National Merit Scholarships

Scholarships for National Merit finalists.

One of the highest honors a graduating high school senior can achieve is being awarded a National Merit Scholarship. Founded in 1955, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation awards $500-$2,000 to 15,000 finalists each year. Funding for this prestigious award comes from private corporations and approximately 200 universities across the United States.

Although the National Merit Scholarship is a merit based scholarship, you will be required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) to be considered eligible.

Qualifying Entry Requirements

According to their website, these are the requirements for the National Merit Scholarship Program:

  • Take the PSAT no later than year three in a 9-12 grade high school
  • Be a currently enrolled high school student on the path to graduation and eventually full time entry in university. Additionally, students must plan to enroll in college no later than the fall semester after high school graduation
  • Be a US Citizen in good standing

Although this is largely a merit based scholarship, you will be required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) to be considered eligible.

How to Apply

Taking the preliminary SAT (PSAT) standardized test is the first step in the National Merit Scholarship process. Each state has its own cutoff scores to determine semifinalists. (NOTE: While it is known that each state has its own cutoff scores, these numbers are not made public)

Those who qualify as semifinalists must take the SAT, submit a high school transcript and write a personal statement. From there, selection is up to the National Merit Scholarship Committee.

Types of National Merit Scholarships

Per the NMSC website, there are three types of scholarships available to finalists.

  • National Merit Scholarship: The standard scholarship awarded to finalists, typically worth $2,500.
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship: You must be a child of an employee or a resident in an area where a company has operation, or a corporation must select you
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarship: Each sponsor school chooses to award Finalists. These scholarships may be renewed each year of undergraduate study. For example, Georgia Tech has eight funds that contribute (GA Tech) financial aid to National Merit Scholars.

Non-Financial Benefits

At the University of Oklahoma, which has the most National Merit Scholars of all public universities, benefits beyond the financial stipend include early enrollment, admission into the honors college, additional advisory help, and possible additional scholarships. If you are a selected as a National Merit Scholar, check with the Universities you are considering to see what benefits may be available to you.

What if I’m Not Eligible?

If you’re not eligible for a National Merit Scholarship, you may be eligible for other forms of financial aid through the organization. Every year, approximately 1,300 scholarships are given to individuals who are not selected as National Merit Finalists.

These scholarships are funded by corporations and business organizations, and they have their own separate set of criteria. However, note that while the criteria may differ, selection and evaluation is still handled through the NMSC staff. These scholarships are a combination of one-time and four-year awards.

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