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Apply for National Merit Scholarship Program



If you’re a high school junior or the parent of a high school junior, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the National Merit Scholarship qualifications, as most juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October of their junior year.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a privately funded, non-profit organization with its headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, is in charge of managing the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is an academic scholarship competition for recognition and university scholarships in the United States. 1955 marked the beginning of the program.


The National Merit Scholarship Program is run by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), an independent non-profit organization founded in 1955. A $20 million grant from the Ford Foundation and a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York provided the initial funding for NMSC. Based on how well high school students perform on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), the National Merit Scholarship Program awards undergraduate college scholarships to deserving students.

Students take the PSAT/NMSQT to receive guidance, to prepare for the SAT, and to enter the National Merit Scholarship competition. Only students in their third year of high school are typically eligible for the National Merit Scholarship competition, though some sophomore students do take the exam.

Additional requirements for participation in the competition include full-time enrollment in high school, plans to enroll in college no later than the fall after high school graduation, and one of the following: citizenship, permanent resident status, or active participation in the citizenship-qualification process in the United States

Program for Awards and Recognition

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) recognizes students who achieve high PSAT/NMSQT scores through press releases to the media and by sharing their information with colleges and universities to aid in the recruitment of academically talented students. Scholarship recipients who fulfill stringent requirements also receive financial awards. commended students, semifinalists, finalists, and Merit scholars are just a few of the different types and levels of recognition and scholarships offered by the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students also compete for the National Achievement Scholarship program as well as Special Scholarships sponsored by businesses and academic institutions.

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High school juniors who took the PSAT/NMSQT in October 2000 would not receive scholarships until spring 2002, the student’s senior year, due to the extensive screening process that occurs throughout the scholarship competition (roughly eighteen months in total). 1.2 million of the 2.9 million test-takers from 2000 (roughly 45% of the anticipated 2002 high school graduates) qualified to apply for the scholarship competition. About 50,000 of the top students from this smaller group qualified for merit-program recognition. Of the top 50,000 students, 34,000 were given letters of commendation, recognizing their academic potential. Some of the students in this group were still qualified for the Special or National Achievement Scholarships even though they were no longer eligible for the Merit Scholarship.

Merit scholars

The remaining 16,000 students were informed that they had been selected as semifinalists, maintaining their standing as Merit scholars. The semifinalists were then sent scholarship applications by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to compete for finalist status. About 90% of semifinalists who satisfied all academic and other requirements advanced to finalist status.

The 7,900 Merit Scholarships that are available to finalists include the National Merit Scholarships ($2,500 awards given once), Merit Scholarships sponsored by businesses, and Merit Scholarships sponsored by colleges. The amount and duration of scholarship awards sponsored by corporations and colleges varies depending on the sponsors.

National Merit Scholarships Grant

The National Merit Scholarship Program awards 7,900 National Merit Scholarships in addition to 1,700 Special Scholarships to outstanding candidates who did not meet the requirements to be Merit scholars but who met the requirements set forth by scholarship sponsors, such as companies or corporations. For instance, a business might provide a set number of scholarships to the kids of its staff members who excelled on the PSAT/NMSQT. The NMSC evaluates the applications submitted by qualified students and chooses the winners.

The National Achievement Scholarship program is the third category of scholarship program that NMSC coordinates. The National Achievement Scholarship Program for Outstanding Negro Students, which launched the competition in the early 1960s, sought to recognize outstanding African-American students and expand their access to higher education. Awards totaling about $70 million have been given to student participants thus far.

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The National Achievement Scholarship is operated and funded separately even though it coexists with the National Merit Scholarship program and the two programs appear to have a parallel design. With one exception: African-American students must specifically request entry into the Achievement Scholarship program when completing the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet, the participation requirements for the Achievement Scholarship are the same as those for the National Merit Scholarship awards.

National Achievement Scholarship

Each year, about 110,000 students apply for the National Achievement Scholarship, and roughly 1,500 of the top scorers (represented regionally) are named semifinalists. More than 1,200 semifinalists submit an application for an Achievement Scholarship before moving on to finalist status. The recipients of the Achievement Scholarships are chosen from this group.

Each year, more than 700 Achievement Scholarships are funded by NMSC, professional associations, businesses, and college sponsors. National Achievement Scholarships ($2,500), corporate-sponsored Achievement Scholarships, and college-sponsored Achievement Scholarships are the three categories of Achievement Scholarship awards. Students may enter both the National Merit Scholarship and the National Achievement Scholarship competitions in the same academic year, but they are only eligible to win one scholarship award.

Program entry requirements

To enter the competition, a student must

  • Be enrolled full-time as a high school student progressing normally toward completion of high school and planning to enroll full-time in college in the fall following the completion of high school;
  • Be a citizen of the United States or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident who intends to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law, or have applied for permanent residency with the intention of becoming a U.S. citizen at the earliest possible opportunity and have not been denied; and
  • Take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) in the specified year of the high school program, usually the junior (11th grade) year and usually at one’s own school. Students completing high school in three years or less must be in the last or next-to-last year of high school when they take the test. Students unable to take the exam because of an extenuating circumstance, such as severe illness or natural disaster, may be permitted to substitute subsequent SAT results by making arrangements with NMSC no later than March 1 following the exam that was missed.
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The Test

The PSAT/NMSQT has five sections: two verbal, two mathematical, and one writing-skills section. It is jointly sponsored by NMSC and the College Board. Sentence completions, analogies, and questions based on critical reading are all included in the verbal sections. There are multiple choice questions, quantitative comparisons, and student-produced answers in the mathematical sections. Identifying sentence errors, improving sentences, and improving paragraph components are the final writing requirements.

The PSAT/NMSQT is given in October, and high school principals typically receive the score reports by Thanksgiving. For each PSAT/NMSQT section, the possible scores range from 20 to 80. By multiplying the PSAT/NMSQT scores by 10, the results can be used to estimate the SAT score. For instance, if a student received a total verbal score of 48, their SAT score would be 480. The individual’s test report includes estimated SAT scores based on the PSAT/NMSQT results.

Juniors typically scored 48.3 (verbal), 49.2 (mathematics), and 49.2 (writing skills) on the PSAT/NMSQT in 1999, yielding a Selection Index of about 147. (the sum of the verbal, mathematics, and writing scores). Students with the highest Selection Index scores are eligible for awards and scholarships administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The Selection Index has a range from 60 to 240.


A number of universities reserve or guarantee additional merit-based funding for students who are National Merit Scholars, Finalists or Semifinalists. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation releases annual reports displaying the number of award winners enrolled at specific universities, which some believe encourage competition to attract students in this select group. Secondary schools may also publish information related to their students, in order to augment perception on teaching quality.

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