Qualifications For National Merit Scholarship - The College Monk

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a United States academic scholarship competition for recognition and university scholarships.

TCM Staff

25th June 2021

Scholarship is a financial aid that is awarded to a student for their further education at a private elementary or secondary school, or a private or public post-secondary college, university, or other academic institution. Scholarships are awarded based upon various criteria, such as academic merit, diversity, athletic skill, financial need, or some other combination of criteria.

In this article, we will get to know about the National Merit Scholarship program which is an academic competition where you can win the scholarship on the basis of your good PSAT score and get recognized.  

We will read more about the National Merit Scholarship Program, how to win the scholarship, the qualification required and many more topics related to it. So let’s get started.

What is the National Merit Scholarship

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a United States academic scholarship competition for recognition and 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. Every year NMSC conducts a competition for providing the scholarship. This scholarship program is open to all students who meet the entry requirement. Every year Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test(PSAT/NMSQT) is the qualifying test for every student to enter the competition.

Every year about 1.6 million students appear in the National Merit Scholarship Program after taking their PSAT/NMSQT. Out of which about 16000 students are qualified as a semifinalist and then 14000 students become the finalist of this scholarship program. Winners are the finalists of the scholarship program who have the best combination of academic skills, achievements, extracurricular activities, and potential to get succeeded in the harsh university studies.

Qualification Requirements for the National Merit Scholarship

If you are a high school student then it’s a good idea to appear in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Most of the students usually take the PSAT/NMSQT tests in their junior year. So before appearing in the scholarship program get familiar with the qualifications and requirements needed in the program. 

  • In order to get eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program, you must be a citizen of the United States or be a lawful permanent resident who intends to be a permanent resident of the United States.

  • You must have enrolled or plan to enroll in college for a full-time graduation degree.

  • You must have appeared in the PSAT/NMSQT during your junior year of high school.

  • A student with the highest PSAT/NMSQT selection index score meets the eligibility requirement will be able to appear in the competition.

  • About 1.6 million students take PSAT/NMSQT every year out of which about 50,000 students get selected to appear in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

  • After getting into the competition, out of 50,000 students only 16,000 students are recognized as National Merit Semifinalists

Semifinalists are designated on a state representational basis, contingent on the total number of entrants and in proportion to each state's percentage of the nation's high school graduating seniors. Semifinalists are the highest-scoring entrants in each state and represent 0.5 percent of the state’s senior students. Qualifying scores vary from state to state and from year to year, but the scores of all Semifinalists are extremely high.

  • Once a student is qualified as a semifinalist they have to submit a National Merit Application which includes a self-descriptive essay, and information about extracurricular activities, their high school courses and grades, their accomplishments, awards, and leadership positions to NMSC to move to the next level.

  • The information provided by the candidates is used to choose the winners or finalists of the scholarship program.

  • Finalist candidates are notified by sending mail at their residence. And a Certificate of Merit is provided to each finalist. 

National Merit Scholarship Recognition and Award

Out of 16,000 students, only 8000 students are qualified as winners or finalists of the competition. They receive a scholarship of $2,500 along with the Certification of Merit for their outstanding performance in the competition. This scholarship is a one-time award and can’t be renewed. 

Each finalist is considered as the strongest combination of achievements, skills, and potential to succeed in the future.

Special Scholarship

Every year 1000 National Merit Program participants who have shown an outstanding performance in the competition but couldn’t become finalists are awarded the special scholarship award provided by the business organization and corporation.

To win this special scholarship award students must meet the criteria of the National Merit Scholarship Program. They also have to submit an entry form to the sponsor organization. Further, these students and their school officials have to submit a detailed scholarship application and the NMSC staff choose the winners of the sponsor’s special scholarship on the basis of their abilities, skills, and achievements. These scholarships either be renewable for four years of undergraduate study or one-time awards.

How to win the National Merit Scholarship?

To be a scholar, you need to be a finalist. As everyone knows the ratio of being a finalist is very low. But here are some tips that you can consider to win the National Merit Scholarship.

Take the PSAT in the junior year of high school

Taking the PSAT is the first step towards winning the scholarship. Try to score within the top 1% of the students who have appeared in the PSAT exam to be eligible for appearing in the National Merit Scholarship.

Take the SAT once or twice in your junior year and try to give your best shot

After taking the SAT you have to submit the scores to the scholarship organization. Try to give your best and score high in SAT to show the scholarship organization committee that your PSAT score is not a coincidence and you actually deserve to move to the next round of the competition.

You need to submit an outstanding application that should include your grades, activities, accomplishments, the position of leadership, etc.

An impressive essay is a way to win the scholarship

Write an essay that contains flawless grammar and good vocabulary. Apart from this, try to be thoughtful and reflective through your essays.

Letter of Recommendation

Try to have the best letter of recommendation for yourself which make you stand out from the crowd

 **Your essay along with application and letter of recommendation will help you to be named as a finalist from semi-finalists and helps you to win the scholarship. 

Role of PSAT/NMSQT in the National Merit Scholarship Program

Your PSAT/NMSQT score plays an important role in the competition. As mentioned earlier only the top 1% candidate will get an opportunity to appear in the competition. The PSAT score varies from state to state and year to year. There is always a certain cutoff required by the National Merit Corporation to select a candidate for the scholarship program. The PSAT scores are sent to NMSC and then they decide whether the student meets the NMSC program entry requirement or not. 

If any student misses the PSAT/NMSQT because of illness, an emergency, or any unavoidable situation, but meets all other requirements for NMSC program participation, may still be able to enter the competition.

The student has to write a letter to NMSC as soon as possible and request to provide the information about the alternate procedure required to get entry into the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Sooner the NMSC receives the request greater will be your opportunity to enter the scholarship program by fulfilling the alternate entry requirements. Once your request is received and processed NMSC will send alternate entry materials, including instructions for program entry and a form that requires the signature of a school official.


If you want to maximize your chance to win the National Merit Scholarship competition then you have to start preparing at an early stage that is from your high school period. 

Winning the scholarship doesn’t only include your grades and scores in colleges and PSAT but it also includes the leadership position, your extracurricular activities, your involvement in different fields, having a good relationship with your teachers, and a lot more. 

All these preparations will not only help you in scoring good marks in PSAT and SAT but it also helps  you to gain a lot of success in your academics, careers, and future profession.

For more information, you can visit their official website 

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