If you are a high school junior or the parent of a high school junior, it is a good idea to become acquainted with the National Merit Scholarship requirements, as most juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October of their junior year.

Winning a National Merit Scholarship is never a simple task. Each year, around 50,000 students (out of 1.4 million juniors) get distinction for their exceptional PSAT scores. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation issues letters of appreciation to about 34,000 students.

While these letters do not include a scholarship check, they appear excellent to admissions officers and can be mentioned on your college application. Let’s go into more information!

national merit scholarship program

About National Merit Scholarship Program

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC®), founded in 1955, is an autonomous, non-profit organization that works without government funding.

NMSC is free from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and donors’ contributions to NMSC are tax deductible. NMSC organizes the National Merit® Scholarship Program, an annual academic competition for recognition and college student scholarships.

Additionally, from 1965 to 2015, NMSC ran the National Achievement® Scholarship Program, an academic competition for Black American high school students.

(For more information on the National Achievement Scholarship Program and its history, visit the program’s webpage.)


Scholarship Application Criteria

Semifinalists must achieve particular conditions in order to proceed to finalist status for the National Merit Scholarship program.

This means submitting a comprehensive scholarship application that includes essays and information on leadership roles, accolades, and extracurricular activities.

They must also have a strong academic record, the endorsement and recommendation of a school administrator, and SAT scores indicating that they passed the qualifying exam.

Based on these requirements, a specific number of students—which varies annually—make it to the finals. Following the competition, a select number of finalists are chosen to earn National Merit Scholarships worth $2500. Less than 1% of the initial pool of student applicants receive scholarships.

Scholarship Requirements

To participate in the scholarship competition, a student must:

  • Be enrolled full-time in high school, making normal progress toward graduation, and expecting to attend college full-time the autumn after high school graduation;
  • Be a citizen of the United States or a lawful permanent resident of the United States with the aim of becoming a citizen as soon as permitted by law, or having filed for permanent residency with the objective of becoming a citizen as soon as practicable and not being refused.
  • Take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) at your home school during the approved high school program year, which is often the junior (11th grade) year. Students who graduate from high school in three years or fewer must take the test in their last or almost final year. If an extenuating condition, such as a catastrophic illness or natural catastrophe, prevents a student from taking the exam, they may be allowed to replace subsequent SAT scores by notifying NMSC no later than March 1 of the year following the missed exam.

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