To participate in the National Merit® Scholarship Program, a student must:
Of the 1.5 million entrants, some 50,000 with the highest PSAT/NMSQT® Selection Index scores (critical reading + mathematics + writing skills scores) qualify for recognition in the National Merit® Scholarship Program. In April following the fall test administration, high-scoring participants from every state are invited to name two colleges or universities to which they would like to be referred by NMSC. In September, these high scorers are notified through their schools that they have qualified as either a Commended Student or Semifinalist.
In late September, more than two-thirds or about 34,000 of the approximately 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT® receive Letters of Commendation in recognition of their outstanding academic promise. Commended Students are named on the basis of a nationally applied Selection Index score that may vary from year to year and is below the level required for participants to be named Semifinalists in their respective states. Although Commended Students do not continue in the competition for Merit Scholarship® awards, some of these students do become candidates for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
In February, some 15,000 Semifinalists are notified by mail at their home addresses that they have advanced to Finalist standing. High school principals are notified and provided with a certificate to present to each Finalist.
All winners of Merit Scholarship® awards (Merit Scholar® designees) are chosen from the Finalist group, based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments–without regard to gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference. A variety of information is available for NMSC selectors to evaluate–the Finalist's academic record, information about the school's curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, school official's written recommendation, information about the student's activities and leadership, and the Finalist's own essay.
Beginning in March and continuing to mid-June, NMSC notifies approximately 8,200 Finalists at their home addresses that they have been selected to receive a Merit Scholarship® award. Merit Scholarship awards are of three types:
Merit Scholarship awards are supported by some 500 independent sponsors and by NMSC's own funds. Sponsor organizations include corporations and businesses, company foundations, professional associations, and colleges and universities.
Every year, some 1,500 National Merit® Program participants, who are outstanding but not Finalists, are awarded Special Scholarships provided by corporations and business organizations for students who meet the sponsor's criteria. To be considered for a Special Scholarship, students must meet the sponsor's criteria and entry requirements of the National Merit Scholarship Program. They also must submit an entry form to the sponsor organization. Subsequently, NMSC contacts a pool of high-scoring candidates through their respective high schools. These students and their school officials submit detailed scholarship applications. A committee of NMSC professional staff evaluates information about candidates' abilities, skills, and accomplishments and chooses winners of the sponsor's Special Scholarships. These scholarships may either be renewable for four years of undergraduate study or one-time awards.
Information from National Merit Scholarship Corporation.