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National Merit Scholarship Qualifications

If you're a high school junior or the parent of a high school junior, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the National Merit Scholarship qualifications, as most juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October of their junior year.

National Merit Scholarship Qualifications

  • In order to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program, a student must: 1) take the PSAT/NMSQT during his or her 3rd year (junior year) of high school 2) be enrolled as a high school student (traditional or homeschooled) and plan to enroll in college full time by the fall after his or her high school graduation and 3) attend high school in the U.S., the District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealth and territory; or meet citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the U.S.* If a student meets these requirements, he or she will automatically be eligible to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP).
  • Of the about 1.6 million juniors who take the PSAT/NMSQT each year, approximately 50,000 juniors with the highest PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index scores (or total PSAT scores) who meet the eligibility requirements described above qualify for NMSP recognition. That is, roughly the top 3% of 11th grade testers will qualify. Note that the Selection Index qualifying scores vary from year to year and state to state, as students are selected for NMSP recognition from each of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. During the April following the PSAT/NMSQT administration, these 50,000 students are invited to select two colleges to which the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) will provide a reference.
  • During the September following the PSAT/NMSQT administration, approximately 2/3 of those 50,000 students will receive Letters of Commendation recognizing their academic abilities and potential. Commended students are not eligible for National Merit scholarships. The remaining 1/3 of the 50,000 students qualify as National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists. To view a list of the most recent qualifying scores by state, visit our National Merit Scores page.
  • Once a student qualifies as a Semifinalist, he or she must complete the National Merit Scholarship Application and submit it to the NMSC in order to move on to the next round of qualifications (Finalist) and to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Additionally, if he or she has not yet taken the SAT and had those scores reported to the NMSC, he or she must do so in October, November, or December of his or her senior year.
  • During the February of senior year, NMSC will notify those Semifinalists who have qualified as Finalists. Of the roughly 16,000 students who qualify as Semifinalists, about 15,000 of them will qualify as Finalists. Of those 15,000 Finalists, approximately 7,600 of them will be selected for Merit Scholarships. There will also be approximately 1,100 Special Scholarship winners who did not qualify as Finalists, but met their sponsors’ eligibility criteria. Scholarships are awarded based on skills, abilities, and accomplishments as exhibited through a student's application materials.

*Students attending high school outside the U.S.: To be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program, students attending high school outside the United States must either be a citizen of the U.S. or a U.S. lawful resident, meaning that they have applied for permanent residence, the application has not been denied, and that they intend to become a citizen as soon as the application is accepted.

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