Be a National Merit Scholar! Part I – Qualifications and Overview3 min read

PSATEvery year approximately millions of students participate in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), otherwise known as the Preliminary SAT or PSAT. Of these students, approximately fifty five thousand students will score high enough to be recognized by the National Merit Scholarship Program. Needless to say, qualifying is extremely competitive and a very big deal. Whether you qualify as a Finalist, Semifinalist, or Commended Student, a high enough score on the PSAT will give you access to otherwise inaccessible opportunities. This is especially true in the context of scholarship and financial aid. Practically every high school student is, at one point or another, eligible to become a National Merit Scholar. The eligibility requirements to be a National Merit Scholar are as follows:

  1. A student must take the PSAT/NMSQT in the “specified year” of their high school program (for most, this means you can only qualify when you take the PSAT in 11th grade).
  2. Be a full time high school student and plan to go to college full time no later than fall of the year following graduation from high school.
  3. Be a US Citizen or permanent US Resident with the intention of becoming a US Citizen.

Of the approximately 55,000 students who receive recognition from the National Merit Scholarship Program, only 16,000 will go on to become National Merit Semifinalists. The remaining 34,000 students receive Letters of Commendation. Though no longer eligible to continue in the competition for National Merit Scholarships, some Commended students may qualify to become candidates for Special Scholarships. We will discuss this type of scholarship, along with several others, at length in a future post.

National Merit Scholarship Coporation
The NMSC is an independent not-for-profit corporation responsible for awarding a variety of scholarships.

Of the 16,000 semifinalists, 15,000 will go on to become Finalists. Before getting too excited, it’s important to note that advancing to the position of Finalist does not guarantee you a National Merit Scholarship. We will discuss the qualifications for advancement at length in a future article. In fact, approximately only 8,300 National Merit Finalists will receive Merit Scholarship awards. According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation a wide variety of information is used to determine who wins a scholarship, including “the Finalist’s academic record, information about the school’s curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, the high school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the Finalist’s own essay.”

The advantages of being a National Merit Commended Student, Semifinalist, or Finalist do not end with a National Merit Scholarship; in fact that is only where they begin. Be sure to return soon as we continue our series, Be a National Merit Scholar!

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This post is part of a series; other posts in this series include:

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part II – What Does it Take to be a Finalist?

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part III – Scholarship & Opportunities

Be a National Merit Scholar! Part IV – What Now?

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!
Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

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.

 

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4 Comments

  1. which two sets of test scores are used to determine the winners?

    “According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation a wide variety of information is used to determine who wins a scholarship, including “the Finalist’s academic record, information about the school’s curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, the high school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the Finalist’s own essay.”

    1. Lauren,

      The two sets of test scores to which you are referring are your original PSAT score, from your 11th grade PSAT, and your subsequent SAT score.

      Hope this helps!

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