What is National merit scholarship program, How to Qualify for it?

National merit scholarship program : If you’re familiar with the PSAT, have contemplated its significance, or have taken the test itself, chances are you’ve also come across the term “National Merit Scholarship.” Perhaps your initial reaction was, “Interesting, a scholarship opportunity!” Or, like many of us, you might have wondered, “What exactly is a National Merit Scholarship? Wasn’t I primarily concerned with the PSAT?”

While the PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship are interconnected, the good news is that the National Merit Scholarship need not be a source of concern. Just like any scholarship, it offers the potential for financial assistance during college. Moreover, if you’ve already taken the PSAT, you’ve already embarked on the path toward scholarship eligibility.

As We are here to provide you the substantial knowledge about the National merit scholarship program. So, without further delay, let’s delve into the article!

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What is the National merit scholarship program?

The National merit scholarship program stands as a scholarship program accessible to U.S. high school students (thus, the “national” element). This includes students within U.S. high schools, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and U.S. citizens attending high school overseas. Even home-schooled students are eligible.

To qualify for the scholarship, students must exhibit commendable academic prowess (that’s the “merit” component).

Annually, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation sponsors this scholarship to commend students who attain remarkable scores on their PSATs (as previously mentioned, this ties into the PSAT connection). Scholarships might emanate from the National Scholarship Corporation itself, other organizations, corporations, or certain colleges and universities.

How Do you Qualify for a National merit scholarship program?

The initial step in vying for a National merit scholarship program is to undertake the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary Student Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). It’s crucial to differentiate this from the PSAT 10; therefore, verify before registering since only the PSAT/NMSQT makes you eligible for the National Merit Scholarship.

In conjunction with taking the PSAT/NMSQT (typically done during 11th grade), a few more specific conditions apply:

  1. Students should complete the test before 12th grade (although most take it in 11th grade).
  2. Full-time enrollment in high school is mandatory.
  3. Students must maintain good academic standing (essentially denoting steady progress toward meeting graduation requirements, absence of academic warnings or probation, and a record of strong academic performance).
  4. There should be an intention to commence college in the fall semester post-graduation (hence, no gap years).
  5. Achieving a PSAT/NMSQT score within the top 1% of their state is obligatory for students (yes, you read that right – the uppermost one percent). The required minimum score varies based on your location, but the average score across all states typically centers around 218.

Types of National merit scholarship program

Surprising, right? Yes, indeed! The world of National merit scholarship program offers a variety of options. We understand that this might seem overwhelming, but it’s crucial for you to be aware of the numerous avenues through which you can secure extra funds for your college expenses. Don’t worry—we’re here to guide you through it all. There exist four distinct types of National Merit Scholarships, contributing to a total of 8,500 scholarships granted annually:

1. National Merit $2,500 Scholarships: These are one-time awards conferred by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They are reserved for outstanding students who fulfill all the eligibility criteria.

2. National Merit Special Scholarships: These scholarships, provided either as one-time or renewable awards, are granted by private corporations and businesses. They are aimed at exceptional students who don’t qualify as finalists for the $2,500 Scholarship.

3. Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships: Similarly, private corporations and businesses offer these scholarships as either one-time or renewable awards. Typically, they are designated for the children of employees. So, if your parents are employed by a company that offers such scholarships, it might be worth exploring!

4. College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships: These scholarships, granted by colleges and universities, span multiple years and can be renewed. They are intended for students who will be attending the respective institution.

We know it’s a lot to take in, but understanding these scholarship types can significantly aid your college funding journey.

How to apply for a National merit scholarship program?

After you’ve taken the PSAT/NMSQT, you’ve already accomplished the initial step)! Though we’d love to tell you that’s the whole process, there are still several steps to navigate. Let’s break these down…


You complete the PSAT/NMSQT.


34,000 students are recognized as Commended students, and 16,000 students are designated as Semifinalists. Even though Commended students don’t proceed to the Semifinalist stage, they receive a commendation letter – so all is not lost!


This is where the journey ramps up for Semifinalists. Apart from submitting high school transcripts and a letter of recommendation (often from the school principal or a dean), Semifinalists are also required to submit an essay, usually centered around a significant personal experience or challenge. (This serves as excellent practice for crafting your college essay.)

Semifinalists must also provide their SAT scores (meaning the PSAT gets your foot in the door). What these steps underline is that securing a National Merit Scholarship goes beyond just a high PSAT score. The selection committee seeks students who excel across the board, not solely in test-taking.


Around 15,000 students attain Finalist status. These students’ schools receive this news (hopefully met with well-deserved celebration), and each Finalist receives a Certificate of Merit.


This window marks the period when National Merit Scholarship recipients are ultimately announced (yes, we acknowledge, it’s quite a lengthy process)!

Students and their schools are notified of their achievement in earning a National Merit Scholarship, initiating a wave of jubilant celebrations!


In conclusion, the National Merit Scholarship Program stands as a beacon of recognition for academic excellence and dedication. Beyond its allure as a scholarship opportunity, this program underscores the value of well-rounded achievement, transcending test scores to acknowledge the broader spectrum of a student’s capabilities.

As we’ve explored, the journey to becoming a National merit scholarship program recipient involves not only a commendable PSAT/NMSQT performance but also a series of steps that highlight your commitment to learning, growth, and overcoming challenges.

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