Updated: November 6, 2023

National Merit Scholarship

National Merit Scholarship

Winning the National Merit Scholarship: Tips and Strategies for Success

The National Merit Scholarship is one of the most distinguished and coveted scholarship awards for high school students in the United States. Established in 1955, this renowned program recognizes and rewards exceptional students who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance and potential.

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With a rigorous selection process and various eligibility requirements, becoming a National Merit Scholar is no easy feat. However, the benefits that come with this prestigious scholarship make the journey well worth it.

What is the National Merit Scholarship and How Does it Work?

The National Merit Scholarship gets its name as it is a 'merit-based scholarship,' which means it rewards strong academic performance. The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifiying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a test used for students to qualify for the range of scholarships available from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

Types of National Merit Scholarship awards available:

Since the beginning of the scholarship award, around 423,000 students received scholarships worth over $1.7 billion for undergraduate study. The program hopes to ease the financial burden associated with the cost of college tuition and academic resources.

The selection process for the National Merit Scholarship is highly competitive. Each year, approximately 1.5 million students take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)

From this vast pool, about 16,000 students are selected as semifinalists, representing the top-scoring participants. These semifinalists are then required to complete a detailed scholarship application, which includes an essay, information about extracurricular activities, leadership positions, and academic achievements.

National Merit Scholarship finalists are selected based on their academic records, the recommendations provided by school officials, demonstrated leadership and participation in school and community activities, and the finalist’s own essay.

Merit Scholarship winners are then chosen from the finalist group, receiving scholarships sponsored by various professional organizations, colleges, and universities.

What are the Benefits of Being a National Merit Scholar?

Financial Aid

Being a National Merit Scholar offers numerous benefits, both academically and financially. National Merit Scholarship Awards can significantly support college students in their pursuit of higher education, covering tuition expenses, books, room and board, and other college-related costs. If you need financial support for college, and you qualify for this scholarship, then the monetary award from the National Merit Scholarship can be a great help throughout your studies.

Improve Your College Applications

Being a National Merit Scholar carries a certain level of prestige. Not only does the name sound impressive by itself, but this accolade will also look great on college applications. Many colleges and universities actively seek out and offer special scholarships or honors programs to National Merit Scholars, recognizing their exceptional abilities and potential.

Networking Opportunities

In addition to financial and educational benefits, the National Merit Scholarship program also provides a network of opportunities and connections during your college experience. Scholars can engage with other high-achieving students, connect with professionals in their fields, and gain access to exclusive internships or research opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions about the National Merit Scholarship

What are the Eligibility Requirements for the National Merit Scholarship?

To be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, students must meet several requirements. Firstly, they must take the PSAT/NMSQT during their junior year of high school, typically in October. This test serves as an initial screening process for the program.

Additionally, students must be enrolled as a full-time high school student and plan to attend college on a full-time basis. They must also be legal residents of the United States, intend to become U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or be citizens of a U.S. jurisdiction.

Other eligibility criteria include maintaining good high school grades, receiving endorsements and letters of recommendation from a high school dean or school principal, and fulfilling other program-specific requirements as outlined by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

How Can I Increase My Chances of Becoming a National Merit Scholar?

Achieving the distinction of being a National Merit Scholar requires not only hard work but also strategic planning. However, the application process is fairly similar to a standard college application process, and there are several ways you can boost the likelihood of you achieving this prestigious scholarship award.

Here are a few ways to increase your chances of becoming a national merit scholar:

  1. Start Early: Most students take the PSAT as high school juniors, so it is best to begin thinking about the National Merit Scholarship early on in your academic career. If you're the parent of a high school junior, you can encourage your child to consider building up their academic record early in order to have a strong application for the National Merit Scholarship.
  2. Aim for a High PSAT/NMSQT Score: The PSAT/NMSQT is the initial step in the selection process, so it is vital to prepare thoroughly for this exam. Practice using study guides, online resources, or enrolling in test preparation courses to boost your score. In 2021, over 52,000 students achieved scores that qualified them for the program, and they were notified of this achievement as they became high school seniors.
  3. Maintain an excellent academic record: Consistently achieving high grades in challenging courses is essential. Admissions officers value a rigorous course load, and exceptional academic performance, as demonstrated by a strong school transcript, when selecting National Merit Scholars.
  4. Get Glowing Letters of Recommendation: Letters of Recommendation from a school principal or school dean, teacher or coach will be required for the scholarship program, so be sure to maintain evidence of academic excellence throughout high school, as well as demonstrating good behavior and leadership qualities.
  5. Engage in Extracurricular Activities: Participate actively in extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports, community service, or leadership roles. This demonstrates that you're a strong student outside of academics, adding additional value to your application.
  6. Write a Compelling Essay: The scholarship application requires an essay. Use this opportunity to showcase your individuality, passions, and any career plans you may have. Make sure to provide a clear, concise, and compelling narrative that captures the attention of the evaluators.

What Role Do PSAT/NMSQT Scores Play in the National Merit Scholarship Program?

While the PSAT/NMSQT scores are crucial in determining eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship, they are not the sole determining factor for becoming a merit scholar. The NMSC and the College Board take other factors into consideration, including extracurricular activities, your school transcript or other academic record, and personal essays.

Unlock a Wealth of Opportunities and Support Your Future with the National Merit Scholarship

In conclusion, the National Merit Scholarship program recognizes and rewards exceptional students for their academic achievements and potential.

By taking the PSAT/NMSQT, maintaining high grades, actively participating in extracurricular activities, and crafting a compelling scholarship application, students can increase their chances of becoming a National Merit Scholar and reduce the cost of college. Reaping the benefits of this prestigious honor can financially support their higher education journey, open doors to exclusive opportunities, and enhance their college applications.