How To Win a National Merit Scholarship?

National Merit Scholarship
National Merit Scholarship

Among the most prestigious scholarship programs for students in the US is the National Merit Scholarship Program executed by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The scholarship program providing recognition and scholarships to the worthiest students since 1955.

 The National Merit Scholarship is the summit for academic achievements for students. Although the scholarship amount is not as hefty as some other scholarships. The selected scholar (National Merit Scholarship Winner) has a college application that stands out from every other applicant and is unmatchable. Moreover, the NMSC has three types of scholarships, each with a different award and criteria for students. 

What Are the Three Award Types?

  1. The National Merit Scholarship: This type of scholarship is open to students of all majors and financial backgrounds regardless of their first-choice college. Only 2,500 students are chosen as finalists for this scholarship for a one-time award of $2,500. However, this scholarship is not renewable throughout college.
  2. Corporate-sponsored National Merit Scholarship: This type of scholarship by the NMSC is only for NMSC participants. It is a corporate-sponsored scholarship that has two categories, namely the corporate-sponsored merit scholarships that are for the finalists, and the corporate-sponsored special scholarships that are only for the high-performing NMSC participants who do not make it as finalists. The awards of both of these categories of corporate-sponsored scholarships are either one-time or renewable and range widely every year.
  3. College-sponsored National Merit Scholarship: College-sponsored National merit Scholarship is for those finalists who do not receive any of the scholarships mentioned above. These National Merit Finalists will pick their first-choice college. Many popular colleges award scholarship funding to these students, however, some colleges/universities do not sponsor scholarships and are therefore not on the list, these include the Ivy colleges, Harvard, MIT, Middlebury College, Stanford, and Williams College. The awards range for every college but the amount is usually between $500 to $2000. Around 4000 lucky students receive the college-sponsored scholarship annually and sometimes they are usually renewable.


Steps To Win the National Merit Scholarship

Take The PSAT

To participate in the National Merit Scholarship, you must attempt and ace the PSAT no later than your junior year of high school, you need to be one of the top scorers to make your PSAT count in this process.

Prepare yourself for Reading, Writing and Language, and Math, because this test score will be taking you a long way. You can take a practice test to sharpen your skills and be confident during the test. 


Score The Highest in Your State

You need to be in the top 1% of students in your state. There is no pre-decided score to become a finalist, instead, a state cutoff is made every year after the students have given the test. Therefore, every state has its different cutoff score, and you need to be the best in your state. Students who are not in the top 1% of the PSAT scores are categorized as “National Merit Commended” students. 

Take a look at the cutoff scores of the previous years of your state and set your target higher.


Qualify As A PSAT Semifinalist

You will have your PSAT results during September while you are still in your senior year. If you have successfully managed to be in the top 1% of the scores, a PSAT semifinalists list will hold your name. 

Now that you have scored high enough to qualify as a PSAT semifinalist, you need to complete your application for the National Merit Scholarships!


Take The SAT Too

The NMSC needs to be sure that your PSAT score was not just luck or coincidence. Taking the SAT and proving yourself as a high-achiever will lock your application and confirm your credibility. There is no cutoff for the SAT scores, you just need to prove your academic brilliance in this one. You can attempt the SAT once or twice during your junior year.


Get Ready with Your Application

The application requires your high school transcript, an essay, and a recommendation letter. Your application should outshine all the others, you can check the NMSC website for their pointers on applications, and strictly follow their instructions to cancel any chance of error. 

Use your application to portray the drive within you, and write about your leadership skills, and extracurricular and community services. 

Spend the most amount of your time on your essay, it should be free of any grammar or spelling errors. You should be able to ink your emotions and determination for the college you want to get in. Also mention how you are more worthy of this scholarship than any other. Submit your NMSC application in early October during your senior year, as late entries are subjected to penalties.

Around 15,000 applications are chosen after all the semifinalists make their submissions. The winners will be chosen from this pool of 15000 finalists.

Wait For the Word

By February the NMSC will report if you have made it as a finalist. And just in a month, that is March of your senior year you will receive a word from them if you have won the National Merit Scholarship!

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