National Merit Scholarships

For over 60 years, the National Merit Scholarship program has recognized high achieving high school students. Nearly 1.5 million students take the PSAT test each year and the National Merit program provides recognition to the top students (about $50,000) who score high on this test.

In order to take part in the National Merit program, students must has taken the PSAT by their third year in high school. Additionally, the student must be a current high school student who is making satisfactory progress and who plans to enroll in college during the fall semester that follows their high school graduation. Only students who are United States citizens are eligible for consideration.

National Merit program

This award differs from many others in that students do not apply directly for the award. Rather, they are entered automatically when they take the PSAT test. This test is a standardized test used to assess the writing ability, mathematical understanding, and critical reading skills of college bound students in the United States. Students who score the highest (approximately 50,000 students) are notified in September.

The notification process occurs through the student’s school. Among the 50,000 top scores on this exam, around two thirds of those students are chosen to become the recipients of Letters of Commendation as a recognition of their academic potential. Commended students do not continue on in the process to compete for scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship program, but may be eligible for certain special awards provided through businesses or other organizations.

The remaining students (around 16,000 students) who achieved the highest scores on the exam are notified that they were selected as Semifinalists. Semifinalists are chosen by state to ensure a comprehensive representation from all states across the nation. These semifinalists receive application materials through their high school and may compete to become a Finalist in the program. Finalists must have exceptional academic records and school transcripts must be provided. Students must also take the SAT and students who are in their first year of college may also be eligible. Finalists are notified around February and receive a certificate to commemorate their achievement.

Merit Scholarships

The Merit Scholarships winners are chosen based on previous accomplishments, academic skills and abilities, and non-academic skills and abilities. The committee looks at a number of indicators when choosing winners, including the finalist’s essay, student’s involvement in extracurricular experience, leadership, two test scores, an academic record, and information regarding the curriculum and grading of the school.

In March, about 7,400 Finalist will be contacted via mail that they have been selected for an award. The National Merit scholarship provides $2,500 scholarships which are non-renewable. There are no limitations on the type of school or major that the award can be used for. Additional information about this award can be found here: