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Articles / Applying to College / National Merit Qualifying Scores May Look Different This Year

Sept. 4, 2021

National Merit Qualifying Scores May Look Different This Year

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Photo of Student Wearing Headphones and Looking at Laptop by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

NMS Qualifying Scores May Be Lower for the Class of 2022

In the past, about 1.5 million high school students a year enter the National Merit® Scholarship Program by taking the PSAT, but 2020 and 2021 were anything but usual.

Qualifying scores for the National Merit Scholarship Program for the class of 2022 may look a bit different than in the past. Far fewer students took the qualifying exams in October 2020 and January 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimate that about one-third of students who would have taken the PSAT/NMSQT® in their junior year did not take the test.

This dramatic drop in participation makes it harder to estimate the range of scores for students who did take the exam based on historical numbers. Some experts believe that the decrease in participation means that qualifying scores will be lower this year than in the past, and therefore more students will qualify as Semifinalists. This hypothesis seems to be supported by the information that the Commended Student qualifying score is 207 for 2021, down from 209 last year and 2012 the year before.

An increase in the number of students who qualify as Semifinalists does not mean an increase in the number of Finalists or scholarships, however. NMSC would still limit the total number of Finalists who are eligible for scholarships to 15,000, making it more difficult for Semifinalists to become Finalists. Traditionally, about 95 percent of Semifinalists go on to become Finalists.

Students who were unable to take the PSAT/NMSQT in October 2020 or January 2021 could have applied for Alternate Entry into the NMS program, but the deadline for this was April 2021. The scores of students who did do Alternate Entry do not effect state cut-offs.

Keep reading for a list of confirmed and expected National Merit qualifying scores, as well as the hardest and easiest places to qualify as a Semifinalist and the how to participate in the program in 2021/2022.

Is Being a National Merit Semifinalist Really That Big a Deal? See what CC's Resident Dean says.

Class of 2022 National Merit Semifinalist Qualifying Scores by State (Expected Scores, in Alphabetical Order)

Confirmed states are noted and will be updated as confirmed

The scores below are estimates of the score needed to qualify as a National Merit Semifinalist in September 2021. All Semifinalists will be officially notified if they have earned a score that qualifies them for the NMS program in their state around September 16th.

*210 is the lowest qualifying score ever seen in OK.

Visit the CC NMS Forums the see which scores qualified other members the Class of 2022 as National Merit Semifinalists.

Check back for updates as states are confirmed! The estimates and ranges above are informed by the estimates and ranges determined through comprehensive analysis by Art Sawyer.

What Kinds of National Merit Scholarships Are There?

There are three main types of National Merit Scholarships:

  1. National Merit® $2500 Scholarships
  2. Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards
  3. College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards

National Merit® $2500 Scholarships

Winners of theses official scholarship from the National Merit organization receive a one-time payment of $2500. Scholarship recipients are chosen by a committee of college admission officers and high school counselors.

Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards

About 220 private corporation offer awards to National Merit finalists from their community. These awards are usually reserved for children of employees, members of the local community, or students with specific career goals or intended majors. Corporate-sponsored scholarships range in size and can be one-time gifts, or scholarships that renew for all four years of a student's education.

Sponsor corporations also offer "Special Scholarships" to 1,100 students who participated in the National Merit Scholars Program but were not chosen as finalists.

2021 National Merit Corporate Sponsors include:

  • CBS Corporation
  • FedEx
  • Estee Lauder
  • Georgia-Pacific
  • GEICO Philanthropic Foundation
  • UPS
  • SONY
  • Southwest Airlines
  • State Farm
  • 3M Company
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Pfizer
  • Walgreens

View a full list of all of the 2021 corporate sponsors of the NMS program.

College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards

Each year, colleges and universities provide around 4,100 National Merit Scholarship awards for NMS Finalists who attend their institutions. To be considered for a college-sponsored award, Finalists must notify the National Merit Scholarship Committee (NSMC) by a specified deadlines that they are planing to attend one of NMS's sponsor institutions and would like to be considered for a college-sponsored scholarship.

College-sponsored awards are renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study at the sponsor institution. These awards are stipends that range between $500 and $2,000 per year. Winners and the award amount are chosen by official representatives of each sponsor college. If a student decides not to attend the college where they have chosen for a National Merit Scholarship, the award with be cancelled.

Each sponsor college has a max number of National Merit scholarships to award each year, but they are not committed to awarding all of them.

Colleges that offer the most National Merit Scholarships each year include:

  1. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa (115 awards)
  2. Texas A&M University, and identified campuses (110 awards)
  3. University of Texas at Dallas (100 awards)
  4. Arizona State University (85 awards)
  5. University of Kentucky (75 awards)
  6. University of Oklahoma, and identified campuses (75 awards)
  7. University of Chicago (60 awards)
  8. Auburn University (55 awards)
  9. Carleton College (40 awards)
  10. Michigan State University (35 awards)
  11. University of Southern California (35 awards)
  12. Harvey Mudd College (30 awards)
  13. Purdue University (30 awards)
  14. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (30 awards)

Hundreds of other colleges also sponsor the NMS program, and offer between 3 and 30 National Merit scholarships each year.

Hardest States to Qualify as a National Merit Finalist in 2021

The following lists are based on historic numbers and expected cutoffs.

Semifinalists are the highest-scoring entrants in each state, so the qualifying scores for each state are slightly different, depending on how students in that state performed on the PSAT. California and New York are two of states that have traditionally scored the highest. North Dakota and West Virginia typically have lower qualify scores for NMS. See a full list of estimated qualifying scores by state below.

  1. California: 222
  2. District of Columbia: 222
  3. Maryland: 222
  4. Massachusetts: 222
  5. New Jersey: 222
  6. Virginia: 221
  7. Washington: 221
  8. Connecticut: 220
  9. Delaware: 220
  10. New York: 220
  11. Texas: 220

Easiest States to Qualify as National Merit Semifinalist 2021 (based on expected cut-offs)

  1. Alabama: 213
  2. Arkansas: 213
  3. Louisiana: 213
  4. Mississippi: 213
  5. New Mexico: 213
  6. Oklahoma: 213
  7. Utah: 213
  8. Montana: 212
  9. South Dakota: 211
  10. Wyoming: 211
  11. North Dakota : 210
  12. West Virginia: 210
  13. Oklahoma: 210 (confirmed)

Written by

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen is College Confidential's Senior Editor and Head of Content. She is a graduate of Kenyon College, where she majored in English and Creative Writing. She also earned a master’s in Psychology from The New School for Social Research in NYC.

Before becoming a full-time writer and editor, Joy coached thousands of prospective and enrolled college students on admissions and academic and career success. She also managed a team of academic and career coaches and consulted with universities on how to create programs that have better outcomes for students.

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