activities, and a personal essay.

Only $2,500?

The National Merit Scholarship is an award of only $2,500. While that is a significant amount of money, it hardly makes a dent in tuition that can top $200,000. However, numerous colleges and corporations provide significant additional awards to National Merit Scholars, Finalists, and Semifinalists. These scholarships awards can amount to full tuition, fees, room and board. Here is a list of schools that have scholarships specifically for these students. Most of these scholarships are automatic and guaranteed while others have a competitive component.

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