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.

The 2023 PSAT/NMSQT testing window is October 2 – October 31. Schools can test on any day during that window, or on Saturday, October 14.

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 Reading and Writing, and Math. These recognized students are classified as either Commended Students, who do not continue in the competition for National Merit scholarships (but may become candidates for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses) or Semifinalists, who progress in the competition.

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 2024, the Commended cutoff will remain at 207, meaning that eligible juniors with a score of 207 or above will be either Commended or Semifinalists.

Cutoff scores for the Class of 2024 were released in early September. The Semifinalist qualifying score ranged from a high of 223 (out of a possible 228) for New Jersey and D.C., to a low of 207 for New Mexico, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Out of the more than 16,000 national Semifinalists, more than 15,000 become Finalists after meeting additional requirements, including high grades and an application essay.

Only about 0.5% of the original pool of test-takers, or 2,500 students total, become National Merit Scholarship winners, for which they are awarded a single payment of $2,500. An additional 4,750 Finalists are awarded corporate- or college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards.

College-Sponsored Scholarships

About 180 schools offer generous scholarships to National Merit Semifinalists 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. Finalists who notify the NMSC of their first choice sponsor college before March 1 are included in the first group sent to that institution for scholarship consideration. From March 1 through May 31, NMSC will periodically notify sponsor colleges of additional Finalists who identify their first choice college. See these guidelines for additional information. Individual schools may have earlier deadline requirements.

A few colleges that sponsor Merit scholarships:

  • Boston University: Finalists receive a 4-year $25,000 tuition BU Presidential Scholarship.
  • Fordham University: The Fordham Recognition Scholarship is awarded to Semifinalists 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. Students are required to designate Northeastern University-Boston as their college choice by the priority deadline (in 2023 this was April 2) in order to be eligible.
  • 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: Finalists who designate USC as their first-choice school by the May 31 deadline are awarded the Presidential Scholarship of half-tuition for four years.
  • University of Oklahoma: Finalists receive $71,100 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 were a few of the approximately 220 corporations that sponsor scholarships, as of the 2023 National Merit Scholarship competition. 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 950 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. In addition, every year about 800 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!