ACT & SATTest Prep

National Merit—Will You Qualify?

national merit

Each October, high school students across the country take the PSAT to practice for the SAT. What many students and parents don’t realize is that the PSAT can qualify students for National Merit Scholarships—which can provide anywhere from a few thousand dollars to full tuition at the college of their choice.

Who is Eligible?

To participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program, students need to take the PSAT during their third year (junior year) of high school. Participants must be United States citizens, or lawful permanent residents with the intent to become a citizen at the earliest possible opportunity.

All students are welcome to take the PSAT, so don’t worry if you don’t meet the above criteria. However, not all students who take the PSAT will be considered for scholarships- even if they earn perfect scores.

How Do I Participate?

Registration for the PSAT is done through your high school—check with your guidance counselor for information. Homeschool students can contact any high school in their area to register for the test.

Students are automatically considered for National Merit Scholarships when they take the PSAT—no additional registration is required.

What PSAT Score Do I Need to Qualify?

This is the big question—and I wish I could give you a simple answer. The fact is, the qualifying score changes from year to year, and from state to state. (Confusing, I know!)

National Merit recognizes Commended Scholars and Semi-Finalists based on junior year PSAT scores. The top 3% of students in each state receive recognition, but because the qualifying score is based on a percentage of total test-takers, the cutoff score is different in each state and varies from year to year.

How to Prepare for the PSAT:

  • Take challenging courses
  • Do your homework
  • Prepare with practice tests and quizzes
  • Ask and answer lots of sample questions
  • Sign up for a personalized study course

I’ve Qualified—What’s Next?

In order to proceed in the program, students who meet the PSAT score qualification must submit academic records, a letter of recommendation, a personal essay, and their completed application. The National Merit Corporation reviews all applications to determine finalists and award winners. The released list of finalists can be found on the National Merit website:

What Awards Are Available?

National Merit awards three types of scholarships: National Merit Scholarships, corporate-sponsored scholarships, and college-sponsored scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarship program offers $300 million in scholarships. The National Merit scholarships are worth $2,500.

Corporate-sponsored awards range from one-time payments of $2,500 to renewable awards of up to $10,000 per year of college.

College-sponsored scholarships can be worth anywhere from a few thousand dollars to full-tuition awards with housing and living expenses included—this is where the National Merit designation really pays off.

How Do I Read the Numbers?

Score ranges, mean (average) scores, benchmarks, and percentiles can be used to see if you’re on track for college readiness.

  • Score Ranges - Since the test differs from day to day and year to year, each score should be viewed as a range. Score ranges (a few points below or above your score) show how much your score might change with repeated testing.
  • Mean (Average) Scores - Your score report will show you the average scores earned by test-takers in each grade.
  • College Readiness Benchmarks - You'll see a benchmark for each section of the PSAT/NMSQT. Benchmarks represent college readiness. If you score below the benchmark, you still have time to work on improving your skills.
  • Percentile Ranks - A percentile rank is a number between 1 and 99 that shows how your score compares with other students. It represents the percentage of students whose scores fall at or below your score.

About the 2021 PSAT/NMSQT

Who: 11th and 10th graders

Where: At school

When: Wednesday, October 13, 2021 (Primary). There are two other options: Saturday, October 16 (Saturday) and Tuesday, October 26 (Alternate).

The 2021-22 tests cost schools $18 for each student—but you might not pay that much. Some schools cover all or part of the cost for their students. For details, ask your school.

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