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You’ve heard of National Merit Scholarships. You probably know that it’s an honor to receive an award and that you may even receive money toward your college education.

 

But how exactly do you qualify for a National Merit award? And what’s the scholarship all about? Read on to find out.

 

What Is a National Merit Scholarship?

A National Merit Scholarship is awarded to students in their senior year of high school. Recipients do receive a monetary award. Approximately half of around 15,000 finalists—about 7,500 students—receive one of the following awards:

 

  • $2,500 National Merit Scholarships
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards of varying amounts
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards of varying amounts

 

All recipients must use the award for college attendance. The rules about how you may spend the award, such as on tuition, room and board, and textbooks, may depend on the type of scholarship you receive.

 

Read the National Merit requirements for semifinalists and What Is National Merit? for more information.

 

How to Qualify for National Merit

The PSAT you take as a junior automatically enters you into the competition. Approximately the top 3 percent of test-takers receive recognition as either a commended scholar, semifinalist, finalist, or winner.

 

Even if you don’t win a monetary award, it’s an honor to be a commended scholar, semifinalist, or finalist and will help you get into competitive colleges.

 

Understanding the Impact of Your PSAT Scores

Your PSAT scores won’t affect your college admission, but they can give you practice for the SAT and help you hone weaknesses. (Learn more about the impact of your PSAT scores in Do Colleges Use PSAT Scores?.)

 

It’s a good idea to take the PSAT in 10th grade in addition to 11th grade because then you’ll have practice for both the SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT).

 

Your scores can also qualify you to earn other scholarships. Find out how in How Your SAT Scores Can Help You Earn Scholarships.

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Other Scholarships and Services Offered Through National Merit

Note that you can earn scholarships through National Merit even if you’re not a finalist. Corporate Sponsored and Special Scholarships are offered to children of employees at sponsor corporations or students with certain characteristics and demographics. Examples include:

 

  • The National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP), which identifies outstanding Hispanic/Latino students and shares information about them with interested colleges and universities. You must be at least one-quarter Hispanic/Latino, meet the minimum PSAT/NMSQT cutoff score for your state, and have a certain minimum GPA.

 

  • The National Scholarship Service (NSS), which provides free college advisory and referral service for students who plan to attend college. Scores from juniors who indicate that they are African American or black are sent.

 

  • Candidate identification for The Telluride Association, a program for highly gifted juniors for summer seminars in the humanities and social sciences.

 

Predicted NMS Cutoffs for 2019

National Merit does not provide exact numbers of qualifying students and cutoffs, but here are the projections and estimates:

 

  • 34,000 commended students will be notified in late September. The projected cutoff for commended students is 212.
  • The semifinalist cutoff varies by state; the top 1% of test takers in each state are named semifinalists. For example, in Massachusetts, the semifinalist cutoff will be closer to 222, as opposed to North Dakota, where it may be 212.
  • Around 16,000 semi-finalists will be notified in early September.
  • Roughly 15,000 finalists will be notified in February 2019.
  • Around 1,200 Special Scholarships will be announced in March 2019.
  • 7,500 Merit Scholarships will be announced in March 2019.

 

The Takeaway

If you want to have a shot at earning a National Merit Scholarship or award, you’ll need to prepare thoroughly for the PSAT. Don’t just look at it as practice for the SAT; this is the test that might qualify you to win a scholarship and earn an impressive accolade for your resume. These cutoffs can give you an idea of the targets you should set for yourself.

 

For more information on the SAT, PSAT, and scholarships, read:

 

Not Sure When to Take the SAT/ACT? Here’s Your Guide

Getting a Head Start on Your Scholarship Search

 

Looking for help for acing the SAT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program will help you achieve top scores on your test. We’ll pair you with two private tutors, one for English and writing, and one for math and science. All of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the section they are teaching and are chosen based on teaching skills and ability to relate to their students.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
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.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine