The National Merit Scholarship Program

Published Saturday, December 11, 2021 by Katie

The results for the 2021 PSAT/NMSQT recently were released. For the approximately 3.5 million students across the United States that took the test this past October, one question will likely come to mind: “What next?”

For the 1.6 million high school sophomores (and a few precocious seventh graders, eighth graders, and freshmen) who took the PSAT, the answer is to take the test again. Before junior year, the PSAT has little significance—it merely serves as practice. However, for the 1.5 million high school juniors that endured the grueling three-hour exam, the results of the PSAT/NMSQT will reveal all students who will be honored by the National Merit Scholarship Program. There are several “tiers” in this program; attaining a higher score results in recognition in a higher NMSQT achievement tier.

The first achievement level of the National Merit Scholarship program is called the “Commended” recognition level and will be revealed in the spring of 2011. This honor distinguishes those students who are in or above the 96th percentile (top 50,000 students) in regards to PSAT score. For the 2020-2021 school year, California students who achieved a score of 217 or higher were recognized at this “Commended” level.

The second achievement level of the NMSQT is recognition as a National Merit Semifinalist; this honor is awarded to approximately 16,000 of the 50,000 students who reached the “Commended” tier. Schools are alerted of any students who have been awarded semifinalist status in September of the following year—fall 2022 for this year’s juniors.

The third achievement tier is recognition as a National Merit Finalist. Of the 16,000 National Merit Semifinalists, 15,000 are awarded Finalist status. However, to attain this level, one must fulfill several requirements. According to the PSAT student guide, semifinalists must plan on attending college the year immediately after senior year, complete a National Merit Scholarship Application (which includes an essay), submit a course transcript that shows high academic performance, be endorsed by a principal, and earn a high score on the SAT consistent with the high score achieved on the PSAT. Since 90% of Merit Semifinalists achieve Finalist status, the likelihood of passing on to this next tier is extremely high if all the requirements are fulfilled.

Finally, scholarships are awarded to Merit Finalists. 8,400 students are awarded Merit Scholarships, which include 2,500 $2500 National Merit scholarships, 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarships, and 4,900 college-sponsored scholarships. 1,300 students receive special scholarships and are chosen if they fit criteria specific to a corporation providing the award.

Hopefully, the above information cleared up any questions or uncertainties about the PSAT/NMSQT. Remember that the PSAT, while important, is not the single determining factor that colleges look at when evaluating a student. So, regardless of the score earned, do not worry; remember, there is always another chance to take the SAT.

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