The National Merit Semifinalist 2023 list has finally been released.
When it comes to the time high school scholars are getting into college, the words “National,” “Merit,” and “Scholarship” all sound perfect. Even better is when you realize that you already have a shot at this award because you took the PSAT in the fall of your junior year.
But it can’t be that easy, right? After all, the College Board says that more than 4.5 million juniors in high school took the PSAT last year. Still, only 7,500 were chosen as finalists for the National Merit Scholarship. Less than one-fifth of one percent.
What is National Merit Scholarship, and how does a high school student become a semifinalist or a finalist? How does the process of choosing people to affect your chances of getting into top colleges? And besides getting a scholarship, are there other reasons to earn National Merit recognition?
Read on to learn how to get a National Merit Scholarship, understand the process, and increase your chances of winning.
Who can get a National Merit Scholarship?
What comes first? The National Merit Scholarship Program is a national academic competition for high school students that gives them money to go to college. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation is in charge of it (NMSC).
If a student does well on the PSAT, they can join the National Merit program. In fact, the test’s full name is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT. Make sure you take the official PSAT/NMSQT and not something like the PSAT 10, which won’t count for the National Merit Scholarship.
When high scorers get their PSAT scores, the NMSC may call them Commended Students, Semifinalists, or Finalists (after they fill out a different application). About 7,500 students are chosen from the Finalists to receive scholarships.
For the National Merit Scholarship, there are three main things you need to do:
- Students must take the PSAT/NMSQT in the required year of high school and no later than the third year of grades 9–12. This means most students should take the test in the fall of their third year of high school.
- Students must be full-time high school students (either in a traditional school or at home), have good grades, and plan to go to college in the fall after graduating.
- Students must go to high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory or commonwealth, or they must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents going to high school abroad and U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
The NMSC will decide if a student is eligible for the program based on how they answer a few factual questions at the beginning of the PSAT/NMSQT.
Winners of this scholarship program get $2,500 each.
How to Get on the National Merit List
Even though the PSAT/NMSQT is the first step in getting a National Merit Scholarship or making it to the semifinals or finals, it is not the end of the process. There are a few important steps to remember in the process:
Get a Great Score on the PSAT!
The most important thing is getting a perfect score on the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior. Most students need to score in the top 1 percent of their state on a test to get a National Merit Scholarship. This means that the score cutoff will depend on where you live and how well other people in your state did on the PSAT. You’ll find out if you made it to the semifinals in September of your senior year.
At this point, you could be called a “Commended Student” or a “Semifinalist.” Both are good marks that you should include on your college application. Less than 5% of people who take the test are praised by the National Merit program.
Write an Excellent Application
If you are a National Merit Semifinalist, congratulations! Now is the time to put in an application to be a Finalist. Only a few semifinalists move on to become finalists and win the award, so this scholarship application is an important step. You can find out more about this under “National Merit Semifinalists” further down.
Get a good SAT score
You still have to take the SAT. National Merit Finalists do well on the PSAT, but they also do well on the SAT. You’ll also have to send your official SAT scores from the College Board as part of your scholarship application.
The NMSC and College Board don’t suggest a cutoff score for the SAT; they only say that it should be “high enough to confirm your PSAT/NMSQT performance.” So, suppose you do well on the PSAT. In that case, it’s very important to keep studying for the SAT so that if you become a Semifinalist, you’ll be in an excellent position to apply to become a Finalist.
How to Get a National Merit Scholarship Score
The NMSC figures out your overall score on the PSAT after you’ve taken it. Every year, they use selection index scores to look at PSAT scores. The top scores on the PSAT/NMSQT from last year are listed below. Note that these selection index scores are different for each state. Find yours to see how competitive the National Merit Scholarship Competition will be in your area:
|SELECTION INDEX SCORE
As you can see, the average cutoff score is 218. Still, if you live in Wyoming or Iowa, you might qualify with a lower score. In contrast, you will probably need a higher score if you live in Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Washington, DC. In general, your chances of making it to the Semifinals go up a lot if you get 4-5 points higher than the average cutoff score for your state.
How to choose: Honorable Mention, Semifinalist, and Winner
If you do well on the PSAT/NMSQT, the NMSC may name you a Commended Student in September of your senior year. Most of the time, the top 3–4 percent of PSAT scorers, or about 35,000 students, are called “commended students.” This is a big deal, but it also means that these students did not get high enough scores to be named a semifinalist this time around. Usually, semifinalists score in the top 1% of all PSAT takers.
But Commended students get letters of commendation from the NMSC because they did so well on the PSAT, which is a big academic accomplishment. Even though Commended Students can’t compete for the official National Merit Scholarship, semifinalists can be recognized. This often makes them eligible for special merit scholarships from state agencies and companies. Under “Special Scholarships,” you can find out more about this.
Semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship 2023
National merit semifinalists 2023 are people who scored in the top 1 percent on the PSAT. This is a big deal. About 16,000 high school students are named semifinalists by the NMSC every year. Being a National Merit Semifinalist is a great accomplishment to put on a college application. Many colleges and companies offer special scholarships even if a student doesn’t make it to the finals.
At the same time, semifinalists can apply for scholarships to become National Merit Finalists. The process of filling out this application is much like filling out a college application. Semifinalists must send the following to the NMSC:
- Their high school records or other records from the school
- A recommendation letter (usually from your high school principal)
- A personal essay is usually about something you’ve done or been through.
- Make sure to get advice and feedback on your work, especially the essay, from someone you can trust. Even if you are a National Merit Semifinalist, that doesn’t mean you will be a National Merit Finalist. You need a strong application that shows the NMSC why you’re not just a good student but also a great candidate for a merit scholarship.
Requirements and Instructions for Semifinalists in the 2023 National Merit® Scholarship Program
Read this whole document and make sure you know what you need to do. If you have any questions about the information here or in the document Information about the 2023 National Merit® Scholarship Competition, please call the Scholarship Administration department. They can be reached at (847) 866-5161 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Time, Monday through Friday.
You can send in your National Merit Scholarship Application through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s (NMSC) Online Scholarship Application (OSA). Follow all of the instructions to make sure your application is complete and that no information is cut off.
DEADLINE: Your National Merit Semifinalist Application must be completed and sent to NMSC by October 6, 2021. Your high school might give you a different deadline for turning in your part of the application.
You can send NMSC your SAT® or ACT® scores or sign up to take the SAT or ACT. (See Taking the SAT or ACT and Sending in Your Scores on page 2.)
DEADLINE: If NMSC doesn’t get a report of your SAT or ACT scores by January 31, 2022, you will be taken out of the competition. For full award consideration, you must send your scores to NMSC by December 31, 2021.
Check page 2 to see if there are any extra steps you need to take if you go to high school outside the U.S. and are not a U.S. citizen or if you have already graduated from high school and are in college full-time.
It’s up to you to make sure your mailing address and email address are always correct. Your Online Scholarship Application account lets you make changes at any time during the year.
The best semifinalist applicants are named National Merit Scholarship Finalists, and they find out in February of their senior year. Their high schools told, and Certificates of Merit are sent to the principals to give to the Finalists.
Choosing the Winner
Finally, about 7,500 students are chosen as Scholars from the remaining Finalists. Winners of a National Merit Scholarship get one of three types of scholarships between March and the end of the school year. Some come directly from the NMSC, while others are given by businesses, foundations, professional organizations, and colleges:
A $2,500 National Merit Scholarship. A committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors looks at all finalists and gives them a grade. Each state gives out these one-time scholarships. Winners are chosen without considering how much money a student has, what college they want to go to, what they want to study, or what they want to do for a career.
Scholarships are based on merit that is paid for by businesses. These awards are given to relatives of employees, people who live in a town where a business is located, or Finalists whose major and/or career goals are important to the sponsor. Some awards can be used each year of college, while others can only be used once.
Colleges give out merit-based scholarships. Lastly, officials from each sponsor college choose the finalists. These students have (1) been accepted to that college and (2) told NMSC that it is their first choice. These awards are given by the college and can be used up to four times. Here is where you can find the deadline for giving the first choice.
Also, about 1,000 people who enter the National Merit program but don’t become Finalists win Special Scholarships from business and corporate groups. Students must fill out an initial entry form and meet the criteria set by the sponsor. Then, NMSC gets in touch with candidates through their high schools to ask for more detailed scholarship applications. The NMSC then looks at the candidates and gives out the awards later in the school year. These grants can be given only once, or they can be renewed for up to four years.
The National Merit Scholarship is one of the most prestigious merit-based scholarships that students can win when applying to college. Also, besides the prestige of winning a National Merit Scholarship, there are several other reasons to join the National Merit program. Reaching the level of Commended Student or Semifinalist is a strong sign of your academic excellence that you can put on your application, and it may allow you to apply for Special Scholarships.
Preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT is the best way to be considered for the National Merit Scholarship. Don’t wait until your junior year; do as much as possible to get ahead. If you become eligible to apply to be a finalist, don’t write your application yourself! Participants in the National Merit program are judged more than their grades, just like those who want to get into selective colleges. Make sure you have someone you can trust to help you through the application process.