PSAT scholarships are awarded through two programs: The National Merit Scholarship Program and the National Achievement Scholarship Program. The former program was established in 1955 and the later program was developed in 1964. Entry into the program is fairly straightforward. Every year hundreds of thousands of high school students take the Preliminary SAT exam. Those who score the highest on the PSAT are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The National Achievement Scholarship Program is very similar, except it only awards scholarships to high achieving students of African American heritage. Both of these scholarships are very competitive and are awarded to the top students in the country. Thus, it is definitely worth investing the time in preparing for the PSAT exam! Below is additional information to help you decide whether you might be a strong candidate for these awards:
National Merit Scholarship Program
In order to be eligible for this scholarship, students are required to take the PSAT/NMSQT exam prior to their junior year of high school. The student must also be a legal resident of citizen of the United States. Lastly, only students who are homeschooled or those who attend traditional high school are eligible. Students must plan to attend college immediately after their high school graduation.
Each year, the top 50,000 students are recognized. Approximately 34,000 (or about 2/3 of the top scorers) receive something called a Letter of Commendation. This serves as recognition of their high school and academic excellence. However, these students do not move on in the scholarship competition. The top 16,000 (or the top 1/3) of high scorers receive a notification that they have qualified as a Semifinalist. Students who qualify as Semifinalists will receive instructions on how to apply for the scholarship. This information will be sent directly to their high school. Approximately 15,000 students will advance to the Finalist stage.
Winners of the National Merit Scholarships are chosen from the pool of Finalists. Finalists are chosen for scholarships based on a combination of factors, such as test scores, school curriculum, letters of recommendation, and their personal essay. The National Merit Scholarships provide $2,500 for winners. Students may also receive either a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award or a Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship Award. Additional information about these can be found at the following website: http://www.nationalmerit.org/s/1758/interior.aspx?sid=1758&gid=2&pgid=424.
National Achievement Scholarship Program
This scholarship is quite similar to the National Merit Scholarship, except that it is only open to African American students. Additional information regarding the award can be found here: http://www.nationalmerit.org/s/1758/interior.aspx?sid=1758&gid=2&pgid=433.
Students are entered into consideration for these $2,500 scholarships based solely on their PSAT scores. Finalists are chosen based on a number of factors, such as their grade point average, leadership ability, letters of recommendation, and rigor of coursework. Although this program is run independently from the National Merit Scholars Program, African American students can be recognized as both a National Merit Finalist and a Finalist in the National Achievement Program. In the event that this does occur, the student will only receive one scholarship.