The ASU National Merit Scholarship for Top-Performing High School Students

By Austin Osho

Scholarship Snapshot
Amount: $2,500
Scope: Merit scholarship
Target Country: USA
Target Audience: High School Students
Deadline: December 5

What is the National Merit Scholarship?

The National Merit Scholarship Program is a prestigious academic competition for high school students in the United States. It was initiated in 1955 to recognize and reward students who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement, exceptional skills, and the potential for success in higher education.

Each year, almost 1.5 million U.S. high school students participate in the program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), which serves as an initial screening mechanism to identify eligible candidates for the program. Scholars, finalists, and semifinalists receive recognition for their excellence and scholarships to fund their college education, making the program a prestigious and sought-after achievement for students.


National Merit Scholars receive a $2,500 scholarship and may also be eligible for corporate-sponsored or college-sponsored scholarships, depending on their qualifications.

Student Entry Requirements

To be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program, students must meet the following requirements:

  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT during their high school years, no later than the third year, regardless of their grade level or educational path.
  • Be a high school student (traditional or homeschooled) who is progressing towards completing their high school education and planning to enrol in college in the fall immediately after graduation.
  • Attend high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. commonwealth or territory; or meet the citizenship requirements for students attending high school outside the United States.
  • Students attending high school outside the U.S. must be either citizens of the United States or U.S. lawful residents (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become U.S. citizens at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.

How to Enter

The process to participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition is straightforward:

  • Students take the PSAT/NMSQT during their third or junior year of high school.
  • Student scores are evaluated, and semifinalists, finalists, and scholars are selected based on the student’s academic records, PSAT scores, and other skills and accomplishments.
  • If a student is selected as a semifinalist, they can advance to finalist status by completing a scholarship application, having a high academic record, writing an essay, and being endorsed by a school official.
  • From the finalist pool, the winners are selected. Even if the student does not advance to National Scholar status, they will still be recognized for their achievements as a semifinalist or finalist.

Registration for the test is by high school rather than individual students. Students should see their counselor at the beginning of the school year to make arrangements to take the PSAT/NMSQT at the school in the fall.

Note: The PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 are not considered for entry into the National Merit Scholarship Program. The PSAT/NMSQT is the official route of entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program.

When to take the PSAT/MNSQT

Students who plan to complete the customary four-year high school program and enroll in college full-time must take the PSAT or NMSQT in their junior year (grade 11) to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. While some schools may recommend that sophomores take the PSAT or NMSQT for guidance purposes, these students must take the test again in their junior year if they plan to complete the customary four years of high school and be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

Students who intend to leave high school early to start full-time college are eligible to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the PSAT or NMSQT before completing high school. If they take the test in their next-to-last or last year of high school, they can compete for awards to be offered either as they finish their final high school year or as they complete their first year of college, respectively.

To participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program, students who are enrolled in both high school and college must take the PSAT or NMSQT in their junior year of high school (grade 11). The high school is responsible for determining whether a student is dually enrolled and verifying their status as a high school student.

Students who plan to spend five years in grades 9 through 12 before enrolling in college full-time must take the PSAT or NMSQT in their junior year of high school (grade 11) and again in their senior year (grade 12). Although their Selection Index scores will not be considered until a written request for entry to the competition is approved by NMSC, these students can still participate. The request should include the student’s name, high school name and location, year of high school enrollment, year of high school graduation, and a brief explanation of the student’s educational pattern.

To determine the level of recognition for the National Merit Scholarship Program, NMSC will use the student’s Selection Index score from the PSAT or NMSQT taken in their junior year of high school. To be recognized in their senior year, the student must take the test again in their senior year and achieve a qualifying Selection Index score that matches or exceeds their score from the junior year. Keep in mind that the level of recognition cannot surpass the score achieved in the junior year, which is the same year in which all other competitors are considered.

Note: The year in which a student takes the PSAT/NMSQT to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program is crucial, as they can only participate in one specific competition year. It’s important to note that if a student’s educational plans don’t align with the eligibility criteria or if there are any questions about participation, they should immediately contact NMSC for clarification.

Details for the semifinalists, finalists, and eventual winners


By early September, around 16,000 high-scoring students, representing approximately one-third of the 50,000 top scorers, will be notified that they have been selected as semifinalists. Semifinalists are chosen on a state-representational basis to ensure that students from all areas of the country are included. 

It’s important to note that qualifying scores vary by state and year, but all semifinalists have achieved exceptional scores. NMSC provides scholarship application materials to semifinalists through their high schools, and to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship, they must meet high academic standards and fulfill all other requirements explained in the provided information to advance to finalist status in the competition.


In February, around 15,000 semifinalists will be informed that they have progressed to become finalists. NMSC notifies the high school principals as well and provides them with a Certificate of Merit to present to each finalist.

Winners Selection:

The Merit Scholarship award winners (known as Merit Scholar® designees) are selected from the group of finalists based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments, regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin, or religious preference. NMSC evaluates a range of information, including the finalist’s academic record, details about the school’s curriculum and grading system, a PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index score, a written recommendation from the high school official, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the finalist’s essay.

To learn more about this program or get the application link, visit the National Merit Scholars website.

At Scholarship Monitor, we are committed to providing you with up-to-date information on scholarship opportunities. Make sure to always check back for more updates and take advantage of the resources we have provided to help you achieve your academic and career goals.

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