The National Merit Scholarship
National Merit Scholarship Corporation
Established in 1955, National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is an independent, not for-profit organization that seeks to:
- Identify and honor academically talented U.S. high school students
- Stimulate increased support for their education
- Provide scholarship program management for organizations that wish to sponsor college undergraduate scholarships
Students must complete the PSAT during their junior year of high school in order to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Qualifiers must also be U.S. citizens and have a projected graduation from a 4-year high school.
In late September of their senior years, about 34,000 of the approximately 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT receive Letters of Commendation in recognition of their outstanding academic promise. Commended students are named on the basis of a nationally applied Selection Index score that may vary from year to year and is below the level required for participants to be named semifinalists in their respective states.
In early September of their senior years, approximately one-third of the 50,000 high scorers are notified that they have qualified as semifinalists. These are the highest scoring entrants in each state. At this stage, the NMSC requires that semifinalists take the SAT (by December of senior year) and earn scores that confirm their PSAT performances. Semifinalists must also complete application materials provided by NMSC.
In February of their senior years, around 15,000 semifinalists are notified via mail that they have advanced to the final stage of the competition. These students are awarded a certificate by their schools’ principals.
All winners of National Merit Scholarships are chosen from the group of finalists based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments. The NMSC evaluates the following from each finalist:
- Academic record
- Information about the school’s curricula and grading system
- Two sets of test scores (PSAT and SAT)
- A school official’s written recommendation
- Information about the student’s activities and leadership
- The finalist’s own essay
Beginning in March and continuing to mid-June, NMSC notifies approximately 8,200 Finalists at their home addresses 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.
- 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.
- College-sponsored Merit Scholarship Awards: Officials of each college select winners of their awards from finalists who have been accepted for admission and have informed NMSC by the published deadlines that the college or university is their first choice. These awards are renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study.