How to Win National Merit Scholarship

How to Win a National Merit Scholarship  – Many different kinds of scholarships are available for the students. The students who are meritious, or who are ambitious can apply for these kinds of scholarship. The different kinds of scholarships that you can get are the Fulbright scholarship, ROTC scholarship etc. You can also look for various kinds of scholarships in the buchananreform. Different scholarships have different kind of eligibility criteria. And one of the best parts that you will know about these type of scholarships are that they reimburse the full money including the educational materials fee also. But you will have to find out online which scholarship suits your career goals and needs. In this guide, there will be information on national merit scholarships.

For the ambitious students of high school, one of the most popular kinds of scholarship is the national merit scholarship. Plus, it is one of the most competitive kind of scholarship. There are almost 1.5 million high school students who apply for this scholarship every year and there are only 7,600 students who are able to make it up to the final round of the scholarship to win the scholarship.

But there is no line drawn for the people who cannot apply, everyone can apply for this scholarship, the only thing is that there is a little bit of competition. You can also apply for the scholarship as soon as possible by quickly buchananreform!  Besides that, you can also start preparing yourself for the national merit scholarship. Apart from this, there is Army ROTC Scholarship also that one can avail. There is also navy and air force ROTC scholarship that is available.

There are some important points that will be covered in this guide with regards the national merit scholarship program. Some of the important points that shall be covered are –

  • How much are National Merit Scholarships worth?
  • What are the National Merit Scholarships eligibility requirements?
  • How are National Merit Scholarships recipients chosen?
  • What is the average PSAT score needed for the National Merit Scholarships?
  • What is the National Merit Scholarship application timeline?
  • 5 tips to improve your chances of winning a National Merit Scholarship!

Let us quickly look into some of the general information on national merit scholarship program.


What is the National Merit Scholarship Program?

The NMS program is a academic scholarship program competition that is meant for the high school students. This program is specifically meant for the citizens of US i.e. the students of US. Apart from this, the program also extends to students who are citizens of US studying abroad. National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NSMC) is liable for running this program, since the year 1955.

There is certain eligibility criteria also that is covered by this program, which shall be looked further. But before that it is important to check the PSAT/ NMSQT score criteria before jumping into national merit scholarship.

What is the PSAT/NMSQT?

NMSQT stands for national merit scholarship qualifying test and preliminary SAT is a standardized exam that is of multiple-choice tests. It will mostly test the knowledge of the candidates in mathematics, and evidence based reading and writing, just like in the ROTC scholarship, same is the (PSAT/NMSQT).

The perfect score for the PSAT/NMSQT is 1520, and for each exam the score should be somewhere between 160-760. But through this score the competitiveness of the national merit scholarship cannot be determined. There is a selection index score based on which the NSMC will select the candidates and it should be between 48 to 228. If you don’t know what is selection index score then the candidates are advised to use PSAT National Merit Cutoff Calculator of CollegePanda. It is easy to use and understand.

How Are National Merit Scholarship Recipients Chosen?

For the semi finals, the NMSC chooses 50,000 students who have gained the highest score.

What is the difference?

Commended Students

Out of 50,000 students there are total 34,000 students who come in the list of commended students and they receive a recognition for their score & also academic promise. Though, some of the students cannot continue the scholarship, but still there are chances through which students become eligible for special scholarships. These scholarships are sponsored by businesses and participating corporations.


On a state-representational basis, the NSMC selects the remaining 16,000 students as semi-finals. The students who are chosen as semi-finalist are the ones who have the highest score in the state. If the candidates score above the state’s average, then they can become finalist.


There are certain requirements that the semi-finalists needs to meet to become a finalist. These are add-on requirements. As per the instructions and requirements for semifinalists, to become a finalist you should –

  • Meet the program entry requirements
  • Should be enrolled in the last year of high school and should have plans of enrolling as a college student full time in the fall of 2021.  Or
  • Should be enrolled in the first year of college, if the candidate has completed grades 9 through 12 in three years or less.
  • Should attend high school in the United States, District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealths and territories.  Or
  • Should meet the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States.
  • The high school principal should have recommended the candidate for a NMS and the candidates should be fully endorsed for finalist standing.
  • Should have a record of consistently very high academic performance in all of grades 9 through 12 and in any college course work taken.

For the candidates of 2020-21, the official scores of either SAT or ACT test were not needed due to the limited testing, which is because of the global pandemic. It is still not known when this need will be applicable back. It is also important for the candidates to submit their NMS application as early as possible to through the online scholarship application OSA. The school officials shall make the final submission of the application to the NMSC. If the NMSC requests for any kind of additional documentation or information then kindly submit it. For instance, they may ask for the proof of your permanent residency in the US or any other information etc.

Special Instructions for College Students

If you have left high school and started college and you came to known that you are chosen as a semi-finalist, then you should go back and contact the high school you last attended, as early as possible. One of the reasons for the same is that they shall be responsible for completing your NMS semi-finalist application. Plus, the college is required to send to the NMSC team a official transcript of all the subjects that the candidate has taken. This is also needed to be done as early as possible.

National Merit Scholarship Winners –

From among the list of finalist, total 7,600 national merit scholars are chosen. There is a selection committee team that will do the evaluation of your application based on –

  • The candidates academic record
  • Information about the candidates school’s curriculum and grading system
  • The candidates PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index Score
  • Candidates high school official’s written recommendation
  • Information about candidates extracurricular activities and leadership
  • Candidates scholarship application essay

National Merit Scholarship Eligibility Requirements

As per the official guidelines, to take part in the National Merit Scholarship Program, the candidate should –

  • In the grades 9 through 12 in 3rdyear the candidate should take the PSAT/NMSQT and not later than that.
  • When the candidate takes the test the candidate is required to answer the questions affirming their entry in the scholarship program.
  • Should be a high school student moving towards graduation or planning to get an admission in college but not later than the fall.
  • Attend high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealth and territory or meet the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States

If you attend high school outside the U.S., you must:

The candidate should be a citizen of the US, should be a lawful resident of the US, or should have applied for a permanent residency and the application for permanent residency in US should not have been rejected. Or the candidate intends to become a US citizen as early as possible.

How Much Are National Merit Scholarships Worth?

The candidate shall receive a scholarship that is worth $2,500 –

  • National Merit Scholarships
  • Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarships
  • College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships

The National Merit Scholarships are the scholarships available to all winners and it is worth $2,500. Plus, they are good for only one year.

The Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarships are for the winners who are –

  • The childrens’ of participating co. ‘s employees or members
  • Reside in the participating company’s community
  • The candidate who has career plans related to the participating company

The Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarships is worth $2,500 + add-on stipends and that can be renewed. It is not like national merit scholarship. Plus, the sponsoring company will decide the exact amount of the scholarship.

The College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships are four year scholarships. These scholarships can be renewed for the winner’s selected college. But again this shall be valid as long as the college participates in the program. The sponsoring college will select the winners of $2500 scholarship. Plus, they can give additional stipends.

Here you can get details online about the corporations and colleges that take part in the national merit scholarship.

Average PSAT Scores by State Needed for National Merit Scholarships

Here are the official cutoff PSAT scores by state for students who advanced as semifinalists in the class of 2021:

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
​U.S. Abroad 222
​U.S. Territories 209

National Merit Scholarship Timeline

In the month of October: You take part in the exam of the PSAT/NMSQT (typically in your junior year). In the month of May: The NMSC announces the 50,000 commended students. Then, in the month of September: The NMSC announces the 16,000 semi-finalists who will then need to complete the National Merit Semifinalist Application. After that in the month of February: The NMSC announces the 15,000 finalists. Lastly, in the month of March-May: The NSMC announces the 7,600 National Merit Scholarship winners. This is how it works.

5 Tips to Improve Your Chances of Winning a National Merit Scholarship

Follow these 5 steps to make a winning application for the National Merit Scholarship –

  • Work on Your English and Math Test-Taking Skills

Even if you have a very good score on the NMSQT or PSAT, there are still certain scores that needs to be submitted i.e. the scores of the SAT or ACT. These scores you will have to submit after you become semi-finalist. You will be required to enhance your reading, mathematics and other skills. It is important that you put some extra efforts and enhance your test skills by switching to Khan Academy’s free test prep!

  • Maintain a GPA of at least 3.5 or better

You may get in the semi-finalist round with the help of your PSAT score. But you have to make sure that your rest of the application is also strong and winning. So, make sure that your academic performance is also good. Because the NMSC asks the high school officials about the academic performance of the candidate for the current year. You can also check online for free online resources.

  • Stay committed to extracurricular activities

In your application, one of the important details that you have to fill up is about the extra curricular activities. You should be involved in community service, leaderships, awards, etc. One of the best look at your extra curricular activities will be if you have been involved for many years like 3 years or more. There are many things that an NMSC team will evaluate in your application like what you are deeply interested about whether leadership or employment or service etc.

  • Maintain positive relationships with your principal and other school officials

Your principal or school official will be the one who will report about your academic performance and others in the application. Plus, the NMSC has given them the right to revoke the applications/endorsements. So, make sure to have a positive relationship so that they support you when you need the most.

  • Writing an excellent scholarship essay

You also have to write a good personal essay like the application that is different from your test scores. Through this essay, they will get to know about you. So, make sure to write a good essay. If you do not know what to write then you can check the guides on scholarship essays and personal statements online.

Where to Find More Scholarships

One of the most competitive scholarship programs is the national merit scholarships also are the Fulbright and ROTC scholarships. To know more about the scholarships you can search on buchananreform. It is one of the best scholarship apps and you can search hundreds of different types of scholarships in this application.  You can also check blog related to these posts and know about different kinds of scholarships like Burger King Scholarship and the McDonald’s Scholarships.


There are different kinds of competitive scholarships that are available apart from the national merit scholarships. For instance, if you are interested in your career in army or military then you can choose a ROTC scholarship college or university. Similarly, there is also a Fulbright scholarship that is available. In both of this scholarship, the worth is good and the refund amount is also sufficient, that also includes the study materials etc. But for any scholarship, be it national merit scholarship or Fulbright, the candidates have to make a winning application. This is because of the rise in competitiveness. The personal essay that the candidates write is what matters and that is what is evaluated by the NSMC team ?apart from the academic reports. So, the candidates should work hard on these areas also.

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Alberto Rovanski

Alberto Rovanski is working for human welfare. he joined hand with Universities like Harvard and Stanford to help needy students with scholarships and grants. Alberto Was formerly Working with various Non Profit Organizations such as Redcross to help People across the Globe

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