The National Merit Scholarship program is co-sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation, with the goal of “honoring scholastically talented youth and encouraging academic excellence at all levels of education.” The program recognizes top students based on their performance on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) and the test is administered in secondary schools across the country in October every year.

But what about those students who couldn’t take the PSAT exam during the pandemic, due to illness, school closures, or other unexpected circumstances?

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation released guidelines for Alternate Entry for 2021, which will continue for the 2022 National Merit Scholarship Program. Rising seniors in the Class of 2022 are able to enter the competition using SAT scores if they were unable to take the PSAT/NMSQT. The SAT exam must have been taken between August 2020 and June 2021, and the student should request that the College Board send an official score report to NMSC (National Merit Scholarship Corporation). An online Alternate Entry Form must be completed by the student no later than April 1, 2021, and the NMSC must receive test score reports by October 15, 2021.

The Class of 2023 and beyond should expect to follow the typical entry requirements of taking the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall of junior year. Here’s a look at the upcoming dates:

Qualifying Scores

Out of the 1.6 million students who sit for the exam, honors are awarded to about 50,000 with the highest combined score on the two sections of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. These recognized students are classified into several categories:

  • Commended
  • Semifinalists
  • Finalists
  • Scholarship Winners

Of the 50,000 students initially selected, one-third are designated “semi-finalists” based on state cut-offs, and two-thirds are deemed “commended” based on national cut-offs. For the Class of 2021, the semi-finalist qualifying score of 222 (out of a possible 228) was the highest cut-off in the states of DC, Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and 221 served as the semi-finalist qualifying score for California, Maryland, and Virginia. The states of North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had the lowest qualifying score of 209. Out of the 16,000 national semifinalists, 15,000 become finalists after meeting additional requirements, including high academic grades and an application essay. Since fewer students were testing this year due to effects of the pandemic, the cut offs averaged two points lower than typical years.

Only about 0.5% of the original pool of test-takers become scholarship winners. National Merit Scholarships are awarded to 2,500 students and consist of a single payment of $2,500. In addition, about 230 corporations and 180 colleges provide National Merit scholarships.

College-Sponsored Scholarships

Colleges in the Ivy League do not participate in NMS, as they do not offer any merit-based financial aid. However, the following institutions offer generous scholarships through the National Merit program, either to semi-finalists or finalists:

  • Boston University: Finalists receive 4-year $25,000 tuition BU Presidential Scholarship.
  • Fordham University: The Fordham Recognition Scholarship is awarded to semifinalists in NMS who are in the top 3% of the admitted student pool.
  • Northeastern University: Admitted students who are recognized as National Merit Finalists will receive a competitive merit-based award
  • Texas A&M University: Semifinalists are guaranteed the President’s Endowed Scholarship of $12,000 over four years plus a $1,000 Study Abroad Stipend; Finalists receive an additional National Merit Recognition Award of $28,000 over four years and a National Merit Sponsorship of $2,000.
  • University of Southern California: Approximately 200 first-year students who were named finalists are awarded the Presidential Scholarship of half-tuition for four years.
  • University of Oklahoma: Finalists receive $68,500 over four years, and semi-finalists receive $16,000 over four years.

Corporate-Sponsored Scholarships

CBS, the Dow Jones Foundation, FedEx, Macy’s Inc., and Pfizer Inc. are a few of the corporations that sponsor scholarships. According to NMSC, “Most corporate-sponsored awards are designated for children of a sponsor’s employees or members. However, some are offered for residents of a community where a company has operations or for students with college major or career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage.”

These awards may be given on a one-time basis or for all four years of college. Currently, there are 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. In addition, every year about 1,100 National Merit participants who are not Finalists receive Special Scholarships provided by businesses.

At Collegiate Gateway, we know that navigating merit scholarships and taking advantage of merit aid opportunities can seem daunting! Explore the upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!