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6 Reasons You Should Participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program

The National Merit Scholarship Program offers extra opportunities for high school students and can be very helpful in the college application process. If you are looking for a way to boost your college application or challenge yourself to greater academic achievement, it may be worthwhile to see if this program interests you. We will cover information about the program and the selection process then propose 6 reasons to participate.


What is the National Merit Scholarship Program?

Essentially, this program is a national academic competition administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) for high school students providing financial aid for college. You are able to qualify by scoring high on the PSAT (officially known as the PSAT/NMSQT).


There are 3 major factors for eligibility:

  1. You must take the PSAT/NMSQT no later than 11th grade — this exam is typically taken during the fall of your junior year.

  2. You must be enrolled as a full-time high school student, be in good academic standing, and plan to accept your college admission the fall after completion of high school.

  3. You must attend high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. commonwealth and territory. Otherwise, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident of the U.S attending high school abroad.

If you meet these eligibility requirements, consider beginning the process!


How does the selection process work?

High scorers on the PSAT are classified as Commended Students, Semifinalists, or after another application, Finalists. To qualify, you will need to score within the top 1% of your state. Depending on which state you reside, the score cutoff will change since it is relative to how others performed. The NMS calculates your overall selection index score, and you must meet the cutoff determined for your state.


About 50,000 participants receive recognition. Then, about one-third of the 50,000 will be notified of their qualification as a Semifinalist in early September. The remaining high scorers will be named Commended Students and receive Letters of Commendation for their achievement. Over 15,000 Semifinalists will be notified of their advancement to Finalist standing and will receive a Certificate of Merit. An additional application is then required, which includes having a consistently high academic record, writing an essay, receiving a good recommendation from a school official, and performing well on the SAT or ACT to confirm your PSAT performance. Based on these factors, a committee of college admissions officers and high school counselors select about 7,500 students as National Merit Scholar winners.


Below, we have compiled a list of 6 reasons to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program.


1. You will add recognition and prestige to your profile Through this program, you are demonstrating exceptional academic achievement that sets you apart from your peers. Less than 5% of any test takers receive any commendation; so, even without the Semifinalist, Finalist, or Scholar title, there is great recognition and prestige involved. Of course, as a Semifinalist, Finalist, or a Scholar, you have gone through a rigorous selection process confirming your academic achievement. With recognition and prestige comes the prospect of boosting your college application. Gaining recognition as a Commended Student, Semifinalist, Finalist, or a Scholar is a prestigious achievement that you can include on college applications with great pride. It is proof of your academic achievement, work ethic, and dedication.


2. You will receive financial support As a Scholar, you are given a one-time scholarship for $2,500 from your state. There are also corporate-sponsored awards given to relatives of employees, residents of the community, or to Finalists with a relevant intended major (some are one-time awards, others are renewable for all four years of college). Another possibility is a college-sponsored award: officials from each sponsor college select Finalists who have been admitted and have informed the NMSC that the school is their first choice (these are renewable for up to four years).


3. You will open doors for more scholarships

As a Commended Student, Semifinalist, or Finalist, you are still able to receive financial benefits; in fact, many colleges and sponsors offer special scholarships to these students. For example, Letters of Commendation on the NMSC are great supplements to applications for outside merit scholarship awards offered by statewide agencies or corporate sponsors. Furthermore, every year, about 800 National Merit Program participants who were not named Finalists are given Special Scholarships from corporations and business organizations. Students must meet certain criteria and submit an entry form, and they have the opportunity to receive a one-time or four-year scholarship for their abilities, skills, and achievements. Overall, recognition from the program can open doors to other scholarships and merit-based awards (even beyond the ones mentioned) offered by colleges, organizations, and corporations.


4. You will access to exclusive opportunities As part of this program, you will have access to various exclusive opportunities, especially as a Scholar. This includes internships, research programs, study abroad experiences, networking events, and more, all of which will enrich your academic and personal development. Some colleges and universities even offer additional benefits, such as priority registration, specialized advising, and as said, dedicated scholarships.


5. You will carve out a path for great personal growth You have great opportunities for personal growth and challenges with this program. The selection process and the program’s standards allow you the chance to step outside of our comfort zone and intellectually challenge yourself.


6. You will be part of a talented community, build life-long relationships This is the chance to join a community of like-minded individuals. All students participating in the National Merit Scholarship Program are dedicated to academic excellence, and with this in common, you will have a supportive network of peers and mentors.


Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research then you could consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students to connect with researchers from prestigious universities. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Rachel is a first year at Harvard University concentrating in neuroscience. She is passionate about health policy and educational equity, and she enjoys traveling and dancing.


Image Source: National Merit Scholarship logo

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