Student Life

How to Apply for National Merit Scholarship

There’s more to the National Merit application than taking the PSAT.

Student Contributor, Piper Megellas

June 12, 2023

How to Apply for National Merit Scholarship
How does a National Merit Semifinalist become a National Merit Scholar?
September rolls around, and you find out that your PSAT scores from nearly a year ago have qualified you to apply for National Merit. Great! You’re probably excited and ready to jump right in, but you might feel a little confused. The PSAT is headlined as the major qualification for National Merit - and it is the first thing you need to get your foot in the door. But after achieving a qualifying score, there are still a few steps left on your journey. So, what are they? What comes next in your application and how can you maximize your chances of earning National Merit?

How to Apply for National Merit Scholarship

Semifinalists - students that have scored within the top one percent of test takers in their state - will be notified in early September. Along with their notification, they will receive instructions on how to access their applicant portal where the rest of their application will take place. Students will have approximately one month to fill out the remainder of the application for finalist status. Luckily, the application isn’t too complicated, especially in comparison with the college applications they will certainly be filling out. As part of the application, students will need to receive an endorsement from their school principal or another administrator, provide confirming SAT or ACT scores, and write a short essay. “Confirming scores” are set each year by NMSC on a national basis and are used to confirm that the score a student received on the PSAT is representative of their overall academic and test-taking abilities and not, for lack of a better term, a fluke.
As such, these scores should not be difficult to achieve for semifinalists, as they generally are less difficult to achieve than the scores required to achieve semifinalist status. Students will need to have the ACT or SAT officially send their scores to NMSC for confirmation. The essay portion of the application resembles many other application essays and is of a similar length. One past prompt is: “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.” This essay prompt has heavy overlap with the essay prompts frequently seen on the Common Application, so some students may already have something to write about. If so, great! The Common Application essay should be well-edited and thought out, so feel free to use it for the National Merit application as well.
There is nothing wrong with reusing an essay, but make sure to entirely answer the essay question. While filling out the application, remember that although the vast majority of semifinalists move on to finalist status, the same application will be used to help determine final awards, and as such, it’s important to take it seriously. In February, semifinalists will find out whether they moved on to finalist standing. In April, finalists may begin to hear back regarding scholarships.

Types of National Merit Scholarships

There are three distinct types of scholarships that a finalist may win - corporate, national, and institutional.

Institutional Awards

Institutional awards are generally the first that a student is considered for, and eligibility for these awards is based off the university or college a student picked as their top choice school. Through NMSC, participating institutions offer scholarships that range from a couple thousand dollars through full cost of attendance. If a student designated an institution that participates in institutional National Merit as their top choice, and are planning on attending, they will default to receiving this scholarship through the university of their choice.

Corporate Awards

Corporate awards are offered through partnerships between the NMSC and various corporations and are frequently reserved for the children of employees at a given corporation.

National Awards

Lastly, national awards are available to all finalists and are always worth $2,500. Upon receiving news of a scholarship offer, the student will need to work with the given sponsor, whether that be NMSC, a college, or some other entity, to accept the scholarship and receive the money. Then, it’s time to sit back and relax. All their hard work has paid off! And all in all, the National Merit application process isn’t as daunting as it seems. With a killer essay and some solid test scores, any semifinalist can get themselves in the running for National Merit. In just a few short months, they could be a National Merit Scholar - a designation they will wear with pride for years to come.

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