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Encyclopedia > National Merit Scholarship Program

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic scholarship competition for recognition and college scholarships administered by National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a privately funded, not-for-profit organization. The program began in 1955. NMSC conducts two annual competitions for recognition and scholarships--the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is open to all students who meet entry requirements, and the National Achievement Scholarship Program in which only Black American students participate. Each year a total of approximately 10,500 scholarships are awarded through NMSC programs. The corporation's headquarters are located in Evanston, Illinois. Scholarship is the pursuit of academic research, whether in the arts and humanities or sciences, and in all such fields means deep mastery of a subject, often through study at institutions of higher education. ... 1955 (MCMLV) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Incorporated City in 1872. ...

Logo of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation
Logo of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation

Of the 1.4 million entrants, about 50,000 qualify for recognition. Two-thirds of those qualified receive Letters of Commendation; the remainder become Semifinalists, about 94% of whom go on to become Finalists. Over half of the Finalists are selected to receive scholarships underwritten by corporations and business organizations, colleges and universities, and by NMSC with its own funds. Image File history File links Nmsc. ...


Program entry requirements

To enter the competition, a student must

  • be enrolled full time as a high school student progressing normally toward completion of high school and planning to enroll full time in college in the fall following the completion of high school;
  • be a citizen of the United States or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident who intends to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law; and
  • take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) in the specified year of the high school program, usually the junior (11th grade) year and usually at one's own school. Students completing high school in three (3) years or less must be in the last or next-to-last year of high school when they take the test. Students unable to take the exam because of an extenuating circumstance, such as severe illness or natural disaster, may be permitted to substitute subsequent SAT results by making arrangements with NMSC no later than March 1 following the exam that was missed.

The PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is a multiple-choice standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). ... The SAT is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. ...

Steps in the competition


The NMSC uses the Preliminary PSAT/NMSQT as the initial screen of over 1.4 million program entrants. In the spring of the junior year, NMSC determines a national Selection Index qualifying score (critical reading + math + writing skills scores) for recognition, which is calculated each year to yield students at about the 96th percentile (top 50,000 highest scorers). This score increased from 202 the prior year to 203 (out of a possible 240) for the 2007 Program (2005 PSAT/NMSQT). Notification was mailed to school principals in April 2006 of their students who scored at or above this level. Principals notify their students. These students are given the opportunity to identify two colleges or universities to which they would like NMSC to send their scores.


Early the next September (beginning of the senior year, almost a year after the PSAT/NMSQT was taken), NMSC determines Selection Index qualifying scores for further recognition by state (including three other areas: DC, US Territories and Commonwealths, and students enrolled in schools outside the US) and US boarding schools (by geographic region). About 16,000 of the 50,000 are recognized as National Merit Semifinalists in this process. The Selection Index qualifying scores for Semifinalist standing vary from state to state and from year to year, but all are very high. In the 2007 program, qualifying scores range from 203 to 224. On 8/21/06, high school principals were mailed notification about their 2007 program Semifinalists. Principals communicate these results to their students, though some misread the NMSC materials and do not release them until the NMSC press release, which comes in mid-September (9/13 in 2006). Those not making Semifinalist are "Commended", and receive a Letter of Commendation; they do not continue in the competition for Merit Scholarship awards.


Semifinalists must fulfill additional requirements and advance to the Finalist level of the competition to be considered for a scholarship. Approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists advance to Finalist standing by submitting SAT scores that confirm the earlier PSAT/NMSQT performance, having an outstanding academic record, and being endorsed and recommended by the high school principal. They must also submit an application that includes high school courses and grades, extracurricular and volunteer activities, a recommendation from the principal, and a 500-word self-descriptive essay. The substantial amount of information that is collected about each Semifinalist is used later in the process to choose scholarship winners. All Finalists receive a Certificate of Merit in recognition of their outstanding performance in the competition. Generally, Semifinalists who fail to advance to Finalist standing do so because they do not submit the application, have a large discrepancy between PSAT and SAT scores, have atypically low grades for a high PSAT/SAT student (i.e. not at least mostly A's and B's), or do not receive the endorsement from their school.


Of the 15,000 Finalists, about 8,200 receive Merit Scholarship awards. All Finalists are considered for one of the 2,500 National Merit $2,500 Scholarships, which are awarded on a state representational basis. NMSC's own funds support the majority of these awards but corporate sponsors help underwrite these awards with grants they provide to NMSC in lieu of paying administrative fees. About 1,100 Merit Scholarship awards are provided by corporate sponsors for Finalists who meet criteria specified by the sponsor. Most of these awards are for children of the sponsor's employees, for Finalists living in a particular geographic area, or for Finalists who have career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage. These two types of awards can be used at any regionally accredited college or university in the United States. There are also approximately 4,600 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists who plan to attend a sponsor college. Finalists report to NMSC their first choice college ("College-Sponsored Merit Awards"). In addition, about 1,500 program participants who are below the Finalist level receive Special Scholarships provided by corporate sponsors.

Before receiving an award, a Finalist must (a) notify NMSC of plans to enroll in a college or university in the United States that holds accredited status with a regional accrediting commission on higher education, and (b) plan to enroll full time in an undergraduate course of study leading to a traditional baccalaureate degree. NMSC scholarship stipends are not payable for attendance at service academies, virtual universities, and certain institutions that are limited in their purposes or training. A very small number of National Merit Scholars do not receive a monetary award because their educational plans or other awards preclude receipt of a monetary scholarship; however, these students may be honored as Honorary Merit Scholars, a designation that acknowledges achievement without providing any financial assistance.

National Achievement Scholarship Program

African American students who meet entry requirements and request consideration when they take PSAT/NMSQT can enter the National Achievement Scholarship Program as well as the National Merit Program. The two programs are conducted concurrently; however a student's standing in each program is determined independently. Black students can qualify for recognition, become candidates for awards, and be honored as Scholars in both competitions, but they can receive only one monetary award from NMSC. Students who are chosen as both National Achievement and National Merit Scholars receive the monetary award that is most advantageous to them and are recognized as Honorary Scholars in the other program.

Steps in the Achievement Scholarship competition are parallel to those in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Of 130,000 entrants, some 3,000 students are referred to colleges for their academic potential and an additional 1,600 students are designated Semifinalists on a regional representation basis. Semifinalists are the highest scorers in the states that make up each region and have an opportunity to continue in the competition for scholarships.

Around 1,500 go on to be named Finalists and about 800 receive scholarships. These include 700 National Achievement $2500 Scholarships, most of which are provided by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, and about 100 corporate-sponsored Achievement Scholarships awards.

See also

  • Canada Millennium Scholarship (Canadian equivalent)

The Canada Millennium Scholarship provides students with opportunities to pursue the post-secondary education they need to prepare themselves for the future. ...

External link

  • National Merit® Scholarship Program from the NMSC website



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