2021-2022 National Merit Cutoffs + Next Steps

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Many future college students are familiar with the National Merit Scholarship, a prestigious award that not only impresses college admissions committees but also comes with a merit-based financial award. But which students will actually advance in the competition? Here’s what you should know.

 

Changes during COVID

 

College Board has become more flexible with PSAT and SAT administrations and policies during the pandemic. For example, there are additional testing dates, off-site testing accommodations, flexible start times, and no charges for unused tests.

 

National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs 2021–2022

 

Below are the National Merit Semifinalist cutoffs for the class of 2022, who took the PSAT in October 2020 or January 2021.

 

State

Selection Index Score

Alabama

212

Alaska

208

Arizona

218

Arkansas

211

California

221

Colorado

217

Connecticut

220

Delaware

220

District of Columbia

224

Florida

217

Georgia

219

Hawaii

217

Idaho

214

Illinois

218

Indiana

215

Iowa

211

Kansas

215

Kentucky

212

Louisiana

213

Maine

211

Maryland

224

Massachusetts

221

Michigan

217

Minnesota

218

Mississippi

213

Missouri

214

Montana

208

Nebraska

210

Nevada

214

New Hampshire

214

New Jersey

222

New Mexico

210

New York

220

North Carolina

218

North Dakota

207

Ohio

215

Oklahoma

210

Oregon

220

Pennsylvania

218

Rhode Island

213

South Carolina

213

South Dakota

210

Tennessee

215

Texas

220

Utah

212

Vermont

211

Virginia

221

Washington

220

West Virginia

207

Wisconsin

214

Wyoming

208

 

How is the PSAT Scored?

 

The PSAT is scored on a scale of 320-1520, with 160-760 per section (the two sections are Math and Reading, and Writing and Language). You’ll also receive specific subscores of 8-38 for Math, Reading, and Writing.

 

Your raw score, equaling the number of correct responses in total, equated to the score you receive, accounting for any discrepancies between different versions of the same test. 

 

NMSC uses the Selection Index, ranging from 48 to 228, to identify qualifying scorers for the competition. They will combine your subsection scores and multiple the total by two. 

 

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What is the National Merit Scholarship?

 

The National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP) consists of several different levels and awards. The National Merit Scholarship is an award of $2,500 to be applied to your education at your college of choice.

 

Levels

 

Commended Students

 

Approximately 50,000 students out of the roughly 1.5 million program entrants with the highest PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index scores will become Commended Students or Semifinalists. Of these students, about two-thirds are Commended Students based on a national index score and will receive a Letter of Commendation via their scores. These students will not advance in the NMS competition, but they may be considered for other awards. 

 

Semifinalists

 

Around one-third of the 50,000 high scorers qualify as Semifinalists. This distinction is based on the highest scores from each state to ensure equal representation. That means that the cutoffs vary from state to state, so a score that qualifies you as a Semifinalist in one state may only make you a Commended Student in another.

 

Finalists

 

About 15,000 Finalists are selected from the pool of Semifinalists based on the criteria discussed below. 

 

Scholarships

 

National Merit Scholarship

 

Scholarship recipients are selected from the Finalist pool of 15,000. In addition to their PSAT scores, Finalists are evaluated on additional skills and accomplishments, without consideration of financial circumstances, first-choice college, or future plans. Approximately 7,600 students (slightly more than 50%) receive this one-time $2,500 scholarship. 

 

Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards

 

These scholarships are awarded to the children of employees, community members, or students with specific career plans as specified by the awarding corporation.

 

College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards

 

These scholarships are awarded by colleges that have been designated as the first choices of Finalists. Sponsor colleges select recipients who have been accepted and give them renewable scholarships of varying amounts.

 

Next Steps for Semifinalists

 

When Are Semifinalists Notified of Their Status?

 

Semifinalists will be notified in early September. These announcements come through their high schools. If the semifinalist is homeschooled, they will receive notice at their home address.

 

Finalists are notified if they have won an award on a rolling basis between the beginning of March and the end of June.

 

What Do Semifinalists Need to Do to Apply to Be a Finalist?

 

There have been some changes in the process to become a finalist because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you must still fulfill a majority of the program entry requirements. These include having a consistently exemplary academic record (your school will submit your records on your behalf), submitting an essay, and receiving a recommendation from a high school official. 

 

You must be enrolled in a U.S. high school with the intention of enrolling full-time in a college or university in fall 2022 or already be enrolled (only for students who completed high school in three years or fewer). If you attend high school outside the U.S., you must meet certain citizenship requirements. You will submit your completed application through a high school official.

 

While your college choice doesn’t play a role in determining your status as a finalist or scholarship recipient, the NMSC asks for this information because the awards may only be used if you attend an accredited U.S. college or university. You may mark undecided instead of listing your first choice, but the NMSC asks that you update them as soon as possible.

 

Note: These details pertain to students who are still attending high school in the United States. If you are attending high school outside the U.S. or are enrolled in college full-time, check National Merit’s Requirements and Instructions for Semifinalists in the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program.

 

How Does the PSAT Impact My College Chances?

 

Your PSAT scores don’t impact your chances of admission. Still, it’s useful to take the test as preparation for the SAT—it will help you familiarize yourself with test structure and content, as well as allow you to identify areas you should focus on as you prepare. Remember that while you can currently apply to most colleges test-optional, often, sending scores will make you a stronger candidate.

 

Of course, becoming a National Merit Scholar will help your chances of admission, too, and the PSAT is the first step in the competition. Being named as a Commended Scholar or Semifinalist will also help boost your application. While these titles don’t carry a financial award, they’re still impressive to adcoms.

 

If you’re wondering how your application stacks up, you can use our free Chancing Engine to see your odds of acceptance at over 1500 schools. Using your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more, our chancing engine will help you find best-fit schools and refine your application strategy.

 

What If I Didn’t Score High Enough to be Recognized?

 

If you didn’t score high enough to be recognized in the National Merit competition, don’t worry! There are plenty of other ways to earn merit scholarships, just as there are many other ways to demonstrate scholastic achievement.

 

Remember, too, that the NMS isn’t a large financial award anyways. Many colleges offer more substantial awards, so focus on applying to schools where your profile is strong to increase your chances of securing these merit scholarships.

 

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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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