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National Merit Scholarship Secrets Finally Exposed

Want to win the National Merit Scholarship? Here’s how.

Looking for a solution to not only help get your child accepted into a top university, but also a way to afford it? What concerned parent isn’t? In an economy where already inflated college tuition continues to rise, please know you are not alone.

Surely the demand for scholarships is high, but they can be an extremely effective way to cut tuition for an incoming college student. While many are difficult to attain, if your student applies early and meets all the qualifications, the chances are increased.

However, students still have to compete with other students and I’m not going to lie; the competition can be fierce. It is wise for children and parents to research scholarships that are easier to attain. A great scholarship to apply for is the National Merit Scholarship - a scholarship that is to thousands of U.S. students each year.

It all begins with PSAT scores. Some people call them the practice SAT, but they are really called the Preliminary SAT or National Testing Scholarship Qualifying Test. They should be taken by high school students during their junior year and then the fun (or elimination process) begins. Qualified students will be bumped to the next level, and will have to complete applications and essays in order to win.

national merit scholarship

What Types of Scholarships Does the NMRC Offer?

There are three types of scholarships that are given - The National Merit Scholarship, Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarship, and College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships.

The National Merit Scholarship is worth $2,500, and is a single payment scholarship that is given based on a state-representational basis (aka- they make sure that students from a variety of states receive this scholarship).

The Corporate-Sponsored Merit Scholarship is just what it sounds like - a scholarship provided by a corporation that has partnered with the NMRC. According to the NMRC website, these scholarships are typically given to children of employees or to students aspiring to have a career related to one of the affiliated organizations.

The College-Sponsored Merit Scholarship is given by 190 different colleges that work with the NMRC - these scholarships are provided to students that have been granted admission at a college and qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship is a favorite, since it is renewable for up to four years of undergraduate study.

How Do I Apply?

Here’s a step-by-step guide on the process of winning a National Merit Scholarship:

  1. Take the PSAT during your Junior Year -

According to the NMRC’s website, students who meet the requirements must begin by taking the PSAT/NMSQT® usually as juniors.

Each year's PSAT/NMSQT is the qualifying test designated for entry to a particular year's competition. So basically, The 2016 PSAT/NMSQT qualifies a student for a2018 award. In order to perform well on the PSAT, SAT preparation and tutoring is highly recommended. These tests have an extremely particular format. Preparing for how these standardized tests should be taken is strongly recommended as they are generally less about basic intelligence than many other tests, but the good news is that these test taking strategies can be taught.

  • Schools Send PSAT/NMSQT Score Out -
    So far you don’t have to do a thing (other than prep for the test, which if you are planning on college and reading this; you were going to do anyway.)  The NMRC co-sponsors the test, so they will receive the scores and other pertinent information that will have been filled in on their answer sheets. The Score Report, which is calculated by doubling the sum of the reading, writing and language, and math tests, shows the student's Selection Index score. This is when you actually find out if your student meets the entry requirements.  If you see an asterisk (*) next to the Selection Index, sorry, but that means the student's scores will not be used for entry.
    This is where the fun starts, as the NMSC identifies semifinalists and sends scholarship application materials to these frontrunners through their high schools. Students who qualify as semifinalists and meet academic and other standards to advance to the finalist level will then compete for scholarships.
  • NMRC Notifies Schools of “Commended Students”-Hopefully, now, you will be receiving the letter… know, the one that tells you, and about 34,000 other – no joke – students that were high scorers, that they have been designated Commended Students. Remember though that the Selection Index qualifying score may vary from year to year.

Sit tight and get ready for the next round of competition.

  • NMRC Chooses Semi-Finalists -
    Becoming a semi-finalist is almost the last stage. If you have made it this far, congrats! According to the
    Princeton Review, “The remaining 16,000 students or so—those whose scores put them in the top 99th percentile in their state—become National Merit Semifinalists.” After submitting high school records, recommendations from teachers (so remind your kids to keep smiling in class) and an outstanding personal essay,  somewhere around half will go on to win scholarships.  “Some students win a $2500 scholarship from the National Merit Corporation, while others may win larger awards from colleges hoping to attract top scorers.”
  • Winners are Picked -

Yes, you could be the chosen one.Semifinalists who meet academic and other requirements will be notified that they have advanced to Finalist standing. All National Merit Scholarship winners (Merit Scholar® awardees) will be chosen from this group of Finalists based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments.” According to their guidelines, the NMRC then narrows their semi-finalist list down to 15,000 finalists, and the winners are chosen from this group of students.

I know it’s intimidating, but it’s honestly pretty simple. In order to increase the chances of attaining a National Merit Scholarship, students must be prepared for the PSAT, fill out their application completely, author well written essays (I can help with that too) that demonstrate clear career goals for their future, and most importantly, make sure to hand everything in on time.  Easy as pie.

So, now that you understand the process, there is nothing holding you back from attaining the National Merit Scholarship. True there is a somewhat involved logistical process that the NMRC goes through in order to choose their candidates for their scholarships, but seriously, if you have made it this far and are even considering this, it’s just one more step in the winding path you (or your child) is on. And this step can make their college costs much more affordable, gearing them for successful careers. After all, isn’t that what this is all about?