If you can say you are one of the 7,500 high school seniors in the United States to be named as a National Merit Scholar, colleges take notice!
The first step in qualifying is to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) which is used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). The PSAT is typically taken in October of a student’s junior year and tests reading, writing, language and math. PSAT scores are not sent to colleges and don’t affect your high school grades.
There are several stages to becoming a National Merit Scholar after you take the PSAT.
National Merit Scholar Stages
- Program Recognition Students:
The top 50,000 scorers on the PSAT are notified in April that they made the first cut. Your school will notify you if you receive this recognition and qualify as a semifinalist or commended student.
These are approximately one-third of the recognized students. The semifinalists are the highest PSAT scorers from each state. If you are selected as one, you will receive a new application to proceed in the National Merit Scholar competition. This application includes an essay portion and takes community involvement into consideration.
- Commended Students:
In late September of their senior year, about two-thirds of the program recognition students receive a Letter of Commendation. This letter means they are not eligible to move on in the competition, but it still looks good to college admissions offices and may qualify them for special scholarships.
In February of your senior year, your high school and the two colleges you identified will be notified if you were selected as a finalist. This is considered a great honor that is documented in a Certificate of Merit. Around 15,000 semifinalists advance to this standing.
- Merit Scholars:
About 7,500 seniors are notified in March that they received the designation of “Merit Scholar” and are awarded the $2,500 National Merit Scholarship. This designation is based on the abilities, skills and accomplishments of the finalists. In addition to the National Merit Scholarship, there are also some corporate and school scholarships available. The amounts vary based on the business or school.
For more information about the PSAT, talk to your high school counselor or visit the PSAT/NMSQT website.