How To Get A National Merit Scholarship

Getting a National Merit Scholarship is a significant achievement that can open doors to a bright future for a small number of lucky high school students in the United States. 

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is responsible for awarding scholarships to students who score exceptionally well on the PSAT in their junior year of high school. 

There are three levels of recognition in the National Merit Scholarship Program: 

  • Commended
  • Semifinalist
  • Finalist

Commended is the top 3-4% of test-takers.

Semifinalist is the top 1% of scorers in each state.

In September of 2022, the 2023 National Merit Semifinalist list was released by state, and qualifying students were notified by their schools. 

The Finalist level is achieved by Semifinalists who meet additional requirements their senior year, such as…

  1. Submitting an application

  2. Demonstrating academic excellence

  3. Receiving recommendations from their school

While the PSAT/NMSQT is the initial qualification for the National Merit Scholarship, it is not the only factor considered. The NMSC also takes into account a student's…

  • academic record

  • extracurricular activities

  • leadership

  • community involvement 

Additionally, students who receive National Merit Scholarships can attend any college or university that participates in the program, which includes some of the most prestigious institutions in the country. 

So step #1 is to study and prepare for the PSAT by seeking out the best best online PSAT training resources to.

PSAT and National Merit Scholarship

Does the PSAT Matter?

If you’re interested in earning scholarship dollars and giving yourself a more well-rounded college application, then yes, the PSAT matters.

The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

It is also an excellent litmus test for how you’ll do taking the SAT when you start applying to colleges

When Do PSAT/NMSQT Scores Come Out?

PSAT/NMSQT scores are typically released in December of each year. 

Students can access their scores online through College Board

The scores are also sent to the student's high school, which will distribute them to the students.

National Merit Scholarship PSAT Qualifying Requirements

To qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, a student must: 

  • Be a high school junior

  • Follow the entry requirements of your individual high school

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT

  • Score in the top 1% of test-takers in your state

  • Plan to enroll in college full-time

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation determines the qualifying score for each state based on the scores of all students who took the test in that state. 

Students who score in the top 3% of test-takers in their state are Commended Students. 

Unfortunately, Commended Students don’t qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, but they can note it on college applications and possibly earn scholarships from individual schools.

National Merit Scholarship Colleges

The National Merit Scholarship is awarded by colleges and universities and it covers full tuition, room and board, plus more. 

Some of the colleges and universities that participate include Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT.

National Merit Scholarship Program

To give you a sense of scope: in 2022, approximately 1.5 million students took the PSAT.

National Merit Semifinalist

Of those who took the test in 2022, around 16,000 students were named Semifinalists.

In order to advance to Finalist, Semifinalist students must submit a National Merit Scholarship application including an essay, information about their academic record, extracurricular activities, and leadership positions. 

Plus, you must also achieve a high follow-up score on either the ACT or SAT.

National Merit Finalist

Approximately 95% of Semifinalists are expected to advance to Finalists. (In 2022 that would have been about 15,000.)

National Merit Finalists are students who have met all the eligibility requirements and have been selected by the NMSC for academic achievements, community involvement, leadership skills, and potential for success in college. 

From these Finalists, National Merit Scholarship winners are chosen and awarded one of three possible scholarships:

  1. Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarships

  2. National Merit $2500 Scholarships

  3. College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships

About half of the National Merit Scholarship Finalists are expected to be awarded the honor of National Merit Scholar.

Again, there are only around 7,500 available scholarships to earn directly from the PSAT/NMSQT. 

Of those scholarships, not many go above $2,500. 

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a nice amount of money. 

But when college costs today are around the price of a house, it’s important to also seek other scholarships to finance your education.

If the National Merit Scholarship isn’t an opportunity that applies to you, don’t despair! 

There are lots of other opportunities available that might be perfect for you. 

If you’d like help finding and applying to them, reach out to the March Consulting scholarship experts for bespoke plans and advice, then set yourself off on the right foot toward all your college and career dreams.