National Merit Scholarship Qualifications
Every year, ambitious high school students dream about meeting the National Merit Scholarship qualifications and winning much-needed money for college – not to mention serious academic recognition. If you are one of those National Merit Scholarship hopefuls–or the parent of one–learning the qualifications ahead of time can help put your mind at ease.
- Obtain United States Citizenship: If you want to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, you must either be a U.S. citizen or have plans to become one. If you are a permanent resident, the National Merit Scholarship qualifications require you to obtain U.S. citizenship as early as legally possible.
- High School Students Only: Apologies to all you over-achieving early birds out there, but you have to wait until high school – no middle school students allowed. The National Merit Scholarship Program qualifications require all entrants to be current high school students planning to graduate on a normal high school completion plan.
- Plans for College: Planning a post-graduation European backpack trip might sabotage your National Merit Scholarship plans. Entrants with plans to delay college need not apply. The National Merit Scholarship only considers high school students with plans to enroll in college full time by the fall immediately following graduation.
- Take the Right Tests: National Merit Scholarship qualifications specify that every entrant must take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test during their third year of high school, assuming a four-year high school plan. For most students, this means junior year or 11th grade.
- Make the Grade: Your scores must land you in the top 99th percentile – meaning you score above 99 percent of all test takers. That is a tall order, given the approximately 1.4 million test takers annually, and the 50,000 students who receive commendation for high scores, according to the Princeton Review.
- Wait for the Golden Ticket: Patience will serve you well when waiting for the National Merit Scholarship results. If you qualify as a semifinalist, you will receive a letter in early September. The letter outlines requirements to advance to the finals.
- No Slacking: As of 2011, to qualify for finals in the National Merit Scholarship program, you must maintain your record of excellence during every year of high school, obtain endorsement from your high school principal, complete the application on deadline, and take the current SAT to confirm your performance on the PSAT/NMSQT. The semifinalist letter in September will outline any other requirements, such as submitting an essay.
- Even if your high school encourages you to take the PSAT during your sophomore year, you must take it again during your junior year if you want to meet the National Merit Scholarship qualifications.
- If an illness or family emergency stops you from taking the test on time, your school can write the National Merit Scholarship Committee on your behalf for an alternate test date.