National Merit® Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. Approximately 1.5 million high school students enter the program each year.
The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) is taken at the designated time in the high school program, typically as a junior, by high school students who meet the published program enrollment and participation requirements.
How to Enter the Competition
The qualifying exam for entry into a particular year’s tournament is the PSAT/NMSQT each year. For instance, the 2021 PSAT/NMSQT is the required test for entrance into the 2024 scholarship competition.
The entrance exam for the scholarship competition for awards in 2024 is the PSAT/NMSQT 2024.
Instead of individual students, secondary schools register for the exam.
To make plans to take the PSAT/NMSQT at the school in the autumn, interested students should meet with their counselor at the start of the school year.
Please take note that the PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 will not be taken into consideration for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The official entrance test for the National Merit Scholarship Program is the PSAT/NMSQT.
Scholarship Entry Requirements
Students are asked a few questions on exam day to assess their eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students who wish to apply for the National Merit Scholarship Program must:
1. Regardless of grade classification or educational pattern, take the PSAT/NMSQT in the prescribed high school program year and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12;
2. Be enrolled in high school (whether you’re attending a traditional or homeschooling school), making good progress toward graduation or finishing high school, and intending to take admission to college no later than the fall after finishing high school;
3. Atten d high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealth and territory; or meet the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States (see below);
Students attending high school outside the U.S.: To be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program, a student attending high school outside the United States must be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.
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When to Take the PSAT/NMSQT
The PSAT/NMSQT must be taken in the third year of high school for students who intend to complete the traditional four years (grades 9 through 12) before beginning full-time college (grade 11, junior year).
They will be participating in the competition, which expires when awards are given out in the spring of their senior year of high school (grade 12), the year they graduate from high school and begin college.
Even though some schools advise sophomores to take the PSAT/NMSQT for advice, if they plan to complete the typical four years of study in grades 9 through 12, they must retake the exam as juniors in order to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
If they take the PSAT/NMSQT before they graduate high school, students who want to leave school a year (or more) early to enroll in college full time can typically compete for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Such students must take the PSAT/NMSQT either in their subsequent-to-last year of high school or in their last year of enrollment.
The competition for rewards will be open to students who take the PSAT/NMSQT in their second-to-last year of high school and while they are finishing their senior year.
The competition for rewards will be open to students who take the PSAT/NMSQT in their senior year of high school and as they are finishing their first year of college.
Students who are dual enrolled in both high school and college must take the PSAT/NMSQT in their third year of high school (grade 11, junior year) to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program.
National Merit Scholarship 2024: When to Take the PSAT/NMSQT
The high school determines whether a student is dual enrolled and confirms the student’s status as a high school student.
Students who plan to spend five years in grades 9 through 12 before entering college full time can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program if they take the PSAT/NMSQT in the third year of high school and again in the fourth year.
These students’ Selection Index scores will not be eligible for the program until a written request for entry to the competition is approved by NMSC®.
The request should include the student’s name, high school name, and location, the year the student began high school, the year the student will complete high school, and a brief explanation of the student’s educational pattern.
NMSC will use the student’s Selection Index score from the PSAT/NMSQT taken in the student’s third year of grades 9 through 12 to determine the expected level of recognition.
In order to be recognized in the fifth (final) year of high school, the student must take the PSAT/NMSQT again in the fourth year and earn a qualifying Selection Index score at or above the level achieved on the third-year test.
The level of recognition a student receives cannot exceed the level earned on the qualifying test taken during the student’s third year in grades 9 through 12, the year in which all other competitors are considered.
Note: Because a student can participate (and be considered for a scholarship) in only one specific competition year, the year in which the student takes the PSAT/NMSQT to enter the competition is very important. Also, If there is a question about whether a student can participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program because the student’s educational plans do not fit one of the preceding descriptions, or for any other reason, contact NMSC immediately.
If a Student Misses the PSAT/NMSQT Administration
If a student meets all other conditions for participation in the NMSC program but is unable to take the PSAT/NMSQT due to illness, an emergency, or another extenuating situation, they may still be eligible to compete.
After the PSAT/NMSQT administration, the student or a school representative must write to NMSC to inquire about the procedures for alternate entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program.
A request must be postmarked by April 1 after the missed PSAT/NMSQT administration in order to be taken into account.
The alternate entry request should include the name and address of the student; the contact information of the person making the request; the name and address of the student’s high school; and a brief explanation of why the student missed the PSAT/NMSQT.
The earlier NMSC receives the written request, the greater the student’s opportunities for meeting alternate entry requirements. Upon receiving and processing the request, NMSC will provide alternate entry materials, including instructions for program entry and a form that requires the signature of a school official.
In late September, more than two-thirds (about 34,000) of the approximately 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT receive Letters of Commendation in recognition of their outstanding academic promise.
Commended Students are named based on a nationally applied Selection Index score that may vary from year to year and is typically below the level required for participants to be named Semifinalists in their respective states.
Although Commended Students do not continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, some of these students do become candidates for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
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In early September, more than 16,000 students, or approximately one-third of the 50,000 high scorers, are notified that they have qualified as Semifinalists.
To ensure that academically talented young people from all parts of the United States are included in this talent pool, Semifinalists are designated on a state-representational basis. Semifinalists are the highest-scoring entrants in each state.
Qualifying scores vary from state to state and from year to year, but the scores of all Semifinalists are extremely high. NMSC provides scholarship application materials to Semifinalists through their high schools.
To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, Semifinalists must advance to Finalist standing in the competition by meeting high academic standards and all other requirements explained in the information provided to each Semifinalist. View the Requirements and Instructions for Semifinalists in the Index score for more information about what Semifinalists must do.
In February, over 15,000 Semifinalists are notified that they have advanced to Finalist standing. High school principals are also notified and provided with a Certificate of Merit to present to each Finalist.
All winners of Merit Scholarship awards (Merit Scholar® designees) are chosen from the Finalist group based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments—without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference.
A variety of information is available for NMSC to evaluate: The Finalist’s academic record, information about the school’s curriculum and grading system, PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index score, the high school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the Finalist’s own essay.
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