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Articles / Preparing for College / National Merit Scholarships: Top Questions Answered

National Merit Scholarships: Top Questions Answered

Joy Bullen
Written by Joy Bullen | Sept. 8, 2021

What is the National Merit Scholars Program?

Florida Atlantic University

The National Merit Scholarship Program began in 1955 as a way to recognize and provide scholarships to exceptional high-school students from around the country. Each year, around 50,000 high school students are recognized in the National Merit® Scholarship Program as either semifinalists or commended students.

Watch the video below to hear from real National Merit Scholars from Florida Atlantic University.

What Kinds of National Merit Scholarships Are There?

There are four different categories of scholarships available for National Merit finalists.

  1. National Merit® $2500 Scholarships
  2. Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarship awards
  3. College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarship awards
  4. College Board Opportunity Scholarships

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.

2022 National Merit Corporate Sponsors include:

  • CBS Corporation
  • The Dollar Tree
  • 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 Board Opportunities Scholarships

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 from $500 per year up to full-tuition or full cost of living.

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.

College Board Opportunity Scholarships

In addition to the scholarships offered by corporate sponsors and individual colleges, the College Board partners with 26 scholarship providers. While not only scholarship are only for National Merit Scholars, NMS scholars may be competitive for most of them. NMSC is a cosponsor of the College Board's PSAT/NMSQT.

Opportunity Scholarship partners include, among others:

  • The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
  • The Jackie Robinson Foundation
  • The Ford Family Foundation
  • The United Negro Fund
  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund

When taking the PSAT/NMSQT, be sure to opt in to Student Search Service. If you qualify, you'll be notified and encouraged to apply for scholarships in the fall of your junior year.

What is a National Merit Scholar?

National Merit scholars are high school students who are recognized with exceptional academic progress. If they go on to become National Merit finalists, they may win scholarship money too.

There are three types of National Merit Scholars: Commended students, semifinalists, and finalists.

National Merit Semifinalists

In early September, about 16,000 of the 50,000 highest scorers from each state will be notified that they have qualified as Semifinalists. Semifinalists will be notified through their schools and given materials explaining what is requirement to moved forward in the competition for National Merit Scholarships 2021/2022. Semifinalists who are homeschooled will be notified at home.

Commended Students

After the 16,000 top-scorers from across the country have been notified, the remaining 34,000 high scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT will be named Commended Students. These students receive Letters of Commendation recognizing their exceptional academic promise, but they do not qualify to continue on for official National Merit Scholarships. Commended students may be eligible for the 1,100 Special Scholarships offered by corporate sponsors of the program, however.

National Merit Finalists

In February, around 15,000 (or 95 percent) of the semifinalists will earn the distinction of becoming an NMS Finalist. Finalists must submit an application, and are chosen based on letters of recommendation, activities and demonstrated leadership, and an essay.

From March to June, about half of all finalists will be notified that they have won one of three types of National Merit Scholarships for Finalists.

Watch the video below to learn more about interpreting your PSAT/NMSQT® score report.

How Do I Participate In the National Merit Scholars Program in 2022?

To participate in the National Merit Scholars Program, high school students must take the PSAT/NMSQT® at a local high school or approved location in the certain year of high school, usually their junior year or the students second-to-last year of high school. After taking the exam, students will receive a score report.

Students who meet the program participation requirements and earn a PSAT score that qualifies them to be a finalist will not have an asterisk next to their score on the score report. Finalist will be officially notified through their school, or at home if they are homeschooled.

Can I Take the PSAT More Than Once?

No, students are only allowed to take the PSAT/NMSQT once per academic year. If you are sick on the day of the test or have another extenuating circumstance, you may be able to take the test during the Alternate date.

Next 2021-2022 PSAT/NMSQT Dates

Visit College Board for more information on upcoming test dates.

  • Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - Primary test day
  • October 16, 2021 - Saturday test day
  • Tuesday, October 26, 2021 - Alternate test day

Most students will take the PSAT/NMSQT at their high school. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the College Board will provide flexible testing policies and an Alternate test date. All in-person testers will be required to maintain three feet of distance between desks and follow other Department of Health recommendations.

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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