2020-2021 National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs + Next Steps

Highly prestigious and coveted, the National Merit Scholarship is something that may have been on your radar for a while. If you took the PSAT with the hope of winning one of these awards, you’re probably wondering what it will take to qualify. 

 

What is the National Merit Scholarship?

 

The National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP) consists of numerous levels. There are also several different types of awards, including the National Merit Scholarship, which amounts to $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.

 

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. 

 

Predicted National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs 2020-2021

 

Below are the predicted National Merit Semifinalist cutoffs for the class of 2021, who took the PSAT in October 2019.

 

State Selection Index Score
Alabama 212
Alaska 212
Arizona 218
Arkansas 212
California 221
Colorado 217
Connecticut 220
Delaware 219
District of Columbia 222
Florida 216
Georgia 219
Hawaii 217
Idaho 214
Illinois 219
Indiana 215
Iowa 212
Kansas 214
Kentucky 214
Louisiana 212
Maine 213
Maryland 221
Massachusetts 222
Michigan 216
Minnesota 218
Mississippi 211
Missouri 214
Montana 210
Nebraska 213
Nevada 215
New Hampshire 215
New Jersey 222
New Mexico 211
New York 220
North Carolina 217
North Dakota 209
Ohio 215
Oklahoma 211
Oregon 217
Pennsylvania 217
Rhode Island 216
South Carolina 212
South Dakota 209
Tennessee 215
Texas 219
Utah 212
Vermont 212
Virginia 221
Washington 220
West Virginia 209
Wisconsin 213
Wyoming 209

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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 in the 2019 PSAT/NMSQT® Student Guide. 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 or full-time in a college or university in fall 2021, 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.

 

Because so many test dates have been canceled this year, SAT and ACT scores will not be “required or considered” for finalist standing this year.

 

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 2021 National Merit Scholarship Program.

 

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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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
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.