Understand the National Merit Scholarship Requirements

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DoNotPay Brings the Ultimate List of the National Merit Scholarship Requirements

The National Merit Scholarship program has fierce competition. There are around 1.5 million entrants every year. You need to know and respect the requirements if you want to get on the list.

Getting a high score on the test isn’t the only criterion you need to meet. There is a lot more you need to pay attention to if you want your application to be valid.

DoNotPay will reveal all the National Merit Scholarship requirements, including what makes a candidate eligible and which deadlines you need to follow.

What You Need To Know About National Merit Scholarships

The National Merit Scholarship Program was established in 1955 to award high-achieving students. The funds come from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) and about 400 independent sponsors—including:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Businesses and corporations
  • Company foundations
  • Professional associations

When you take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT)/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), you enter the competition automatically.

From all the qualified candidates, the NMSC chooses about 50,000 with the best scores as commended students or semifinalists who are eligible to become finalists. The differences between these groups are:

  • Commended students—Around 34,000 out of 50,000 who don’t continue with the competition but have a chance to get Special Scholarships
  • Semifinalists—Around 16,000 students selected on a state-representational basis
  • Finalists—Around 7,600 who meet all the requirements as semifinalists and who have the best academic record, scholarship essay, letter of recommendation, and similar

What Score Do You Need for a National Merit Scholarship?

The highest-scoring students are the top candidates for scholarships. Revise the official cut-off PSAT scores according to states for semifinalists in the class of 2021:

States and Qualifying Scores for the Class of 2021
WY—209U.S. Abroad—222U.S. Territories—209

Types of National Merit Scholarships

If you meet the requirements for the National Merit awards, you will qualify for three types of aid:

Scholarship ProgramDetails
National Merit $2,500 Scholarships
  • Single-payment scholarships
  • Awarded on a state-representational basis
  • Awarded by a committee of college admission officers and high school counselors without considering students’ financial circumstances, college choice, or major
College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
  • Renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study
  • Awarded by colleges who sponsor the scholarship
  • Awarded to students who have been accepted for admission
Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
  • Single-payment scholarships or renewable for four years
  • Awarded by corporate sponsors
  • Given to children of employees or students with career plans which the sponsor wants to support

Special Scholarships

Besides these three main types, there are also Special Scholarships for all students who participate in the program but aren’t the finalists. NMSC evaluates these students based on their skills, abilities, and accomplishments and names around 1,100 of them as the winners of Special Scholarships.

You will need to meet the sponsor’s requirements in addition to the National Merit Scholarship Program criteria. The application also needs to go through the entry form on the sponsor’s website.

This aid can be a one-time award or renewable for four years of undergraduate study.

How To Qualify for a National Merit Scholarship

To enter the application system for any National Merit scholarship, you need to meet some basic requirements:

  • Be a high school student and plan to enroll in college full-time
  • Attend high school in the U.S., District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealths and territories
  • Meet citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the U.S.:
    • Be a citizen of the United States
    • Be a U.S. lawful permanent resident
    • Prove that you have applied for permanent residence and intend to become a U.S. citizen as soon as possible
  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT during your junior (third) year of high school

Requirements for Finalists

To qualify as a finalist, you need to satisfy these criteria:

Candidates Who:Must Meet These Requirements:
Were named Semifinalists in the previous year
  • Continue to meet the program entry requirements
  • Be enrolled in the last year of high school and plan to enroll full time in college in the fall of the same year
  • Be enrolled in the first year of college—if you completed grades 9–12 in less than three years
  • Have the support and recommendation of the high school principal to be named a finalist
  • Have a record of consistently high academic performance throughout grades 9–12
  • Submit the completed National Merit application to your high school
  • Provide any additional paperwork requested by NMSC
Have enrolled full-time in college
  • Meet all the requirements mentioned above
  • Arrange that your college sends an official transcript of all college coursework immediately after the end of the current term to NMSC
Meet citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the U.S.
  • Provide a signed letter explaining your plans to become a U.S. citizen—including the date when you expect that to happen—if you have applied for permanent residence
  • Submit a copy of your Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) or a copy of your passport—including the biographical page and the I-551 stamp—if you are a U.S. permanent resident
  • Provide a copy of Form I-797 Receipt Notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS)—if you have applied for U.S. permanent residence

What Is the National Merit Scholarship Application Deadline?

If you want to apply for a program, you must submit your SAT scores by December 31 of the previous year. For example, to be eligible for the 2022 National Merit Scholarship award, send your score by December 31, 2021.

Besides taking the test, you also need to meet these deadlines:

The Forms or Documents You Need To SubmitDeadline
  • Completed application in the NMSC’s Online Scholarship
  • Application (OSA) system ready to be submitted to high school officials
October 7 of the previous year—the final transmittal date
Letter and/or documentation for semifinalists attending high school outside of the U.S.January 31 of the scholarship award year
Report of the sponsoring college that is your first choice for college-sponsored awardsMay 31 of the scholarship award year

How To Apply for a National Merit Scholarship

The application process for a National Merit Scholarship goes as follows:

  1. Take the PSAT
  2. Ask for letters of recommendation
  3. Complete the online application
  4. Write a compelling essay

If you want to send requests for Special Scholarships, you need to complete the form on the issuer’s website and follow any additional steps they ask for.

Do you want to streamline the procedure? and apply for any no-essay scholarship in less than two minutes. We can help you diversify your options so that you don’t depend solely on National Merit Scholarships.

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