How To Get a National Merit Scholarship?
Every year, roughly 7,500 students receive a National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship provides them with an annual scholarship of $2,500 that they can apply toward their higher education.
While these scholarships are certainly difficult to earn, you can put yourself in the running for a National Merit Scholarship by working hard in school, taking on leadership roles in your extracurricular activities, and earning PSAT and SAT scores that fall in the 99th percentile.
If you are willing to put in the effort it takes to follow these steps, you will give yourself a better than decent shot at winning one of these competitive scholarships.
Here are the steps you need to take in order to have the best chances of receiving a National Merit Scholarship:
Meet the scholarship requirements
There are a few non-negotiable requirements that you must meet in order to have a chance of earning a National Merit Scholarship:
- You must be a high school student (traditional or homeschooled)
- You must be planning to attend college during the fall after your high school graduation
- You must be either a U.S. citizen or a U.S. lawful permanent resident intending to become a U.S. citizen
If you’re not a high school student, you’re not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, or you are planning on taking a gap year between high school and college, you won’t be able to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship regardless of how impressive your test scores and grades may be.
Take the PSAT
A surefire way to prevent yourself from even being considered for a National Merit Scholarship is to pass up the opportunity to take the PSAT during your junior year.
In order to become a National Merit Semifinalist (and eventually a National Merit Finalist and Scholar), you must score in the top 1% of all juniors who take the PSAT in your state. This means that you must sign up to take the PSAT, even if PSAT sign-ups are optional at your school, and you must earn a high score on the test.
Study for the PSAT
Because earning a PSAT score in the 99th percentile is a prerequisite for National Merit Scholarship consideration, it is important that you spend time preparing for the PSAT before you take it your junior year.
Here are a few tips to help you prepare:
- Memorize the format of the PSAT so there are no surprises on test day
- Take official practice tests offered through the College Board (don’t forget to review all of your mistakes!)
- Use practice test results to identify and address weaknesses on the test
- Hire a private tutor to teach you PSAT strategies and help you learn from your mistakes
In addition to these strategies, another good way to prepare for the PSAT is to take the actual test. Many schools allow sophomore students to take the PSAT, so you can have a chance to see what the test is like and learn from your detailed score reports before you take it again your junior year. To improve the likelihood that you’ll score in the top 1% on the PSAT, take the test during your sophomore year and spend time reviewing every question you miss.
If you study and prepare enough to earn a score in the top 1% of the test, you will become a National Merit Semifinalist and have overcome the main hurdle that stands in the way of receiving a National Merit Scholarship.
Complete a strong National Merit Scholarship Corporation application
During the fall of your senior year, after you have received your scores back from the PSAT, you will need to complete a National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) application.
For this application, you will need to submit basic information about yourself (no different than when you complete college applications), your official high school transcript, SAT scores, a resume of your extracurricular activities, a personal essay, a recommendation letter from your principal or school official, official information about your high school’s grading system.
If you have a high GPA, great participation in extracurricular activities, strong recommendations, impressive SAT scores, and a compelling personal essay, it will greatly improve your chances of moving from a National Merit Semifinalist to a National Merit Finalist.
In February of your senior year, you will find out if you have become a National Merit Finalist. You will then have to wait about three-four months before you will be notified about receiving a National Merit Scholarship.
Roughly 15,000 students across the nation will be National Merit Finalists. Of these 15,000 students, only about 7,500 will receive a $2,500 National Merit Scholarship.
As you can see, receiving this competitive scholarship is not easy. You’re going to have to work hard on your NMSC application to stand out among other applicants.
Here are a few tips to help you bolster your application:
- Boost your academic record. The board that reads NMSC applications want to see that students are challenging themselves and earning great grades in tough classes. If you aren’t taking honors, AP/IB, or dual enrollment classes, your application will not be as impressive as other applicants who only take these challenging courses, even if you have similar GPAs. Sign up for the most academically rigorous courses offered at your school, and make sure you are performing well in these classes.
- Earn a top SAT score. If you’re a National Merit Semifinalist, chances are you already have a pretty good SAT score. However, it’s important for you to remember that you are competing for a scholarship against thousands of other applicants who also have pretty good scores. In order to stand out as a Semifinalist, you need to make sure you score in the top 1% on the SAT.
- Participate fully in extracurricular activities. While it is critical that you engage in extracurricular activities, remember that the number of activities you participate in is far less important than the depth of your involvement in these activities. If you are in 20 after-school clubs, but you only attend one meeting for each every year and you aren’t too involved with these activities, your application won’t be impressive. The NMSC board would rather see that you are involved in 2-3 extracurricular activities, but that you have taken leadership roles in these activities and been an asset and positive contributor.
- Write a strong essay. Your essay allows the NMSC board to hear your voice and get to know a little bit about you as a person, scholar, and leader. This is not something you should gloss over or take lightly. Work with a private tutor or a teacher to make sure your writing is strong, spend time planning your essay, and find someone with a solid English or writing background to proofread your essay.
If you want help preparing for the PSAT, the SAT, and your personal essay, hire a tutor through Prep Expert. Prep Expert tutors are expert instructors who scored in the 99th percentile on their own standardized tests and have the resources and strategies you need to improve the likelihood that you will receive a National Merit Scholarship.
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