The (PSAT/NMSQT) is a program 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 National Merit Scholarship program recognizes top students based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT, and the test is administered across the country in October every year. 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, and scholarship winners. Of the 50,000 students initially selected, one-third are “semi-finalists,” based on state cut-offs; and two-thirds are deemed “commended,” based on national cut-offs. For the Class of 2019, the highest semi-finalist qualifying score of 223 was for the states of California, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and 222 served as the semi-finalist qualifying score for Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington. North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had the lowest qualifying score, 212. Out of the 16,000 national semifinalists, 15,000 become finalists after meeting additional requirements, including high academic grades and an application essay.
Only about .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.
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:
- Boston University: Finalists receive 4-year $20,000 tuition BU Presidential Scholarship
- Fordham University: Scholarship for Semifinalists is awarded to finalists and semifinalists in NMS who have an A or A- average and are in the top 2-3% of all admitted students
- Northeastern University: Admitted students who are recognized as National Merit Finalists will receive a competitive merit-based award
- Texas A&M University: Scholarship package of $42,000 for residents, approximately $100,000 for non-residents due to out-of-state tuition waver
- USC: Finalists receive 4-year half-tuition (about $27,000) Presidential Scholarship
- University of Oklahoma: Finalists receive $63,000 cumulative total over 4 years; semi-finalists receive $16,000 total.
The University of Oklahoma is an example of an institution that sees enormous value in attracting National Merit scholars, enrolling about 200 per year. David Ray, Dean of the Honors College, states “Having these kinds of classmates motivates other students, it elevates class discussions, it’s a recruiting tool when we go after new students or faculty.”
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.
Navigating merit scholarships and taking advantage of any and all merit aid opportunities can seem daunting! Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are happy to help!