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Many students take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year. What a lot of students may not notice is the full name of the test is PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Thus, the PSAT is not just good practice for your SATs. It's also the first step in becoming a National Merit Finalist and hopefully, earning a $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

In this article, we'll discuss what steps you need to take to become a National Merit Finalist and compete for a scholarship. We'll also give you advice on how to write a strong application and maximize your chances of becoming a National Merit Scholar.

Here's how the numbers break down:

Each year, about 1.6 million students take the PSAT. Of the juniors who take the exam, about 16,000 earn scores that qualify them as Semifinalists (that's around 1%). This group is narrowed down to 15,000, who become Finalists. Of this group, about 7,500 are awarded scholarships of $2,500 a year (that can be renewed each year you're in college).

This article will explain the three key steps you need to follow to win the National Merit scholarship, from meeting the entry requirements, to scoring well on the PSAT, to submitting a standout application.

Step 1: Meet the Entry Requirements

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) requires you to have a few qualifications to even be considered for the scholarship:

You must be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation.

You must plan to enroll full time in college starting the fall following high school graduation.

You must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident planning to become a U.S. citizen.

These requirements will be checked with a few questions at the beginning of the PSAT.


Step 2: Score in the Top 1% of the PSAT

Becoming a National Merit Finalist is competitive and requires a top score on the PSAT. Although it varies from state to state, most students must score above 1400 (out of 1520) to qualify as a Semifinalist, which means they can compete to move on to Finalist standing.


How can you achieve a top 1% score on the PSAT? Prepare with high-quality materials. Identify your weak points and work to improve them. If the Reading section confuses you, spend the majority of your time practicing those sections. If math isn't your thing, commit yourself to drilling PSAT Math problems. The National Merit competition uses a Selection Index that is based on your Reading, Math, and Writing test scores, so mastering all three sections is key.

Take control of your learning and study with practice questions and sample tests. This practice will also pay off later when you take the SATs in the spring of your junior year and fall of senior year.

Bonus: Aiming for a National Merit Scholarship? If you're not sure you can self-study your way to a qualifying PSAT score, you'll love our PSAT prep program, PrepScholar .

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To improve each skill, you'll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

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For more info on prepping for the PSAT, check out our detailed guide to attaining National Merit Semifinalist status.

Step 3: Submit an Excellent Application

Complete the NMSC application requirements by fall of your senior year (usually early October). This application allows 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists to move on to Finalist standing.

If you don't become a Finalist or don't qualify, you may still get word that you're a Commended Student or remain as a Semifinalist, which are great distinctions that will stand out on college applications. However, only Finalists are eligible for National Merit Scholarship awards.

The online NMSC application is the same as your college application in some ways and different in other ways.


You must submit the following:

*You have to take the SATs on approved dates, usually in the fall of your senior year, and make sure to send along your score report to NMSC. They need to receive your scores by December 31st of your senior year. While there is no strict cutoff for SAT scores, they must be competitive like your PSAT scores (usually around 1400 or above) so they know your PSAT wasn't a fluke.


Let's dig into each component to maximize your chance of building a strong application to win the National Merit Scholar title.

Academic Record and SAT Scores

The National Merit Corporation is first and foremost looking to award academic achievement. There is no strict cutoff, but a competitive GPA (3.5 and above) and high SAT scores (approximately 1400 and above) are recommended. Your academic record should also show that you challenged yourself with honors and AP classes. When you're a high school junior, there isn't much you can do about this, other than continue to excel in your classes.

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Extracurricular Activities and Community Service

The NMC is also looking at the skills and accomplishments shown in your application. Demonstrated leadership goes a long way--for example, leading in Student Council or other student organizations.

Your activities should reveal your passions and interests--it is usually better to show "depth over breadth." In other words, get deeply involved in a few activities you're passionate about rather than showing minor participation in every club, team, and organization your school has to offer. Almost all activities are valuable if they show your commitment, leadership potential, and ability to work with and help others.


Recommendations go a long way. Cultivate good relationships with your teachers, counselor , and principal and provide a "brag sheet" for them with the qualities and accomplishments you would like them to include in your recommendation.

Your brag sheet may include the following:

These anecdotes will make writing a lot easier, and they'll thank you for this.

Make sure to ask for your recommendation at least three weeks in advance of the deadline, and follow up with your writer to make sure it'll be submitted on time. The earlier you notify them, the more ahead you'll be of your classmates, most of whom will need college application letters.

Personal Essay

The personal essay adds your voice to your application materials. Your essay is the place where you can share your unique story and perspective and make your application materials come to life.


Here is an example of a past National Merit essay question:

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

The space allows for about 500 - 600 words.

You should focus on two important components of the essay. First, the NMC wants to see that you can express yourself clearly and powerfully through writing . Make sure to proofread, edit, and revise for any spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or weaknesses in syntax and diction.

Second, your essay reveals how you think about yourself , your accomplishments, and your goals. What do your experiences mean to you? What do they reveal about your identity? Spend some time brainstorming before you decide what aspects of your identity are most important to share with the NMC readers.

For example, did a group science fair project show you the power of collaboration in making new discoveries? Did a Student Council debate reveal the complexity of perspectives on a single issue? Did Lisa Simpson teach you the importance of sticking to your principles, even if your family may not always agree?

The topics are endless, and there is no best answer, but whatever you choose should reveal something significant about who you are . Once you have your first draft, ask a friend, family member, counselor, or English teacher for feedback on what worked and what didn't. It's a short essay, so make sure every sentence is there for a reason and important for telling your story.

In Conclusion

Staying motivated and committing yourself to all these goals will put you in the best position toward becoming a National Merit Finalist. Remember, only 15,000 students (< 1%) are chosen as Finalists, and of those, only about 7,500 students receive scholarships. On a percentage basis, it's even more competitive than getting into the Ivy League, so even with all your hard work, you'll still need a certain amount of luck!

NSMC notifies students if they have become finalists in February of their senior year. Scholarship notifications go out in March. By that time, most of your college applications will be done and submitted.

Now you just have to try to relax and wait for the decisions to come! If you complete all the steps mentioned above, you can be confident that you've done all you can – now hopefully the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will recognize all your hard work.

What's Next?

Want more tips on how to get a top PSAT score? Check out our guide on how to get a perfect PSAT score for all the info you need to know.

Are you striving for perfection on the SAT? Read our detailed guide by our resident SAT full scorer .

Aiming to get into a top-tier school? Check out our article: What's a good SAT score for the Ivy League?

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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Essay There IS a 500 word Limit !!!!

<p>We just hit the PREVIEW button, and the bottom third of D Essay appeared in pink, and a message popped up that anything in pink won't appear to them !!!!!</p>

<p>Yes - there IS a 500 word max !!!!!</p>

<p>Others have said there is not a limit - and I don’t know how many times I have seen that mentioned on here the last few days - but it is wrong. </p>

<p>So if you have not submitted it yet or at least not finalized - Don’t assume it will all go thru.</p>

<p>You can hit that button and it you miss the message - your essay will look like you just ended it mid thought.</p>


<p>You need to calm down. The essay for the NMSF app is no big deal. Just take out the excess and submit. The content of the essay (as long at isn’t rude) is not a big deal as long as it’s coherent and grammatically fine and is ok for the prompt…</p>

<p>Relax…your child will make NMF as long as SAT is fine, not a discipline problem, GPA fine, SAT sent to NMCorp, and you submit the paperwork.</p>

<p>Congrats to your D.</p>

<p>I don’t know why others have said that there isn’t a limit. There’s always been a limit.</p>

<p>There is a limit, but it is NOT 500 words. My essay is 670 words and it fit above the red line.</p>

<p>I think the limit may be a character limit…not really a “word limit” since the essay must fit in a defined spot. In previous years, essays had to be cut and taped into a defined space. We even had to be careful to use “non-glare tape”. </p>

<p>The essay has had limits for years…maybe always.</p>

<p>Is anyone having trouble viewing the essay in the preview window? I just want to verify whether or not all my words are above the pink region but for me the words do not even show up…:/</p>

<p>@joanybologna I had the same problem as well. Nothing would show up at all. </p>

<p>But now my application isn’t working at all. When I’m trying to log in, it shows an error message telling me to call NMSC between Monday and Friday. I’m kind of freaking out now.</p>

<p>@Lolar Oof I really hope that that does not happen to me. I hope your problem gets fixed!!! In any case, could someone tell me approximately how many lines fit above the pink?</p>

<p>@joany Okay, so I used a different web browser (I switched to firefox from Safari) and it worked just fine. </p>

<p>I had 25 total lines in my essay and I had a little bit of space left above the red area.</p>


The Admissions Strategist

National merit scholarship (how to win it): the winner’s guide.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for scholarships and recognition that started in 1955.

Each year, approximately 7,500 Finalists receive scholarships. About 1,100 outstanding National Merit participants who are not Finalists also receive Special Scholarships annually.

Some colleges even offer free tuition or full-ride scholarships to National Merit Finalists.

Scholarship money is always great, but it isn’t the only benefit to the National Merit program. Becoming a National Merit Finalist is a prestigious honor that can give your chances of college admission a major boost.

So, how can you reap the benefits of becoming a National Merit Finalist? Read this guide to learn everything you need to know!

Odds of Winning a National Merit Scholarship

Before we get started, you should know that earning a National Merit Scholarship is even more competitive than earning acceptance to an Ivy League college.

Of course, even if you don’t win a scholarship, becoming a Semifinalist or Finalist is a great honor.

It can make you a more competitive college applicant and earn you additional scholarship money from some colleges.

So, let’s find out how to increase your chances of success.

How to Enter the National Merit Program

Entering the National Merit Program is simple: Take the PSAT (formally known as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) during the fall of your junior year in high school.

The test is usually administered in October.

National Merit Scholarship: How to Win

Click above to watch a video on how to win the National Merit Scholarship.

If you meet certain qualifications, taking the PSAT/NMSQT automatically enters you in the National Merit Scholarship competition.

These qualifications are:

On your PSAT test form, you will answer four questions that determine whether you meet these requirements.

Next Steps: Qualifying for Scholarships

Of course, taking the test is only the beginning. To continue through the competition, you’ll need to:

Let’s take a closer look at each step of this process.

Score in the Top One Percent

After you take the PSAT, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) receives and reviews scores.

About 16,000 high scorers become Semifinalists.

However, scores are considered on a state-by-state basis, so that students from across the nation have a chance to qualify.

Students often ask what score they’ll need to become a Semifinalist. This is hard to answer, because it varies from year to year. It’s usually somewhere around 1400.

For more information, you can call the NMSC at 847-866-5100 and ask about the previous year’s cutoff in your state.

Connect us to your school's principal!

Receive notification of semifinalist/commended status.

You’ll have a long wait before you find out if you’ve achieved Semifinalist status.

In late September of your senior year, about 34,000 students receive a Letter of Commendation. Commended Students are based on a Selection Index score that is slightly lower than the Selection Index score needed to become a Semifinalist.

An additional 16,000 students are notified that they have qualified as Semifinalists, usually in early September. All Semifinalists will receive application materials from NMSC through their schools.

Complete an Application

To advance from Semifinalist to Finalist, you will need to complete the NMSC application. 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists become Finalists.

These applications are usually due in early October. The application is similar to a college application.

It includes:

To become a Finalist, you must:

In the “Tips” section at the end of the article, we’ll discuss how to put your best foot forward with an impressive application.

Submit SAT Scores

SAT scores are part of the NMSC application. You’ll have to take the SAT on approved dates, usually during the fall of senior year.

Basically, your score should be close to your PSAT score to demonstrate that your PSAT performance wasn’t a fluke. You should aim for around 1400 or better.

Qualify for Scholarships

In February, about 15,000 Semifinalists receive a letter that they have advanced to Finalist standing.

Your high school principal will receive a certificate and present it to you.

From the Finalist group, winners of Merit Scholarships are selected. These selections are based on abilities, skills, and accomplishments.

Between March and mid-June, 7,500 Finalists learn that they have been awarded Merit Scholarships. There are three types of scholarships:

Schools that offer free tuition or free-ride scholarships to National Merit Scholars include:

In addition, about 1,100 excellent National Merit Program participants who are not Finalists receive Special Scholarships.

These may be one-time awards or renewable for four years of study. Students must meet the sponsor’s criteria and submit an entry form to the sponsor organization.

Tips for Winning a National Merit Scholarship

Now, we’ll look at tips that will help you qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.

These tips fall into two categories: earning a high score on the PSAT and submitting a top-notch NMSC application.

How to Earn a High Score on the PSAT

How to Submit a Competitive NMSC Application

Writing an Excellent Personal Essay for Your Application

Your NMSC essay must be 500-600 words.

The personal essay topic varies each year. Here’s one example from a previous year:

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

Like your college application essay, this essay is intended to showcase your unique personality and perspective.

Follow the same guidelines you should follow when writing your college application essay:

Final Thoughts: National Merit Scholarship (And How to Win It!)

If you become a National Merit Scholar, it’s a huge honor that can qualify you for several scholarships (and even a full ride at some schools).

The steps you must take to win a National Merit scholarship—earning good grades, participating in leadership and extracurricular activities, preparing for and performing well on the SAT, building relationships with teachers and administrators, and crafting a personal essay—are also essential for applying to college.

You’ll learn a lot from the experience, and you’ll build the competitiveness of your college application. If you win a scholarship or two along the way, that’s icing on the cake.

Learn how we can help you and your school with college and career guidance!

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PSAT National Merit FAQ

national merit essay word limit

Below we cover the the most frequently asked questions about the National Merit Scholarship Program. Please see our National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs page for the latest information on actual and projected Selection Index cutoffs by state.

What is the National Merit Scholarship Program and how do you enter? The NMSP is a program administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in cooperation with the College Board to recognize high achieving high school seniors. Some recognition levels are based purely on junior PSAT/NMSQT scores, while other levels have additional qualifications (explained below). The NMSC gives out approximately $50 million in scholarships each year, and some colleges provide lowered —or even free —tuition to recognized students, multiplying the net impact of National Merit severalfold.

You must take the PSAT/NMSQT as a high school junior and either attend high school in the United States or U.S. Territories or be a U.S. student studying abroad. On your PSAT score report, you will see a section with your Selection Index and how you answered the questions about your entry eligibility. If there is an asterisk next to your Selection Index, it means that NMSC believes that you are ineligible.

What if I couldn’t take the PSAT? Every year students miss the PSAT for legitimate reasons such as illness. To allow those students the opportunity to compete in National Merit, NMSC has a process known as Alternate Entry . Because of the pandemic, NMSC has adopted a no-excuse-necessary policy for Alternate Entry for the class of 2022. Students can apply directly to NMSC and be considered based on their SAT scores.

national merit essay word limit

What is the Selection Index? The Selection Index is a weighting of your PSAT component scores to determines the level of your recognition within the initial stages of the National Merit program.

How is the Selection Index calculated? The Selection Index is double the sum of your Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test Scores. For example, a student with scores of 34, 35, and 36 would have a Selection Index of (34+35+36)x2 = 210. Most students remember their section scores (160–760) rather than their 8–38 test scores. The Selection Index is still easy to calculate. First, ignore the final zero in your scores; then double your ERW score; then add your Math score. For example, a student with an ERW score of 690 and a Math score of 720 would have a Selection Index of (69)x2 + 72 = 210. The two methods will always work because of the fixed relationship between test scores and section scores. You cannot directly calculate a Selection Index from a total score (320–1520). For students entering the competition with an SAT score through Alternate Entry, note that — when calculating a Selection Index — each SAT section is capped at 760. If, for example, you have a 700 ERW and 800 Math, your Selection Index would be (70)x2 + 76 = 216.

Why is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) twice as important as the Math? The emphasis on “verbal” skills has a long history with the NMSP. Even when there was no Writing section on the PSAT or SAT, the Verbal section was doubled and added to the Math score for a 60–240 Selection Index range. Also, College Board considers Reading and Writing and Language to be separate tests.. In short, the “doubling” is nothing new.

I’ve already received my PSAT scores; how can I find out whether I will qualify for recognition? Although you can use the Compass projections to estimate whether you are likely to qualify as a Commended Student or Semifinalist, there is no way of knowing your official status until high schools are notified by NMSC in early September of your senior year (sometimes schools hear by late August). Compass has published the cutoffs for the class of 2021 . The Commended cutoff for future classes becomes unofficially known in the April after the PSAT. Compass will report this score and how it may impact Semifinalist cutoffs on our regularly updated cutoffs post . NMSC does not publicly publish state cutoffs, so Compass provides this information to students. For the class of 2022, the Semifinalist cutoffs can only be estimated until September 2021.

Will I qualify as a Semifinalist if I am in the 99th percentile for Selection Index according to my score report? Although approximately 1% of test takers will become Semifinalists, there are a number of reasons why percentile scores are far too inaccurate to determine eligibility, especially since cut-offs vary dramatically from state to state. The Compass projections are better estimates, but they are still just estimates.

Why do some states have more Semifinalists and Finalists than other states? Although Commended Scholars are honored based on a single, national cutoff, NMSC distributes Semifinalists proportionally to states (and District of Columbia and U.S. Territories) based on the number of graduating students in the state. For example, California sees approximately 2,100 Semifinalists each year—the most in the country. It gets 13% of Semifinalists because it produces approximately 13% of high school graduates. Mississippi, on the other hand, typically sees about 135 National Merit Semifinalists, because the state produces a bit more than 0.8% of U.S. graduates. The distribution is completely unrelated to the number of students taking the PSAT in the state.

Why are Semifinalist cutoffs so much higher in some states than in others? Two things that have impact on cutoffs are participation rates and demographics. In some states, ACT is the dominant test and not as many students take the PSAT. This leaves some students out of the competition and will tend to produce lower cutoffs. Some states have large pockets of extremely qualified students and are particularly competitive. For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey have class of 2021 cutoffs of 222. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had NMSF cutoffs of 209 for the class of 2021. The minimum Semifinalist cutoff for a state is the national Commended level. If, for example, the Commended cutoff is at 210, no state can have a Semifinalist cutoff less than 210.

How are Semifinalists set for homeschoolers, boarding school students, or U.S. students studying abroad? Homeschoolers are treated no differently than other students in a state. U.S. students studying abroad will have to meet the highest state cutoff in the country. For the class of 2021, that was 222. Boarding school cutoffs are the most complex to calculate. Instead of being set at the state level, they are determined regionally. A Northeast boarding school student, for example, must meet the highest cutoff of any state within the Northeast region. NMSC defines boarding schools as schools with predominantly out-of-state students. NMSC considers your state to be where you went to school when you took the PSAT, not your state of residency or the state of your new school.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to participate? NMSC has made this part of the process easier to understand than it was in the past. Students at high school in the U.S. or in U.S. Territories are eligible. Period. Students studying abroad are eligible as long as they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. (“green card”) or or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become U.S. citizens at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.

Will NMSC notify me if I become a Semifinalist? No. NMSC provides information only to schools until a student becomes a Finalist. Homeschoolers are the exception.

When will my school tell me? NMSC mails information to schools in late August. Some schools let students know their status in early September. Many schools wait until NMSC officially releases student names to the press in the second week of September. Compass will track all of the latest news on our Semifinalists cutoff page.

Will being a Semifinalist help get me into my first-choice college? While Semifinalist status is a nice award to list on your application, you should not expect it alone to have a significant impact on your admission chances at most colleges. The recognition tells college that you did well on the PSAT. Your SAT and ACT scores are far more important to colleges; your National Merit status does not add much new information. However, having a high number of enrolled Semifinalists is seen as a badge of honor at some colleges and will factor in their admission decisions. Some colleges have programs specifically to attract National Merit Finalists and offer large merit awards.

Do I need to take the SAT to become a Semifinalist? No. Commended Student and Semifinalist recognition are based only on your Selection Index and your entry eligibility.

What happens after I am named a Semifinalist? Semifinalists will receive login credentials for the Finalist application portal. You will need to provide background information and an essay. Your school will need to provide its recommendation and electronically submit your application in the second week of October,

What is the National Merit Finalist essay prompt? NMSC may change the prompt in future years, but it has been the same for many years. It is broad enough that most students are able to use or slightly rework their Common App essay. For the class of 2022, the prompt was:

“To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.”

There is not a word limit specified, but the essay must fit within the provided space (approximately 3500 characters). Expect to keep your essay to 600 – 650 words.

Do I need to take the SAT or ACT to become a Finalist? Among the requirements to proceed from Semifinalist to Finalist is that you receive a “confirming score.” This score helps validate that you can, on an official SAT or ACT test date, achieve a high score and confirm your testing skill.

Can a high ACT score be a confirming score? Yes, the ACT can be used to confirm PSAT results.

How high of an SAT score do I need for a confirming score? The confirming score is determined each year by NMSC and is calculated in the same way as the PSAT Selection Index. The confirming score is set nationally, so it does not matter what Semifinalist cutoff you met. The confirming SAT Selection Index (SSI) generally falls at or near the Commended cutoff.

The easiest calculation of the SSI is from your section scores. Drop a zero, double your ERW, and add your Math score. For example, Student X might have a total score of 1450, with section scores of 720 ERW and 730 M. Student X’s SSI would be 2(72) + 73 = 217. It’s possible for a student with a lower total score to have a higher SSI. Student Y has a total score of 1430, with section scores of 750 ERW and 690 M. Student Y’s SSI would be 2(75) + 69 = 219. The ERW score has twice the weight because it is made up of two test scores—reading and writing.

You cannot determine your SSI directly from your total score. One student scoring 1400 might have a high enough SSI, whereas another student with a 1400 might fall short. You must know your ERW and Math scores.

How high of an ACT score do I need for a confirming score? NMSC wants to have a level playing field, so it converts components of the ACT score into an SAT Selection Index. In order to do that, you need to use the official concordance tables published by ACT/College Board. There is no SAT Science, so NMSC does not look at ACT Science. Throw it out. Further, the SAT Essay and ACT Writing Test are never considered at any stage of the competition.

Step 1: Add your ACT English and ACT Reading scores Step 2: Use the ACT E+R to SAT ERW concordance table to find the concordant SAT ERW score based on the sum in step 1. Be sure that you are going in the correct direction when using the concordance tables. ACT E+R to SAT ERW is not always the same as SAT ERW to ACT E+R. Step 3: Use the ACT M to SAT M table to find the concordant SAT M score based on your ACT Math score. Step 4: Calculate your SAT SI: drop the last zeros (i.e. divide by 10), double your ERW, and add your Math score. You want this number to be at least 212.

Example: A student has ACT scores of 32E, 34M, 33R, and 31S. Science is not used. The sum of E and R is 65. In the concordance tables, this is equivalent to a 700 ERW. The 34 Math is concordant to a 760. This student’s SAT Selection Index is 70×2 + 76 = 216.

When do I have to take the SAT or ACT for the score to be ‘confirmed’? You can use any SAT or ACT score from the fall of your sophomore year to December of your senior year. This means that you could have received an SAT confirming score even before taking the PSAT/NMSQT. NMSC recommends that you not wait until the December test date.

How do I submit scores to NMSC? NMSC does not automatically know your SAT and ACT scores. You must submit them just as you would to a college. The College Board code for NMSC is 0085. The ACT code is 7984. Please verify these codes before submitting. Since NMSC will use your highest scores, there is no penalty for choosing them as one of your free score recipients when you register for the SAT or ACT.

Can I superscore SAT or ACT dates in order to reach the confirming score cutoff? No. NMSC will use your highest scores, but will not superscore across test dates.

If I have achieved a confirming score, is there any reason to shoot for a higher score? The requirement for a confirming score is simply true or false when applying to become a Finalist. However, your test scores are used to evaluate you during the scholarship phase of the competition. Depending on your goals, you may want to optimize your score.

Can sophomores qualify for National Merit recognition? No. Even if your scores are high enough, you will not be eligible for National Merit as a sophomore unless you will be graduating a year early. In that case, you should contact NMSC or your principal about next steps as NMSC has no way of automatically knowing your eligibility.

Is it hard for a Semifinalist to become a Finalist? Of the 16,000 Semifinalists, 15,000 become Finalists. You must go through an application process to proceed to Finalist level and then to compete for National Merit Scholarships. As part of the application, you must meet citizenship requirements, have a satisfactory academic record, achieve a confirming score on the SAT or ACT (and submit the scores to NMSC!), write an essay, and receive a recommendation from your principal. More information can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide . In the Semifinalist letter from your school (it will NOT come from NMSC unless you are homeschooled), NMSC will provide details about how to begin the process online.

When will I find out if I am a Finalist? You will be notified in February of senior year.

Do all Finalists receive scholarships? What is a National Merit Scholar? Only about half of Finalists become National Merit Scholars and receive a National Merit Scholarship. There are three types of scholarships for Finalists, each with its own criteria. A student can only receive one type of scholarship. Approximately 4,000 Finalists receive scholarships from sponsoring colleges with renewable stipends of $500–$2,500 per year. Students must be accepted by a sponsoring institution and list the college as first choice in order to receive a college-sponsored award. These awards are not transferable to another college. Corporations sponsor approximately 1,000 awards for Finalists each year with a minimum one-time value of $2,500 or $1,000 renewable. Most of these awards are to Finalists who are the children of employees. Approximately 2,500 students receive awards of $2,500 directly from National Merit. These awards are highly competitive and are allocated proportionally by state. A list of sponsoring colleges and corporations can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide .

I’ve heard about colleges that provide full-ride awards. Why are college-sponsored awards only listed as $500–$2,500 per year? Colleges can also choose to provide additional awards to National Merit Finalists. These are not technically National Merit Scholarships, but they can be the most important awards for many students. Which colleges offer these awards and how much they offer can change from year to year. In recent years, Florida has had a generous scholarship program for National Merit Finalists, and schools such as UT-Dallas and Texas A&M also provide substantial awards. Compass does not maintain a database of scholarships. The National Merit forum at is a useful resource.

Are scholarships available to Commended Students and Semifinalists? Technically, these students cannot be National Merit Scholars, but approximately 1,100 of them will receive Special Scholarships from sponsoring corporations. As with other corporate-sponsored awards, these are predominantly for the children of employees, although companies can also identify students in a particular region or field of study.

When will I find out if I receive a scholarship? You will be notified of scholarship status sometime between March and June of your senior year. In order to receive a college-sponsored scholarship, you must note the college as your first choice on the National Merit application. It can be to your advantage not to immediately choose a first-choice college—you can leave it as “Undecided.” You do not want to miss out on a large scholarship because you have listed the wrong college.

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.


Role: --- Student Family Counselor Other

Class Year: --- 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025 Other N/A

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Next post using psat scores to compare sat and act, 439 comments.

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My son scored 1500 on the SAT in August 2017 and 1480 on the PSAT in October. His SSI for Florida is 221. Would 1500 on the SAT confirm his PSAT score? Should he retake the SAT? We are currently more concerned about the scholarship than about college acceptance.

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Tom, His 1500 will easily confirm his PSAT score. Tom, I assuming that you are thinking about the Benacquisto Scholarship Program, which is extremely valuable to Florida students. The twist with the BSP is that you not only need to be a Finalist, you also need to be a National Merit Scholarship winner (and then the BSP gets layered on top). For students attending one of Florida’s NM sponsoring institutions, this is pretty much a given. In theory, a higher SAT score might help a student looking to earn a NMSC-sponsored scholarship or corporate scholarship and then receive the BSP at a Florida university that does not sponsor NM scholarships. The latest information can be found here .

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Hello, If my daughter’s PSAT score qualifies her for commendation (212 for DC) does she also need to take the SAT now to receive the commendation next year? Or can she stick with the ACT as she planned? Thank you!

Alan, She can stick to the ACT. The SAT is only used when considering students for Finalist.

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Hi Art, We live in Colorado and I got a 1430 on the PSAT with a selection index of 215. Would that be eligible for a commended student? I am very confused about the process, so I was wondering if that would make the cut. Thanks!

Junior, Yes, while 215 won’t be high enough to make Semifinalist, it will be high enough to received Commended honors.

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Is 1410 for the class of 2019 PSAT with a SSI of 211 bad.Wpuld it qualify for anything? I’m in California

Tina, I think the Commended level is likely to be between 210 and 213. It is possible that the cutoff will remain at 211 for the class of 2019.

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Hi, Thanks for your wonderful website. It has been very informative. My son (a junior) received his PSAT score today and has a score index of 217. We live in Mississippi. He will graduate in 2019. Will he likely qualify as a National Merit Semi-Finalist with this SI score?

thf108, Yes, it is extremely likely that he will qualify based on his score. Thank you!

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Hi Art, My sister just received her PSAT scores back but she received a 1460: a 710 in ERW and 750 in Math. Her index is a 217 but we live in Florida. Is there a chance she could become a Semifinalist? Or is 217 too low that there isn’t really a chance the cutoff would move down a couple points? Thanks, Joanne

Joanne, While 217 is high enough to be Commended, I do not believe that it will be high enough in Florida to qualify for Semifinalist.

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We are in FL and my junior student (Class of 2019) just received his PSAT score of 1470 and NMSC Selection Index of 219. Would he make it to the semi-finalist list? Just trying to understand how that works. If they have the “cutoff” score do they automatically qualify? Or is it only a certain number of students that are selected? If they don’t qualify for semi-finalist, do they automatically get “commended”?

JM, Students at or above the class of 2019 cutoff will qualify as Semifinalists (assuming they meet eligibility requires on class year and citizenship). If they don’t make SF, then they can qualify as Commended as long as the score is above the Commended level. At minimum, your son will be Commended. I think it’s close to a toss-up as to whether or not Florida remains the same or moves up this year.

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Hi there, If there is usually 1.6 million who take the exam, and the top 50,000 are commended. would it be safe to say that the top 2%, meaning if you ranked in the 98th percentile for PSAT, would you be at least commended? We live in Mass, my daughter scored 1340, index of 201. It states that she is in the 98th percentile. Can you explain this? Thanks Katie

Katie, The percentiles College Board reports are highly misleading for a number of reasons. For one, they do not reflect this year’s class; they reflect the average of the class of 2017 and class of 2018. We also don’t know how many NMSQT entrants there actually are. Second, the percentile your are looking at is, I believe, the “Nationally Representative Percentile.” I hate this figure, and it is made worse by the fact that College Board gives it the most prominence. It is a hypothetical figure based on a pilot study to estimate percentiles as if every student in the country took the exam. It inflates the percentiles, because the people that actually take the test are, on the main, higher performers. About 1.75M juniors took the test, but it’s probably closer to to the 1.6M that you cite as an estimate of eligible students. In the User Percentile (test takers), your daughter’s 1340 is at the 94th percentile. Unfortunately, that will not be high enough to make Commended this year.

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I’m a homeschooled high-school Junior, and received a 212 (selection index) on the PSAT. If I was a commended scholar, how would I find out since I’m homeschooled? Would they send it to my local high school (where I took the PSAT) or somehow send it to my family? If the latter, how would we receive it?

Thanks for your help 🙂

Hannah, NMSC treats your parents as the school, so communications are done directly with the family (this is unique to homeschoolers). I know that this is true for Semifinalist communications, and I don’t believe it is any different for Commended. Everything is done the old-fashioned way — the U.S. Postal Service. It will still be months before you hear anything at all. You are welcome!

Thank you so much; you’ve been very helpful!

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Hi Art, When will the cutoff score for NMSF be announced for Class of 2019 ? Thanks,

Schools are notified of student status in late August 2018. Students often don’t learn from their schools until September. Compass will be trying to compile a list as soon as possible in August.

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Hi Art, can you explain how the same score will garner different SIs? For example, both score 1480 but the CA tester’s SI is 223 and a VA tester’s is 221. Thanks!

Confused, National Merit has long double-weighted the “verbal” portion of the PSAT. When the PSAT was 20-80 for Reading, Writing, and Math, this made it easy for everyone. You just added your scores. Now, it’s a little more confusing because College Board makes the total score so prominent. The tester who had an SI of 223 would have scored 750 ERW / 730 Math. The VA tester would have had a 730 ERW / 750 Math. The math is 75×2 + 73 = 223 and 73×2 + 75. You can simply drop the zeros, double the ERW, and add the Math.

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Hello, I’m a junior in MD who got a 221 on the PSAT this year. What do you think are the odds of the cutoff dropping a point for me to make the cut?

Madi, Based on the overall national results, I think we will only see about 20-25% of states showing declines (and I reserve the right to be wrong). It’s possible that MD will be among those states.

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Dear Art, My son is a junior year and he scored “NMSC Selection Index 219*” in PSAT.Besides his selection index score there was “*” and the remarks says ” NMSC uses a Selection Index based on PSAT/NMSQT scores as an initial screen of students who enter its scholarship programs”.I am not sure how do I interpret this remarks. He will be completing his high school graduation in 2019 from California.Will he meet the criteria to be in the list of semifinalists? I appreciate your help in understanding this PSAT SI “*”.

Thaenraj, I believe that the asterisk indicates that he is eligible (based on the requirements). You can verify this by looking at the Entry Requirements on the full report. You want to see High School Student: YES, Class Year: 2019, Total Years to be Spent in Grades 9-12: 4, and U.S. Citizen: YES.

Nothing on the report indicates whether or not a student’s score is high enough for National Merit honors. Your son’s 219 is high enough to be a Commended Student, but is unlikely to be high enough to be a Semifinalist (and continue on in the competition) in CA.

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Any chance Texas cutoff will be 220 ?

Pam, Yes. We don’t know for sure that the higher number of students in the top score range represent a boost in TX or are from other states. We also don’t know that the boost is throughout the range (maybe we’ll just see more 210-218 students, for example). I think about 20-25% of states will see declines this year. Texas could be one of those states.

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Hello Art, The entire PSAT process seems very daunting and I do appreciate your individual responses. My daughter received 1440 as the total score and 213 as the NMSC selection index. I still do not completely understand the differences of the total score and the selection index. We are from Illinois- just wondering at her chances for commended or semi-finalist status? And does commended status offer any scholarships?

Albert, Thank you.

National Merit Scholarship Corp has always marched to its own beat. Rather than just use the sum of the SAT scores (total score), NMSC weights the ERW twice that of Math and drops a zero (this dates back to the old PSAT scoring). Working backwards, for instance, I can figure out that your daughter received a 690 ERW, 750 Math as that would give an SI of 213 (69×2 + 75). Your daughter’s score will not be high enough to qualify as a Semifinalist, but she will almost certainly be Commended. Some companies provide awards to employees’ children, and these can go to Commended students. I believe that there are a few colleges that provide scholarships based on Commended status, but it is unusual.

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Hi, My son is a junior and he got 222 in PSAT & 1550 on his SAT this year He will be graduating high school in 2019 from Ilinois.Will he meet the criteria to be in the list of semifinalists?

Sumi, I don’t expect the IL cutoff to go above 222, but we won’t know for sure until late August. His 1550 will be sufficient as a confirming score (needed to move from Semifinalist to Finalist status).

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For the SAT to verify the PSAT score does it have to be with essay or no?

James, The confirming SAT score does not need to include the essay.

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Hi! I am a junior who recieved a 1370 and a score of 206 on the PSAT this year. Is there any way I could make the National Merit cutoff? or was my score too low? Thanks!

Wendy, The Commended Student level has been higher on the new PSAT than it was on the old exam. While you did very well, I don’t think your score will be high enough this year.

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If my student attends a Kansas high school but lives in Missouri, which state’s cutoff is used?

Christina, The school your student was attending at the time of the PSAT determines the applicable cutoff. As long as the student’s school is not a boarding school, the cutoff will be for Kansas.

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Hi Art, I am still very confused about the NMF awards, and don’t know what i should recommend my son to put on his application status for college choice. His SAT score is 1560, PSAT 1480, his gpa 4.25 and ranks 4th in his class. He ‘s already got admitted to the university that he wants to go to. My concern now should he leave undecided for college choice so he can get the big scholarship.? And he did finished his application and listed his first choice of the college that accepts him. Can we change the status to undecided, or what is the best thing we can do now, I am hoping he would get full ride tuition. Please explain what all possible scholarships. Thank you very much for your time.

Angela, Congratulations on your son’s acceptance! First, whatever he chooses now with NM, he will have an opportunity to change in the coming months.

If the intention is to attend his top choice school no matter what the result of the NM scholarship, then the answer is simple — go ahead and list that as his first choice. If a scholarship is an essential component to his decision and he might go somewhere else if the money is right, then he needs to consider what school #1 provides to NMFs. The reason why many folks recommend staying with Undecided at first is to avoid any chance of an unintentional match. If school #1 only provides $2,500 and school #2 provides full scholarships to NMFs, then a student may not want to receive a scholarship from school #1 UNLESS he is rejected by school #2, in which case it is better to get $2,500 than nothing. Alternatively, a student doesn’t want to find himself rejected by school #1 and unable to match with school #2 (since it is not listed as first choice). The latter case doesn’t apply given your son’s acceptance. You can imagine how complicated it can become if there are multiple colleges in the mix. Again, there is still plenty of time for this to be worked out. I would recommend contacting his first choice school to see if they have a National Merit Finalist liaison (some of the largest scholarship providers do) and talk to them about what they offer and what deadlines they have. NM scholarships also can’t be looked at in a vacuum, because they typically represent only one part of the financial aid that a student may receive.

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Hi Art – a friend asked for a resource on the National Merit competition for next year. I recommended your site and am sending her this link. I did notice a typo (“and essay” instead of “an essay”) that I thought you would want to correct. Thanks again for your analysis this year. It made the long wait for my son’s National Merit Semi-Finalist letter much easier.

Thank you for sending your friend this way and for pointing out the typo. This page has more evergreen information than the NMSF page, so your friend may see more initial activity at . There won’t be much to discuss until scores come out.

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I received my October SAT scores back, but am still waiting for my PSAT scores. Do you how I can calculate what my NM SSI would be based on just my SAT scores?

John, Just drop the zeros from your ERW and Math scores (200-800). Double the ERW and add the Math. If you got a 1440, for example, with 740 ERW and 700 Math, your SSI would be 74×2 + 70 = 218. Keep in mind that the PSAT will only go up to 760, so the top SIs are lower.

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My daughter by mistake sent 3 different SAT scores (from her previous SAT attempts), Will National Merit will take the highest one?

Pankaj, Yes, it will.

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Hi I will need help with my son decision about first choice college . He has great chances to become a Finalist but I am concern about collge sponsoship . In florida the Benacquisto Scholarship Program allows student National merit finalist to cover Cost of attendance for 5 colleges if student selected as First choice one of them. My son dream school is Georgia Tech and he selected as first choice but I am afraid Georgia offer something and if at the end he decided based on economics to attend University of Florida he lost the Benacquisto Scholarship Program Florida because he did not select first choice one of the Florida school until last minute . When are colleges begins to offered some awards that can cut the opportunity for hem to changes first choice ? Is better to leave it undecided for this case ?

Belkis, He should not list GaTech as his first choice school (he can easily change it). From the GaTech website: “Georgia Tech has withdrawn as a sponsor of new National Merit College Sponsored Scholarships beginning with the 2014-2015 academic year.” Unless they have changed this again, he would receive no benefit from listing GaTech (the admission office does not look at this as demonstrated interest). “Undecided” is often the best choice at this point. The worry would not be that GT offers him something — they no longer sponsor scholarships — but that he miss out on another opportunity that requires the college as first choice.

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Are there any predictions on the PSAT scores for the class of 2019? For Washington State, (222 for class of 2018) will the score be expected go up since it’s already pretty high? Is there any chance of the score lowering?

We won’t know more until scores come out in December — and even that it will be at the global level. I do think it is highly unlikely that WA moves up for 2019. Yes, there is a decent change that it moves down. Without knowing whether overall scores move up or down, we can say that historically about 1/3 of states go down in any given year.

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When applying for a finalist do you recommend a student use the same essay they are using on the Common Application (Personal Statement) if it slightly pertains to NMSC prompt? Here is the prompt and I believe it is drastically different than before: “To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided” space alots for around 600 words. How heavily is the essay weighted? Does the college you pick as first choice see the essay submitted on the NMSC finalist application? The student’s SAT score index is 238, w/ 4.0 unweighted GPA right now, and rec letter should be great and student has more Extra Curricular/Volunteering than there are spots on application, what is more important volunteering or an Extra Curricular? How important are honors/awards? Can a “Finalist” student be awarded a Corp Sponsored scholarship from a company they are not affiliated with (parents do not work for), and if yes-can a student turn down the Corp Sponsored scholarship and select a college as their first choice for a NMSC after that Corp Scholarship has been offered, since the college scholarship will be of greater value (well the money supplied by the college is for full or half tuition)? Or is it all about when the child selects first choice college (date wise), so if they select a college of first choice on Feb 25 before NMSC announces first group of students to colleges (on March 1) and the announcement of students awarded Corp Scholarship (March 7), would this guarantee the the student will not be selected for a Corp Scholarship, since the student can only receive one or the other (college or corp)? Note: I realize that not all finalists are guaranteed a scholarship from the college they pick as first choice, and it can be very competitive depending on the college, and only one NMSC award is given per finalist.

Kathy, There is no published information or reliable sources on how NMSC weights the various parts of the application. Then again, the same could be said about almost all college applications. In your student’s case, it sounds like two of the biggest factors — GPA and SAT scores — are virtually “maxed out.” I believe that the Finalist prompt is the same as was used last year. It overlaps with many Common App prompts/essays. If you feel that your son’s personal statement only slightly pertains to the NM prompt, I’d recommend he spend some time reworking it, as it is the part of his application currently under his control. You might also consider that “Scholarship recipients are the candidates judged to have the greatest potential for success in rigorous college studies and beyond.” Colleges are not involved at the Finalist stage, but they do choose college-sponsored scholarship winners. I would assume that they have access to the Finalist application at that point, but I’m not certain.

The scholarship dance can get very complicated, but NMSC does its best to ensure that students have every available option. In other words, students are not locked into a corporate-sponsored scholarship if they become eligible for more valuable college-sponsored awards. Nor are students excluded from consideration for corporate or NMSC sponsored scholarships just because they list a sponsoring college as first choice. Yes, there are corporate-sponsored awards that are not exclusively for affiliated students. The more common non-college awards, though, are direct from NMSC. Students can only end up with one kind of scholarship, but the music doesn’t stop right away.

Most students are best off listing the first choice as Undecided for now. I recommend connecting with the schools on your son’s list that offer NM Scholarships and finding out more about their conditions and deadlines.

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Where can I find a comprehensive list of colleges that offer full-ride National Merit Finalist scholarships?

Kathy, Unfortunately, no such list exists — at least not in up-to-date form. I generally point students and parents to this list , which is dated, and to the College Confidential forums where parents share current information with other parents. Colleges are constantly adjusting their scholarship programs.

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Hey, I’ve become a NMSF. Now onto the next round!

I was wondering about getting to the next round. I have an SAT score of 1500 (760 CRW 740 Math). My unweighted GPA is 4.00, with challenging coursework. My principle seems to really want me to be a finalist, and I’m our school’s only one, so I’m sure her rec will be good. Supposing I have a pretty good essay and EC’s will there really be anything to prevent me from getting Finalist? Like is my SAT “good enough” to confirm? Is there one thing that could really wreck my chances?

Supposing I do receive Finalist position, what is the likelihood of received one of the $2500 scholarships that National Merit gives out? Should there be something I focus on to give me the best chance? Like should I retake my SAT again (I really don’t want to b/c I’m focusing on ACT), or will I be fine by not taking it again.

Thanks so much for all of your help!!

Tyler, Great job. Your SAT score will be high enough as a confirming score, which is the same for all students across the country. NMSC has not yet announced the final figure, but it will be around 209-211 in terms of an SAT Selection Index. By comparison, your SAT gives you a 76×2 + 74 = 226 SAT SI. I don’t see any flaws in your Finalist components, so you should pass through easily.

It’s not really possible to give you odds on how likely you are to win a scholarship or what score you will need. I can give you a few factoids. The awards are distributed across the country much like Semifinalist slots. In general, test scores of Finalists are going to be higher in states that had high Selection Indexes. The average SAT for Scholars in 2015 was 2230 on the old SAT. The concordant value on the new SAT is 1530. You shouldn’t view that as a threshold, though; it is simply a correlation. There are about 2,500 winners of $2,500 scholarships. Since students can’t win two types of NM scholarships, you could say that there are about 9-10,000 students eligible for those awards (the others win college or corporate-sponsored awards). Is the possibility of a small increase in your chances for a $2,500 award worth distracting you from the ACT? I’d recommend against it. You’ve already got an excellent portfolio.

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Hi Art, I am from Michigan, My PSAT SI score is 219 ( 730 + 730 = 1460). I saw a post on your site that Michigan SI likely be 219. Hopefully that will place me in the semi finalist (if the state cut of is true). I have taken SAT twice with, with scoring first time 1480 ( 690 + 790) with SI =2*69 + 79 = 217 and second time 1470 (720 + 750) with SI = 2*72 + 75 = 219 (or if they allow super score then super score (720 + 790 = 1510) with SI = 2*72 + 79 = 223.

Q1) Does the National Merit consider super scoring for the “CONFIRMING SCORE”? Q2) Should I submit both scores or better of submitting the second SAT test score which matches with PSAT SI score? Q3) What is meant my “CONFIROMING SCORE” ?. Does it mean that it should be equal or more than the state index score?

Thank you for making a difference in the life of millions of students.

Congratulations, Ajay!

To my knowledge, NM does not superscore. However, your SAT scores are all sufficient as confirming scores. The “confirming score” is simply a national cutoff that usually falls at the Commended level or just below. I would submit both scores to NMSC. It won’t matter for Finalist consideration, but the two scores may be of benefit during the Scholar round.

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Thank you for your informative site. 3 questions for you:

1- My son got a 222 NY NMSC Selection Index and 36 ACT score. He would only take the SAT if needed for Finalist status so we’re wondering if he should take it in Aug to get it out of the way or wait until confirmation of SemiFinalist status given the cutoff uncertainty.

2- Also, if he takes the SAT for a NM Finalist confirming score, is the Essay required?

3- He got a 9 on the ACT Writing. Would a higher score on the SAT Essay help offset this lower score with College Admissions Officers?

Thanks, Grateful Mom

Grateful, 1) Sorry that my response is delayed. Given his ACT score and his SI, I might wait. Getting a sufficient score will not be a problem for him, so unless he has conflicts with the fall tests, he can easily show up and get a confirming score. 2) No. The Essay is not used at all for NM. 3) Admission offices do not compare scores across tests in that way. His 9 is a common score among students at elite institutions, so it should not hold him back.

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When will we hear what the state cutoffs are for 2018?

Bonnie, NMSC will begin mailing out notifications to schools near the end of August. Results start dribbling in once the mail begins arriving. We hope is to compile a complete list as soon as possible (NMSC does not itself publish a list of cutoffs for public consumption).

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Art, when do you anticipate NMSC whll announce what the Index needed to confirm semi-finalist status? Thanks.

Scott, NMSC tends to be squirrelly regarding the confirming score (and I’ll happily eat my words if they ever start publishing the figures!). They often won’t confirm the confirming score until after Semifinalists are announced in early September (the notification of schools happens at the end of August, but the press release is in September). Anyone with an SAT Selection Index of 211 or higher should rest easy. How much lower it might be is still an open question.

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How is the selection index calculated if you used an SAT score for alternate entry to the contest? My daughter had a severe concussion in the fall of her Junior year and could not take the PSAT. She applied for alternate entry and is using her SAT scores taken in the spring of 2017.

Lisa, My understanding is that, for alternate entry, the Selection Index from an SAT is calculated as if it were a PSAT. Double the EBRW score, add the Math score, and drop a zero (or drop the zero right from the start). For example, if your daughter received a 730 EBRW / 710 Math, her SI would be 73×2 + 71 = 217. If 217 were the cutoff in that example, your daughter would qualify. What’s unusual about an SAT SI is that they can go as high as 240, because SAT scores go from 200-800 rather than 160-760 as on the PSAT. AFAIK, NMSC does not distinguish between the two tests (and would not have a legitimate way of doing so even if they wanted). I hope things go well for your daughter.

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Thank you for an enlightening FAQ that more than covers everything we need to know about everything up until finalist. My question is, What makes the difference between finalist and scholarship winner, particularly in the essay? How much does the essay matter in the final selection? Is it better to give an overview of accomplishments and goals or to focus on 1-2 distinguishing traits? Are there certain factors that are more valued, like serious community service or overcoming struggle? Does the “Scholar” in the title mean our children should emphasize scholarly traits like love of learning/teaching?

Process: We understand there are many different awarding bodies/corporations and we are not eligible through employment or geography. Do they all read the applications and essays, applying their own criteria? Or does NMSC read everything and do the selecting for each scholarship? Or something in between, like NMSC gives a composite profile from which corporations etc choose their awardees?

Thanks for any light you can shed!

Curious, The best way to think about the the move from Finalist to Scholar is by analogy to college admissions. There is not a single factor that determines the leap (well, we’ll talk about an exception later). NMSC looks at things holistically. An overview is not the most effective college application essay. Insight into a student is typically achieved by shaping a narrative. The Finalist application essay is usually a broad prompt such as “Describe your personal characteristics, accomplishments, primary interests, plans, and goals. What sets you apart?” They don’t literally expect you to touch upon all of those things in 500 words. I wouldn’t read too much into “Scholar.” Yes, NMSC scholarships are very much focused on academic/testing performance, but that doesn’t mean the essay has to be narrowly tuned. Semifinalists will receive more information on this year’s prompt when they are given access to the Finalist application in September.

NMSC handles all scholarship awards — i.e. they do not pass along the candidate files from which sponsors can choose. They apply any criteria imposed by the sponsors. It becomes quite the puzzle for them in the spring. A student can only receive a single National Merit award. So a student accepting admission to a college that provides an automatic award may opens a spot for an award to another Finalist. This also touches on the “exception” that I mentioned above. Some of the largest awards are available to any Finalist accepting admission to a sponsoring college (as their first choice with NMSC). In those cases, the quality of the essay is essentially irrelevant. Some colleges limit the number of scholarships available, though, so I encourage all students to do the best job possible on the Finalist application. Consider it an additional college application (and one that is not all that hard to complete).

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Junior, Mississippi, Selection index on 2016 PSAT is 227. Will have to transfer senior year to another school. Will take SAT in June 2017. How does transferring school affect National Merit status?

Anonymous, NMSF is determined based on where you were in school when you took the test. It sounds like you may have transferred within the state (not that it would matter with your score!). What you’ll need to pay attention to come notification period is that your old school catches up with your new. I wouldn’t worry much about it, as there is time between initial announcement and Finalist applications to work out kinks. NMSC is helpful in this regard. Congratulations!

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My son graduates from high school in Texas in 2018. His PSAT selection index is 221 (730,750). He took the SAT and didn’t confirm his results. (720,730, 6-4-6) The selection index is 217. How many times do you retake the exam for confirmation? Do you forsee the selection index on the PSAT as a qualifying score?

Lisa, It’s somewhat odd terminology that NMSC uses. A “confirming score” only needs to confirm that a student got a high score on the SAT. It does not have to match the level attained on the PSAT. Last year the minimum confirming score (expressed as a Selection Index) was 209. It won’t be announced for some time what the level will be for the Class of 2018, but your son’s score will certainly be sufficient. It’s likely — but not certain — that his 221 SI will qualify him as a Semifinalist.

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HI Art, My son took SAT on 8th grade through Dude TIP on DEC 2016, and he got score 1400. And I understand that the score won’t stay in his school board record unless I request it. Question 1: Should I request his scores to be part of his permanent record, because his score was good on a 8th grade student. Questions 2: If I request it, will it affect when his apply for the National Merit Scholarships in the Junior year. Thank you!

Gloria, I wouldn’t worry about it either way. Admission officers don’t use 8th grade scores. Some students mature earlier than others; colleges care about where a student is before he or she enters college. Students don’t receive extra credit for achieving a high score earlier than other students. It will also not effect National Merit in any way. The junior year PSAT is the qualifier for Semifinalist status, and confirming SAT scores (for Finalist status) must be within the Oct 10th grade to Dec 12th grade period.

I would congratulate your son on his excellent score and then get ready for him to shine in high school. It’s that last part that colleges will care about.

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Hi Art! Thanks for this article; it’s helped me so much. Can you explain more about how the $2500 Scholarship is awarded? How many of the Finalists is it given to compared with those receiving corporate and college scholarships? Is it based on the highest scores and best grades, or is it more random? Is there a further application after that to become a finalist, or are you simply notified one day? If I am finalist and know I won’t receive money from a company or college, what are my odds of receiving the $2500?

Eden, Good questions. The Finalist to Scholar process is a lot like college admission — NMSC factors in scores (SAT and PSAT), grades, strength of curriculum, school recommendation, and student essay. There is not simply a score cutoff. The big difference from college admissions is that you are primarily competing against others in your state.

Once a student becomes a Semifinalist, she receives an access code to an online application. Completing this application is one of the conditions for making Finalist. After that, your work is done. You’ll be notified in late March about National Merit $2,500 Scholarships. There are about 7,500 scholarships given each year, but about 4,000 come from colleges. About 2,000 scholarships are sponsored by corporations. While these are usually for the children of employees, they are sometimes given out to students in a given area (for example, the vicinity of a corporate headquarters). The remaining 2,500 are directly from National Merit and are one-time awards of $2,500. Finally, there are 1,200 Special Scholarships, which are identical to corporate-sponsored scholarships except that students do not have to be Finalists (this is important, for example, if a company plans on giving 10 scholarships to the children of employees, but only 7 of the children are Finalists). If you think that you will only be eligible for one of the 2,500 scholarships, then your odds — if things were random — would be 1 in 6. Your chances, though, will be impacted by how well you stack up against other students in your state or selection unit.

I should have pointed out that for students hoping for a college-sponsored scholarship, their work is not done when the Finalist application is submitted. They have to worry about deadlines that colleges set (colleges may give out a limited number of scholarships on a first-come, first served basis). Also, a student can only receive a college-sponsored scholarship from a school designated as first choice. There is time to adjust that choice to match where the student wants to go and who is offering the most money, but it is something students and parents need to pay attention to. I know that this doesn’t apply to Eden, but I didn’t want to leave it unsaid.

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My son (class of 2018) got a 1490 in PSAT/NMSQT in October 2016. His index is 222. We’re in CA. His SAT score from January 2017 is 1530. He has a perfect 800 Math score in SAT (twice), PSAT (760/760), subject SAT Math (800). His unweighted GPA so far is 4.25. Based on all of the above and past index information for the state of CA, will he be able to qualify as a semi-finalist? He is also in the top 10% of his class.

Ravi, Only his PSAT Selection Index will matter for Semifinalist status. I expect 222 to be high enough to qualify. By “expect,” I mean more likely than not. His SAT score will matter as a confirming score to advance from Semifinalist to Finalist. His 1530 will certainly be high enough. His scores and grades would also come into play in the stage from Finalist to Scholar (scholarship award recipient).

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Can you please clarify what commended means? Is there any benefit to be awarded the commended status on the PSAT? The reason I ask is that we are using some of the college cost calculators and there is a checkbox for “I am a National Scholar”. Does that only pertain to those that are semifinalists, or can commended students check that box?

Sharon, Strictly speaking, Commended Student is just one of several honor levels within the NMSP. It sounds like the calculator is referring to National Merit Scholars — those that receive scholarships. The order is Commended -> Semifinalist -> Finalist -> Scholar. There are some Special Scholarships that can be awarded to Commended Students (a parent might work at a company that sponsors scholarships in these cases). I’m not sure how accurately the calculator could consider all of the permutations, but I hope that explains how to answer the question.

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Hello Art, My daughter is spending her junior year as an exchange student in Taiwan. She made arrangements to take the PSAT and scored a 220. This score would likely gain her semi-finalist status in our state of Arkansas. Do you know she will be held to the same standard as students in our state, or because she took it in Taiwan she would be considered an international student? Thank you, Jennifer

Jennifer, NMSF is based on where a student was “regularly” studying at the time of the PSAT. It sounds like your daughter’s junior year was entirely in Taiwan, so she will likely be treated as a U.S. student studying in a foreign country. It is possible that “regularly” does not apply to an exchange student situation. You may be able to find out more from NMSC.

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We are an American family living in Japan. Our home state is CA. My son, a junior, received 1490 with index of 222. I am wondering what his chances are to qualify as semi-finalist.

Thank you for your informative website and taking the time to answer questions.

Yuko, If your son took the PSAT at a high school in Japan, then he would fall in a selection unit for U.S. students living abroad. The cutoff for this unit will be at the highest state cutoff. For the class of 2017, that was 222. The trick is that he needs all states to stick at 222. It’s a toss-up situation, so I’m afraid that he will be waiting until the end of August or the first week of September. If he took the test in CA and then you moved to Japan, he would need to make the CA cutoff — usually a notch or so below the top scores.

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Apologies for late reply and many thanks for taking the time. I guess we will find out in about 6 months. Best wishes, Yuko

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Hello, I’m wondering at my chances of qualifying as a Finalist, since I’m fairly certain I will be a Semi-Finalist. I’m from Florida and received a SI of 225 on the PSAT, with a SAT score of 1510 (780 EBRW and 730 Math), though I’m planning to retake the SAT for a higher score.

Alexandra, Congratulations! Your PSAT score is high enough to be a qualifying score for NMSF, and your SAT is high enough as a confirming score on the path to Finalist. Your chances of making Finalist are excellent. For you, it will boil down to 3 factors: 1) You’ll need to complete the application when it becomes available after Semifinalists are announced (obvious). 2) Your grades will need to be good (NMSC does not publish a set cutoff). 3) You’ll need to get the thumbs up from your school (rarely withheld).

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Hi Art, Thank you so much for answering all the questions. This is very helpful. My son got 1510 on PSAT and we are from Texas. He is signed up for tomorrow’s SAT but is not feeling well today. We were wondering if he gets a lower score tomorrow can he retake in March and submit that one for “Confirmation Score”? Thanks!

Worried, I was out of the country and not able to give you a prompt response. Sorry to hear that your son may not have felt well enough to take the SAT. As for NM, he should be fine either way he decided to go. A 1510 scorer would need to fall dramatically not to reach a confirming score. More importantly, he has plenty of opportunities. A confirming score needs to be obtained no later than the December test, and he only needs a single score that is high enough.

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My son is a freshman and scored 1370, which is 99%. Is there any benefit or reward to this? Or just good practice for junior year?

Becky, Only the reward of a job well done, I’m afraid. National Merit is limited to juniors.

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My daughter has PSAT 1450 with si 217 , we live in PA and her new SAT was 1530. She has chance to get semifinal ?

Helena, There is certainly a chance that PA’s cutoff will decline by a point this year and that your daughter will be a Semifinalist. Her SAT score doesn’t enter into that equation, but it is a wonderful score as she looks ahead to college applications. Should she make Semifinalist, her SAT score would also be high enough to serve as a confirming score for Finalist qualification.

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Dear sir, I also have a similar question for my son. He scored 1540 in sat in aug 2017, 1450 psat with 217 in oct 2017 (texas). He has a high gpa and all rounder student. He is in top 5 of the school with multiple extra curricular activities and awards. Will he has a chance for semifinalist. ? One more thing, can we do verification of PSAT score ? Thank you

Mom, A 217 will likely not qualify your son as a Semifinalist in TX (I expect the cutoff to fall in the 220-222 range). I am not aware of any verification process for PSAT scores. I would recommend contacting College Board to see if there is any option.

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Thank you Art! Her Sat breakdown is 710 EBRW and 740 Math so that’s a 216. I appreciate all your insight and experience, and I think college counselors would benefit from reading your posts, too.

Art, once again, reading all the threads and learning more from you than anywhere. Another question, from Florida, because I am still confused. My daughter who is a Jr., with a PSAT of 1470, SI 220, and confirming SAT score of 1450- will likely be a semi-finalist for NM? Or will a semi finalist status be determined based on higher SAT confirming scores in our state? If she were to take the SAT again, and gain a higher score, how will that help? Noting that good grades, school recommendation…etc is also necessary, what are the determining factors that move you from semi finalist, to finalist? SI scores or higher confirming SAT scores? And another question, is a 225 the highest score index on PSAT? Can I assume that any higher SI scores than my daughters , accompanied with higher confirming SAT score, will put my daughter out of finalist range for state of Florida?

Busy, The Semifinalist qualifying SI and the confirming SAT score are both all or nothing hurdles. While the Semifinalist cutoff is established at the state level, the confirming score (SAT) is uniform across all states. You can ignore her SAT score for SF. In fact, you can ignore her PSAT score. All that matters is her PSAT Selection Index. Your daughter’s 220 will be high enough for Florida. The highest possible SI is a 228. The student would have a 760/760 (76×2 + 76 = 228). The degree to which a score exceeds the cutoff, though, is not a factor.

Unlike with the Semifinalist portion where specific counts per state are targeted, NMSC is not trying to manage the number of Finalists. If all students hit their marks, they will all be Finalists. One of those marks is a confirming score on the SAT. Technically it’s more of an SAT Selection Index than it is an SAT score, because it follows the same idea as the PSAT SI. You don’t mention your daughter’s split on the SAT, but let me pretend that her 1450 is a 730 EBRW and 720 M. That gives an SSI of 73×2 + 72 = 218. For the class of 2017 the confirming score was 209, and there is not reason to believe it would change more than a hair. Your daughter is safely above the mark. A high score will not change her chances. As you say, she also needs to have grades, school rec, and a completed Finalist app.

There is a final piece of the puzzle — National Merit Scholars (i.e. the ones who get scholarships). These are pulled from the Finalist ranks (I won’t go into the exceptions) and there are both corporate and college-sponsored awards. Think of this stage as more of an admission committee where the whole matters (not just cutoffs). About half of Finalists will receive some sort of award. At this stage, yes, your daughter may be competing with students with higher scores, but that’s only one among many factors. She’ll also be competing with students with lower scores.

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What are the chances of my CA Junior becoming a Finalist or Scholar for 2018? Her October 2016 PSAT is 1510, with a 227 Selection Index. Her current October SAT is also 1510, which should validate the PSAT score. Is it advisable to retake the SAT for an even higher score? I know she would rather not. She is scheduled to take an upcoming ACT, just so she has a score to compare to the SAT. Any advice you can offer is appreciated. Thanks!

CaliMom, We know with certainty that she will be a Semifinalist and that she has a confirming score. The only other pieces for Finalist are applying, grades, and school endorsement. I would not recommend retaking for the purpose of NM. For schools that sponsor NM scholarships, your daughter’s scores will be high enough. For corporate scholarships, it *might* increase her chances, but there is no way of knowing for sure. Since these scholarships are $2,500, the cost/benefit may not be there given that uncertainty. I think you are handling things in the right order. After she takes the ACT, you can decide where she stands. Let’s say that she performs poorly on the ACT (just for the sake of argument). I would recommend repeating the SAT at that point. 1510 is a great score, but the inflation of the new SAT scale means that the most selective colleges are going to be expecting scores in the 1500s. She can probably improve her standing given her scores to date. The best situation would be getting a 35/36 and putting the issue to bed.

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My son received a score of 224 on his PSAT; so, I believe he’ll qualify in the state of LA. I read your previous comments regarding GPA. Although my son is in an honors or fast track program with a weighted GPA of 3.8 (including honors and eliminating PE and religion) and his unweighted GPA is 3.2, he does have two Cs in honors courses — so it’s anywhere from 2-4 C’s on his semester grades. Will that eliminate his chances of qualifying as a Finalist? Thanks for the insight.

ACC, Yes, he will certainly be a Semifinalist. Congratulations. I wish that I could speak as definitely about his Finalist chances. NMSC does not release specific standards. I don’t know to what extent they simply like to retain flexibility to assess individual circumstances. I have heard many instances of students being OK with a single C. I don’t know if 2 is too many. Or 3. Or if they also look at how well the student has done in other classes. From the anecdotal stories I have heard, your son may face an uphill battle. All he can do is put his best foot forward by continuing with solid grades through his junior year and put together a good application as a Finalist. You might try contacting NMSC, but they generally don’t want to deal with hypotheticals. To them, your son is not yet being considered as a Finalist.

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Art, I am a sophomore who took the PSAT/NMSQT this year and I received a score of 1250 out of 1520 and a selection index of 190. I would like to know what you would recommend me to do for next year when I take the SAT.

Luis, Oh, there are so many possibilities. Compass provides tutoring for the SAT, so I’m obliged to put that out as an option. A class is the right option for some students. For a more study-as-you-go approach, I would recommend linking your College Board PSAT account to a Khan Academy account. This will help you develop a plan of free online study with the Khan program. If you take any practice tests (you should), only use official exams. Khan will have these for download.

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© 2023 Compass Education Group. SAT, PSAT, NMSC, National Merit, Merit Scholar, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, HSPT and AP are registered trademarks not owned by Compass Education Group. The trademark holders were not involved in the production of, and do not endorse, this website.

How to Write a National Merit Essay

Teresa j. siskin.

Semifinalists are notified in September each year, and finalist applications, including essays, are due the following month.

You’ve cleared the first hurdle once you’ve become a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Continuing to compete as a finalist means completing an application, which includes an essay. While there is no one "correct” way to write this essay, you can help distinguish yourself from fellow semifinalists by offering a clear, concise 500-word piece that shares a perspective and leaves an impression.

Explore this article

1 Structure and Inspiration

You can approach the National Merit Scholarship essay as you would any other scholarship essay. According to Kansas State University and Dr. Kay Peterson from the University of Florida, one way to structure your essay is to focus on a life altering or defining moment. Draw from a simple occurrence, such as falling off your bike as a small child or a book you read, or from a much more intense event, such as losing a home in a hurricane, as long as you relay what lesson you took from that experience. Use the introduction of your essay to recount this defining moment, and conclude with a thesis that summarizes how that event affected your outlook on life. Then, use your subsequent body paragraphs to highlight how this moment continues to affect your life personally or academically, and conclude by relating this experience to your goals for college, your desire for college scholarships, or your passion for becoming a National Merit Scholar. You can always ask others for help both in brainstorming for essay topics and in editing your final product.

About the Author

Teresa J. Siskin has been a researcher, writer and editor since 2009. She holds a doctorate in art history.

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Understanding the National Merit Scholarship Program

A stack of books with a graduation cap on top and the text 'National Merit Scholarship' in the negative space to the left.

“National” “Merit” and “Scholarship” all sound very good when considered in the midst of college admission. Even better when you realize that just by taking the PSAT in the fall of your junior year, you’ve already entered yourself for this award!

But surely it can’t be as easy as that. After all, according to the College Board, last year more than 4.5 million high school juniors took the PSAT, but the National Merit Scholarship selected only 7,500 finalists. That’s less than a fifth of a percent.

What exactly is the National Merit Scholarship, and how does a high school student become a semifinalist or finalist? What does the selection process mean for your chances of admission at top colleges? And are there benefits to gaining National Merit recognition outside the initial scholarship opportunity?

Read on to find out how to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, how to understand the process, and how to maximize your chances of becoming a winner.

National Merit Scholarship Eligibility

First things first. The National Merit Scholarship Program is a national academic competition for high school students to provide financial aid to attend college. It is administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

Students qualify for the National Merit program by achieving a high score on the PSAT. In fact, the test is more formally called the PSAT/NMSQT, which stands for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test! Make sure that you take the official PSAT/NMSQT, rather than an alternative like the PSAT 10, which won’t count for the National Merit Scholarship.

Upon receiving their PSAT scores, high scorers may be designated by the NMSC as Commended Students, Semifinalists, or (after an additional application) Finalists. From the Finalists, around 7,500 students are selected to become scholarship winners.

There are a three major factors in eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship:

Students’ eligibility for the program will be determined by the NMSC based on a few factual questions at the beginning of the PSAT/NMSQT.

How to Become A National Merit Scholar

While the PSAT/NMSQT is the starting point for receiving a National Merit Scholarship commendation or becoming a semifinalist or finalist, it’s not the end of the process. There are a few stages to the process that are important to keep in mind:

Get a Great PSAT Score!

Of course, the most important thing is to ace the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior. In order to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, most students need a test score within the top 1% of their state . That means the score cutoff will change depending on where you reside, and how well others in your state did on the PSAT. You’ll find out in September of your senior year if you scored well enough to become a semifinalist.

At this stage you might be named either a Commended Student or a Semifinalist. Both are impressive markers that are worth putting in your college application. Less than 5% of test takers receive any commendation from the National Merit program.

Write a Strong Application

If you are named a National Merit Semifinalist—congratulations! Now it’s time to apply to become a Finalist. Only a small percentage of semifinalists move onto finalist standing and receive the award, so this scholarship application is a crucial part of the process. You can find more information about this below, under “National Merit Semifinalists.”

Score Well on the SAT

Your test-taking isn’t over; in addition to doing well on the PSAT, National Merit Finalists are also high scorers on the SAT. As part of your scholarship application, you’ll also have to submit official SAT scores from the College Board.

The NMSC and College Board don’t suggest a cutoff score for the SAT, only that it would be “high enough to confirm your PSAT/NMSQT performance.” Thus, it’s very important that if you do score well on the PSAT, you should keep studying for the SAT, so that if you advance to Semifinalist standing, you’ll be in a good position to apply to become a Finalist.

Scores Needed for National Merit Scholarships

Once you’ve taken the PSAT, the NMSC calculates your overall score. They calculate selection index scores to evaluate PSAT scores each year. The cutoff scores for last year’s PSAT/NMSQT are listed below. Note that these selection index scores vary by state, so find yours to see how competitive the National Merit Scholarship Competition will be in your area:

As you can see, the average cutoff score is 218, but if you live in Wyoming or Iowa, you might qualify with a lower score, whereas if you live in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or DC, you will likely need a higher score. In general, your chances of becoming a Semifinalist are greatly improved by scoring 4-5 points above the average cutoff score for your state.

The Selection Process: Commended, Semifinalist, Finalist

National Merit Scholarship 2

Commended Students

High scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT may find themselves named Commended Students by the NMSC in September of their senior year. Generally, the top 3%-4% of PSAT scorers receive commended student status, or about 35,000 students. This is certainly an accomplishment, but it means that these students did not receive high enough qualifying scores to be named a semifinalist this cycle, as usually semifinalists score in the top 1% of PSAT takers.

However, Commended Students do receive letters of commendation from the NMSC, to recognize the significant academic achievement of scoring so well on the PSAT. And while Commended Students are not eligible to compete for the official National Merit Scholarship, as semifinalists are, by being recognized in this way they often do become candidates for special merit scholarship awards offered by statewide agencies and corporate sponsors. You can read more about that below under “Special Scholarships.”

National Merit Semifinalists

Test takers who score in the top 1% of the PSAT become Semifinalists, a significant achievement. Each year the NMSC awards semifinalist status to around 16,000 high school students. Gaining recognition as a National Merit Semifinalist is a prestigious achievement to include on college applications, and many colleges and corporate sponsors offer special scholarships to these students, even if they don’t become finalists.

At the same time, of course, semifinalists are eligible to submit a scholarship application to become National Merit Finalists. This application is actually quite similar to the college application process. Semifinalists must submit to the NMSC:

Be sure to get advice and feedback from a trusted source on your materials, especially the essay. Reaching semifinalist standing is not a guarantee that you will become a National Merit Finalist. You need a strong application that shows the NMSC why you’re a great all-around candidate for a merit scholarship, not just a strong student.

The strongest semifinalist applicants are named National Merit Scholarship Finalists, and are notified in February of their senior years. Their high schools are also notified, and principals are sent Certificates of Merit to present to the Finalists.

Winner Selection

Finally, from the remaining Finalists, approximately 7,500 students are selected as Scholars. From March until the end of the school year, National Merit scholarship winners are awarded one of three types of National Merit Scholarship. Some come directly from the NMSC, while others are awarded by businesses, foundations, professional organizations, and colleges:

Special Scholarships

Additionally, around 1,000 National Merit program participants who do not become Finalists win Special Scholarships from corporate and business organizations. Students must meet the sponsor’s criteria and submit an initial entry form. Then, NMSC contacts candidates through their high schools to request more detailed scholarship applications. The candidates are then evaluated by the NMSC and awarded later in the school year. These awards may be single-time or renewable for up to four years.

Final Thoughts

The National Merit Scholarship is only one of many merit scholarships that students can win in the college application process, but it is among the most prestigious. Furthermore, in addition to the cachet of becoming a National Merit Scholarship winner, there are a variety of additional benefits to participating in the National Merit program. Reaching the status of Commended Student or Semifinalist is a strong indicator of your academic excellence to include in your application, and may enable you to apply for Special Scholarships.

The best way to get yourself in the running for the National Merit Scholarship is to prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT. Don’t wait until junior year; get ahead of the curve as much as you can. After that, if you do become eligible to apply for finalist standing, don’t write your application alone! Much like admission to selective universities, National Merit program participants are evaluated on much more than their academics. Make sure you have a trusted partner in your corner to help guide you through the application.

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What Is a National Merit® Scholarship

The National Merit Corporation is a privately funded NGO organization that awards brilliant students with a prestigious Merit Scholarship to cover their academic fees. It was founded in 1955, and since then, it has helped over 3 million students achieve their academic dreams. The National Merit Corporation runs two types of programs. The National Merit Scholarship Program awards U.S. high school students that excel at academic performance. The other one, the National Achievement Scholarship Program, founded in 1964, helps Black American youth to pursue their studies. Students applying for one of their scholarships must pass a competition, and our personal statement writers can be very useful for that. These are the different stages of it:

All You Need to Know about the National Merit® Scholarship Program

If you are thinking of applying for one of their scholarships, you should be aware of the National Merit Scholarship requirements. To be considered for one of their grants, you should attend a U.S high school. You could also attend a school within the U.S Commonwealth or the District of Columbia. You need to be a U.S citizen or be living lawfully in the U.S. as a permanent resident.

Another requirement you should meet is that you need to be a high school student. But, you can be coursing a traditional high school or be a homeschooled student. You should also take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test in the stated year of the high school program. If you meet all the requirements, then you can move into the application process. These are the steps for the application process:

What You Should Know about the National Merit® Scholarship Application Essay

If you are a semifinalist, as part of your National Merit Scholarship application you will need to submit a self-descriptive essay. In this essay, the jury will judge how well do you express yourself, your word choice, and will get to know you a little bit more. The application essay should help you beat the competition. Since you will be competing with highly talented students from all the territory, you will need to make sure that your application remains memorable.

Your personal application essay is an extremely important part of your application. Just like your scores, your essay will demonstrate your academic abilities. It will tell the jury how well can you express your thoughts on paper, and what do you think about yourself. These two points help them get an idea of the candidate. And if they like your answer to the essay, you can probably win the competition.

Learn How to Write a National Merit® Scholarship Essay

If you need to write an essay as part of your application, make sure you submit a winning National Merit Scholarship essay. Learning how to create one can improve your chances of winning the competition. Here is some expert advice that will help you write a winning essay. Take a look at them:

Our Services Can Help You Submit a Winning National Merit® Scholarship Essay

Even if you know how to write a National Merit Scholarship essay, you may struggle with thinking about how to organize the information you want to include. And it is no wonder. When you consider that only 1% of the semifinalists made it to the final stage, and only half of them receive a scholarship, writer’s block might start knocking on your door.

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  1. Reflection Essay: National merit scholarship essay

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  2. National Merit Scholarship

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  3. History Essay: National merit scholarship essay examples

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  4. National Merit Semifinalists named

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  5. National Merit Finalist

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  6. 43+ National Merit Scholarship Essay Examples Background

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  1. Extended Definition Essay


  1. How Long Is a 500-Word Essay?

    A 500-word essay averages two double-spaced pages. The length of a document depends on the paper and margin sizes as well as the general text formatting.

  2. How Long Is a 200 Word Essay?

    An essay containing 200 words is limited in length, requiring between three and five paragraphs depending on the sentence structure and vocabulary used. An essay is a short piece of writing about a particular topic.

  3. What Is a “who Am I” Essay?

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  4. National Merit Finalist

    The space allows for about 500 - 600 words. You should focus on two important components of the essay. First, the NMC wants to see that you can

  5. Essay There IS a 500 word Limit !!!!

    Essay There IS a 500 word Limit !!!! Paying for College National Merit Scholarships · PinkHarley October 8, 2011, 3:27pm #1.

  6. Requirements and Instructions for Semifinalists in the 2023 National

    Immediately after the end of the current term, you must arrange to have your college

  7. National Merit Scholarship (How to Win It!): The Winner's Guide

    Your NMSC essay must be 500-600 words. The personal essay topic varies each year. Here's one example from a previous year: To help the reviewers get to know you

  8. PSAT National Merit FAQ

    There is not a word limit specified, but the essay must fit within the provided space (approximately 3500 characters).

  9. PSAT National Merit FAQ

    There is not a word limit specified, but the essay must fit within the provided space (approximately 3500 characters). Expect to keep your essay to 600


    limits of scholarships it finances and decides whether.

  11. Competition Steps FAQ

    How many participants are honored annually in the National Merit Scholarship Program?

  12. How to Write a National Merit Essay

    Continuing to compete as a finalist means completing an application, which includes an essay. While there is no one "correct” way to write this essay, you can

  13. Understanding the National Merit Scholarship Program

    Upon receiving their PSAT scores, high scorers may be designated by the NMSC as Commended Students, Semifinalists, or (after an additional application)

  14. How to Write a Winning National Merit Scholarship Essay

    Your essay should be written in 500 to 600 words. Make sure you meet the word count as it will demonstrate that you know how to summarize information and