If you scored well enough on the PSAT in October, you will be notified of your status (whether you are a Commended Student or Semifinalist), via your high school, in September of the following year. Receiving any kind of commendation from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is extremely prestigious, but no one likes to run a long race and come in second place. Of the approximately 50,000 students who are recognized for their PSAT scores, only 15,000 will advance to become Finalists. So what makes these students more deserving among a peer group of other exemplary students? What does it take to be a National Merit Finalist?
Students who advance from Semifinalist to Finalist status are awarded a Certificate of Merit to commemorate their distinguished performance. Who gets a Certificate of Merit is ultimately decided by the professional staffers at the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Though the PSAT is standardized, advancement in the National Merit competition is not. There is no magic GPA, PSAT score, or extracurricular that will guarantee you a promotion to Finalist. Remember, you are competing against the very best and brightest students in the nation. Using a broad spectrum of criteria as a basis for advancement, each potential candidate is individually evaluated (which is one reason it takes so long for students to be notified of their status), and a determination on advancement is made from there.
Though there are no exact specifications as to what it takes to be a National Merit Finalist, the NMSC does publish a list of guidelines and prerequisites students are required to meet in order to qualify for advancement. In order to be a National Merit Finalist, you must:
2) Be enrolled in your last year of high school and planning to enroll full time in college the following fall, or be enrolled in your first year of college if grades 9-12 of high school were completed in three or less years.
3) Complete the National Merit Scholarship Application with all information requested, which includes writing an essay (You will be contacted by NMSC through your high school and provided with the necessary application forms then).
4) Have a record of very high academic performance in all of grades 9-12 and in any college course work taken (the high school must provide a complete record of courses taken and grades earned by the student, as well as information about the school’s curriculum and grading system).
5) Be fully endorsed for Finalist standing and recommended for a National Merit Scholarship by the high school principal.
6) Take the SAT and earn scores that confirm the PSAT/NMSQT performance that resulted in Semifinalist standing.
7) Be prepared to provide any other documentation and information that NMSC requests.
Hopefully these guidelines and requirements did not make you cringe. All the NMSC asks is that you have been and continue to be consistently and demonstrably a candidate of the utmost academic quality.
An item of note:
It is not enough to have done well on the PSAT; in order to advance to Finalist status you must demonstrate that your PSAT score was not an anomaly. This means you must either match, or preferably beat, your state’s National Merit Score Index requirement on the SAT This means practice and additional preparation.
This post is part of a series. Other posts in this series include:
One of the best ways to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT is to take practice tests. PSAT Exam Packs, available from Test Masters, are packaged PSAT exams and an excellent resource for students who want to Be a National Merit Scholar.
Test Masters offers the most extensive and comprehensive PSAT & SAT preparation courses available; click here to learn more about the Test Masters PSAT & SAT preparation course.