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. The program recognizes top students based on their performance on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which is administered in secondary schools across the country in October every year.

Here’s a look at the upcoming dates:

  • Primary test day: Wednesday, October 12, 2022
  • Saturday test day: October 15, 2022
  • Alternate test day: Tuesday, October 25, 2022

If you are unable to take the PSAT/NMSQT exam because of illness, an emergency, or another extenuating circumstance, but you otherwise meet all the requirements for NMSC program participation, write to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation immediately after the test date (and no later than the following April 1) to ask about alternate entry procedures. For more details, see the NMSC’s website.

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Qualifying Scores

Out of the 1.5 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, two-thirds are deemed “commended” based on national cut-offs, and one-third are designated “semi-finalists” based on state cut-offs. For the Class of 2023, the Commended cutoff will remain at 207, “the historical low set by the Class of 2022, [which] may reflect COVID-related learning losses.”

Cutoff scores for the Class of 2023 were released in early September. The semi-finalist qualifying score ranged from a high of 223 (out of a possible 228) for New Jersey, to a low of 207 for Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  As a point of reference, for the Class of 2022, the semi-finalist qualifying score ranged from a high of 224 (out of a possible 228) for Maryland, to a low of 207 for North Dakota and West Virginia.

Out of the 16,000 national semifinalists, 15,000 become finalists after meeting additional requirements, including high 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.

College-Sponsored Scholarships

Beyond these National Merit awards, there are additional Merit scholarships offered by colleges and corporations. About 180 schools offer generous scholarships to National Merit Semi-Finalists or Finalists who have been admitted and plan to attend. (Such Finalists must notify NMSC of their college plans by a specific date in the spring in order to be eligible; check the NMSC website to confirm the date for 2023, which has not yet been published.) A few colleges that sponsor Merit scholarships:

  • 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 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: A select number of first-year students who were named Finalists are awarded the Presidential Scholarship of half-tuition for four years.
  • University of Oklahoma: Finalists receive $69,100 over four years, and Semifinalists with a GPA of at least 3.5 receive $16,000 over four years.

Colleges in the Ivy League do not offer Merit scholarships, as they do not offer any merit-based financial aid.

Corporate-Sponsored Scholarships

FedEx, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer are a few of the approximately 220 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 about 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. In addition, every year about 1,000 National Merit participants “who are outstanding but 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! We invite you to set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!