How to apply for national merit scholarship?

How to apply for national merit scholarship?

Every year, thousands of high school students across the United States aspire to receive the prestigious National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship program recognizes and rewards academic excellence, providing financial assistance to deserving students. If you are interested in applying for the National Merit Scholarship, this comprehensive guide will walk you through the application process, offering valuable insights and tips to increase your chances of success.

Understanding the National Merit Scholarship Program

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an annual competition that awards scholarships to high school students based on their performance on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The program is administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a nonprofit organization.

The competition begins with the PSAT/NMSQT, which is typically taken by students in their junior year of high school. The test assesses critical reading, math, and writing skills, and serves as the initial screening for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students who achieve high scores on the PSAT/NMSQT are eligible to participate in the competition.

Eligibility Requirements

Before diving into the application process, it is important to ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements for the National Merit Scholarship Program. To be eligible, you must:

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  • Be a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident intending to become a U.S. citizen.
  • Be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school by the spring of the current academic year.
  • Plan to enroll full-time in college no later than the fall following high school graduation.

It is crucial to review the specific eligibility requirements outlined by the NMSC to ensure you meet all the necessary criteria.

Steps to Apply

Now that you understand the basics of the National Merit Scholarship Program and have confirmed your eligibility, let’s delve into the step-by-step application process:

Step 1: Take the PSAT/NMSQT

The first step in applying for the National Merit Scholarship is to take the PSAT/NMSQT. This test is typically administered in October of your junior year. Consult your high school counselor or visit the College Board website to find out the exact test date and registration process.

Preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT is crucial, as it serves as the initial screening for the scholarship program. Utilize study resources, practice tests, and review materials to familiarize yourself with the test format and content. Consider joining study groups or seeking guidance from teachers to enhance your preparation.

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Step 2: Achieve a High Selection Index Score

After taking the PSAT/NMSQT, you will receive a Selection Index score, which is calculated based on your performance in the test’s three sections: critical reading, math, and writing. The Selection Index score is the primary factor used to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

It is important to note that the Selection Index score varies from state to state, as it is based on the national distribution of scores. To have a chance at becoming a National Merit Scholar, you must achieve a high Selection Index score that surpasses the cutoff set for your state.

Review the previous year’s cutoff scores for your state to get an idea of the score range you should aim for. Keep in mind that the cutoff scores can fluctuate each year, so it is advisable to aim for a score higher than the previous year’s cutoff to increase your chances of advancing in the competition.

Step 3: Submit the Application

Once you have received your PSAT/NMSQT scores and confirmed that you meet the eligibility requirements, it is time to submit your application to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The application process typically begins in September of your senior year and has a deadline in early October.

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Obtain the application materials from your high school counselor or download them from the NMSC website. The application will require you to provide personal information, academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and an essay. Take your time to complete the application accurately and thoroughly, ensuring that you highlight your accomplishments and strengths.

It is crucial to pay attention to the application deadline and submit all required materials on time. Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.

Step 4: Await Semifinalist Notification

After submitting your application, the NMSC will review all the applications and select the highest-scoring students in each state as semifinalists. Semifinalists are typically notified in September of their senior year.

Being named a semifinalist is a significant achievement, as it places you in the top percentile of test-takers in your state. However, it is important to note that being a semifinalist does not guarantee a scholarship. Semifinalists must fulfill additional requirements to advance to the finalist stage.

Step 5: Fulfill Finalist Requirements

If you are named a semifinalist, congratulations! You are one step closer to becoming a National Merit Scholar. However, there are additional requirements you must fulfill to advance to the finalist stage:

  • Submit a detailed scholarship application, including information about your academic record, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, and community involvement.
  • Obtain a recommendation from your high school principal or an appointed designee.
  • Write an essay as part of the application process.

It is crucial to carefully follow the instructions provided by the NMSC and submit all required materials by the specified deadline. Failure to do so may result in disqualification from the competition.

Step 6: Become a National Merit Scholar

After fulfilling all the finalist requirements, you will need to wait for the NMSC to review your application and make the final selection. In February of your senior year, the NMSC will notify the winners, and they will be designated as National Merit Scholars.

Being named a National Merit Scholar is a tremendous honor and comes with various benefits, including a monetary scholarship, recognition from colleges and universities, and enhanced opportunities for future academic and career endeavors.

Tips for a Successful Application

Applying for the National Merit Scholarship is a highly competitive process, and it is essential to put your best foot forward. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:

  • Start preparing early: Begin your preparation for the PSAT/NMSQT well in advance. Familiarize yourself with the test format, practice regularly, and seek guidance from teachers or tutors if needed.
  • Set a high target score: Aim to achieve a Selection Index score that surpasses the previous year’s cutoff for your state. This will increase your chances of advancing in the competition.
  • Highlight your achievements: When completing the application, emphasize your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and community involvement. Provide concrete examples and quantify your accomplishments whenever possible.
  • Write a compelling essay: The essay is an opportunity to showcase your personality, goals, and aspirations. Craft a well-written, engaging essay that reflects your unique qualities and experiences.
  • Seek recommendations strategically: Choose recommenders who know you well and can speak to your academic abilities, character, and potential. Provide them with sufficient time to write a thoughtful recommendation.
  • Proofread and review: Before submitting your application, carefully proofread all materials and ensure that they are error-free. Ask a trusted teacher, counselor, or family member to review your application for any overlooked mistakes.


The National Merit Scholarship Program offers an incredible opportunity for high-achieving students to receive recognition and financial assistance for their academic excellence. By understanding the application process, meeting the eligibility requirements, and following the tips provided in this guide, you can increase your chances of becoming a National Merit Scholar. Remember to start preparing early, set high goals, and present your achievements and aspirations in a compelling manner. Good luck on your journey to securing the National Merit Scholarship!

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