Everything you need to know about the National Merit Scholarship Program

2010 UPDATE:
For 2010, the states with the highest cutoff score of 221 were Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, DC. The state with the lowest cutoff score was Wyoming with 201. Georgia’s cutoff score was 214.

As a college-bound high school student you probably took the PSAT in the fall of your sophomore year. Whether you did well, or not so well, those scores are not used for consideration in the program. About a year later, as a junior, you will take the PSAT again – this one counts. Sometime during the spring of your junior year, the NMSC (National Merit Scholarship Committee) determines a qualifying score for “Commended” recognition—this usually goes to the top 50,000 scores (generally around the 96th percentile).

What happens if you made it past the “Commended” cut?

Early in your senior year, NMSC will determine a qualifying score for Semifinalist recognition. Approximately 16,000 of the 50,000 students are recognized as Semifinalists. The required score to be recognized as a Semifinalist varies from state to state. The state with the highest cutoff score in 2009 was Massachusetts with 221. The state with the lowest cutoff score was Wyoming with 201. Georgia’s cutoff score was 215.

After being confirmed as a Semifinalist, you must complete an application to become a Finalist. The application will ask for GPA, extra-curricular activities and other factors that will help the committee decide who becomes a Finalist (approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists become Finalists).

Of the 15,000 Finalists, about 8,200 go on to receive National Merit Scholarship Awards. The scholarships are awarded by corporations, business organizations, colleges, and the NMSC.

Being a National Merit Scholar looks great on a college application and can lead to more scholarships directly from schools who like to add National Merit Scholars to their rosters.


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