The National Merit® Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. High school students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) a test which serves as an initial screen of approximately 1.3 million entrants each year and by meeting published program entry/participation requirements.
Student Entry Requirements
To participate in the National Merit® Scholarship Program, a student must:
1. take the PSAT/NMSQT® in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern;
2. be enrolled full time as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school, and planning to enroll full time in college no later than the fall following completion of high school; and
3. be a citizen of the United States; or be a permanent U.S. resident (or have applied for permanent residency, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.
The student's responses to items on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet that are specific to NMSC program entry determine whether the individual meets requirements to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Click here to see NMSC program entry questions on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet. (Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or above is required.) Score reports provided for test takers and their schools indicate whether the student meets program entry requirements. A school official or the student should report immediately to NMSC any error in reported information or a change in it that may affect participation.
Of the 1.3 million entrants, some 50,000 with the highest PSAT/NMSQT® Selection Index scores (critical reading + math + writing skills scores) will qualify for recognition in the National Merit® Scholarship Program. In April following the fall test administration, high-scoring participants from every state will be invited to name two colleges or universities to which they would like to be referred by NMSC. In September, these high scorers will be notified through their schools that they have qualified as either a Commended Student or Semifinalist.
In late September, more than two-thirds or about 34,000 of the approximately 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT® will receive Letters of Commendation in recognition of their outstanding academic promise, but they will not continue in the competition for Merit Scholarship® awards. Some of these students, however, will be candidates for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
In early September, about 16,000 students, or approximately one-third of the 50,000 high scorers, will be notified that they have qualified as Semifinalists. To ensure that academically able young people from all parts of the United States are included in this talent pool, Semifinalists are designated on a state representational basis. NMSC will provide scholarship application materials to Semifinalists through their high schools. To be considered for a Merit Scholarship® award, Semifinalists must advance to Finalist standing in the competition by meeting high academic standards and all other requirements explained in the materials provided to each Semifinalist.
In February, some 15,000 Semifinalists will be notified by mail at their home addresses that they have advanced to Finalist standing. High school principals will be notified and provided with a certificate to present to each Finalist.
All winners of Merit Scholarship® awards (Merit Scholar® designees) will be chosen from the Finalist group, based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishmentswithout regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference. A variety of information is available for NMSC selectors to evaluatethe Finalist's academic record, information about the school's curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, school official's written recommendation, information about the student's activities and leadership, and the Finalist's own essay.
Merit Scholar® Designees
Beginning in March and continuing to mid-June, NMSC will notify approximately 8,200 Finalists that they have been selected to receive a Merit Scholarship® award. Merit Scholarship awards are of three types:
National Merit® $2500 Scholarships
Every Finalist competes for these single payment scholarships, which are awarded on a state representational basis. Winners are selected without consideration of family financial circumstances, college choice, or major and career plans.
Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
Corporate sponsors designate their awards for children of their employees or members, for residents of a community where a company has operations, or for Finalists with career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage. These scholarships may either be renewable for four years of undergraduate study or one-time awards.
College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
Officials of each sponsor college select winners of their awards from Finalists who have been accepted for admission and have informed NMSC by the published deadlines that the sponsor college or university is their first choice. These awards are renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study.
Merit Scholarship awards are supported by some 500 independent sponsors and by NMSC's own funds. Sponsor organizations include corporations and businesses, company foundations, professional associations, and colleges and universities.
Special Scholarship Candidates
Every year, some 1,600 National Merit® Program participants, who are outstanding but not Finalists, are awarded Special Scholarships provided by corporations and business organizations for students who meet the sponsor's criteria. To be considered for a Special Scholarship, students must meet the sponsor's criteria and entry requirements of the National Merit Scholarship Program. They also must file an entry form directly with the sponsor organization which forwards the forms to NMSC. Subsequently, NMSC contacts a pool of high-scoring candidates through their respective high schools. These students and their school officials submit detailed scholarship applications. A committee of NMSC professionals evaluates information about candidates' abilities, skills, and accomplishments and chooses winners of the sponsor's Special Scholarships. These scholarships may either be renewable for four years of undergraduate study or one-time awards.