High school students apply to the National Merit Program by taking the PSAT/NMSQT® (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) and satisfying the program’s specified entry/participation requirements.

The student’s responses to elements on the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet that are relevant to NMSC program entry determine whether or not the student fits the eligibility standards for the National Merit Scholarship Program. On the PSAT/NMSQT answer sheet, you can find NMSC program entry items by clicking here.

Test takers and their institutions receive score reports that indicate whether or not the student meets program entry requirements. Any error or modification in reported information that may influence participation should be notified immediately to NMSC by a school authority or the student.

The National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top 50,000 students with the highest PSAT/NMSQT® Selection Index scores (critical reading, mathematics, and writing skills). High-scoring test takers from every state are asked to pick two institutions or universities to which they would want to be sent by NMSC in April, following the fall test administration. These excellent scorers will get notification from their schools in September that they have qualified as a Commended Student or Semifinalist.

Over 1.5 million kids take the PSAT in October across the US. National Merit Semifinalists are juniors who rank in the top 1% of their class. The majority of these students go on to become National Merit Semifinalists, winning college scholarships.

Being recognized as a National Merit Semifinalist is a significant accomplishment on the road to college. Let’s look at the steps to becoming a National Merit Semifinalist.


national merit scholarship

 National Merit Qualifying Scores 

To select whether students qualify as Commended Students and Semifinalists, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation employs its own Selection Index. Students who score in the top 3% to 4% are referred to as “Commended Scholars,” while those who score in the top 1% are referred to as “Semifinalists.”

NMSC uses its own Selection Index to compare students from different states. This Selection Index is based on PSAT section scores and runs from 48 to 228. There are three sections on the PSAT, each with a score ranging from 8 to 38.

How can you figure out your selection index? All you have to do now is multiply your three PSAT section scores by two. Assume you get a 28 in reading, a 32 in writing and language, and a 34 in mathematics. Add your section scores together to get your NMSC Selection Index score: 28 + 32 + 34. Then you’d divide the total by two. Your score on the Selection Index would be 188.

As seen in the chart below, a Selection Index score of 188 isn’t quite high enough to be a National Merit Semifinalist. Instead, depending on where you take the test, you’ll need a selection index of 209 or above.


National Merit Scholarship Basic Entry Requirements

To qualify for the National Merit Scholarship as a Semifinalist, you must complete the following four requirements:

1. Enroll as a high school student and make regular progress toward graduation. (This just indicates you’re taking a normal number of classes, passing them, and planning on graduating on time.)

2. Plan to start college full-time in the fall after you graduate from high school. (So you can’t be thinking about skipping college to spend a year abroad, working full-time, or doing something similar.)

3. Be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States preparing to become one.

4. Earn a high PSAT score.


Approximately 1,500 National Merit® Program participants who are exceptional but not Finalists are granted Special Scholarships each year from corporations and business organizations. Students must meet the sponsor’s standards as well as National Merit Scholarship Program entry requirements to be considered for a Special Scholarship. They must also fill out an entry form and send it to the sponsor.

Following that, NMSC makes contact with a pool of high-scoring prospects via their high schools. These kids, along with representatives from their schools, submit comprehensive scholarship applications. The winners of the sponsor’s Special Scholarships are chosen by a committee of NMSC professional staff who reviews information regarding candidates’ abilities, skills, and accomplishments. These prizes might be either four-year renewable scholarships or one-time awards.


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