national merit essay question

Scholarship Essays

Virtual Internships Logo

National Merit Scholarship Essay Example 2 - Influential Person or Obstacle

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. explain why this is meaningful to you.

Hot, salty tears continuously run down my dirt-streaked face and cling to the tip of my nose. I can feel the flush of blood run to my cheeks in embarrassment. All I can think is, "I am so patheticly weak!" I can feel my stomach aching, and I know, if it hadn't already, my breakfast would be coming back. My limbs feel like giant rubber hoses, with no life in them. There is no will in me to move from my current position, with my knees curled to my chest, and my face in the dirt.

The sun is beating down on my back with sharp lances of sunlight. "Come on, get up." I hear from far away to my left. it is not unkind, but I have no inclination to obey it. "You can do it. Mind over matter." The voice is getting closer to my ear, but still my resolve to do anything has vanished. Suddenly, there she is, knelt on the ground so she can put her face directly in front of mine. "Almost done! You can do it, just finish! Always finish!" In my mind, though, I know I'll never be able to finish the last eight miles of our marathon.

Without quite realizing it, I allow my coach to help me to my feet. Her face breaks out into an incredulous grin. My mind doesnt even function enough to wonder how she can manage to smile, or stand after the first eighteen miles. Coach T resumes spewing her never-ending monologue of encouragements, all while running next to me, until finally, the unthinkable happens. We cross the finish line.

Finishing those twenty-six miles was undoubtedly the most rewarding and satisfying moment of my life. Never before have I needed so much focus or determination. Yet I know that without Coach T there to help me, I would never have finished. She has been so much more than just my high school volleyball coach; she has helped me learn things that no other person ever could. She taught me that quitting anything is never an option, but most importantly, she taught me that i can do anything if I sincerely try. And I have carried that lesson with me everywhere since.

Original Source: Essay Forum

national merit essay question

How to Write a National Merit Essay

Teresa j. siskin.

Semifinalists are notified in September each year, and finalist applications, including essays, are due the following month.

You’ve cleared the first hurdle once you’ve become a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Continuing to compete as a finalist means completing an application, which includes an essay. While there is no one "correct” way to write this essay, you can help distinguish yourself from fellow semifinalists by offering a clear, concise 500-word piece that shares a perspective and leaves an impression.

Explore this article

  • Structure and Inspiration

1 Structure and Inspiration

You can approach the National Merit Scholarship essay as you would any other scholarship essay. According to Kansas State University and Dr. Kay Peterson from the University of Florida, one way to structure your essay is to focus on a life altering or defining moment. Draw from a simple occurrence, such as falling off your bike as a small child or a book you read, or from a much more intense event, such as losing a home in a hurricane, as long as you relay what lesson you took from that experience. Use the introduction of your essay to recount this defining moment, and conclude with a thesis that summarizes how that event affected your outlook on life. Then, use your subsequent body paragraphs to highlight how this moment continues to affect your life personally or academically, and conclude by relating this experience to your goals for college, your desire for college scholarships, or your passion for becoming a National Merit Scholar. You can always ask others for help both in brainstorming for essay topics and in editing your final product.

  • 1 University of Florida Office of Financial Aid: Writing the Scholarship Essay
  • 2 Kansas State University: Writing Scholarship Essays

About the Author

Teresa J. Siskin has been a researcher, writer and editor since 2009. She holds a doctorate in art history.

Related Articles

How to Enhance a Narrative Essay

How to Enhance a Narrative Essay

How to Write About Your Proudest Accomplishment in an Essay

How to Write About Your Proudest Accomplishment in...

Narrative Essay Requirements

Narrative Essay Requirements

What Is a Good Way to Start Writing a Reflective Essay?

What Is a Good Way to Start Writing a Reflective Essay?

Tips for the Narrative Essay for Physician Assistant Schools

Tips for the Narrative Essay for Physician Assistant...

How to Write an Autobiography in One Page

How to Write an Autobiography in One Page

How to Write an Essay on My Aspirations

How to Write an Essay on My Aspirations

How to Write an Essay in 150 Words

How to Write an Essay in 150 Words

How to Write an Abstract Definition Essay

How to Write an Abstract Definition Essay

How to Start Off an Essay on Why I Should Be Accepted to a College

How to Start Off an Essay on Why I Should Be Accepted...

What Is a Narrative Response?

What Is a Narrative Response?

What is a Topic Sentence?

What is a Topic Sentence?

How to Sign a Funeral Thank You Note

How to Sign a Funeral Thank You Note

How to Write an Essay for the National Honor Society

How to Write an Essay for the National Honor Society

What Should the Conclusion Do in a Reflective Essay?

What Should the Conclusion Do in a Reflective Essay?

College Essay Ideas for Writing About a Significant Experience

College Essay Ideas for Writing About a Significant...

How to Write an Ending Paragraph in an Essay

How to Write an Ending Paragraph in an Essay

How to Write Personal Narratives

How to Write Personal Narratives

How to Write a DARE Essay

How to Write a DARE Essay

Short Love Message Ideas to Put on a Necklace

Short Love Message Ideas to Put on a Necklace

Regardless of how old we are, we never stop learning. Classroom is the educational resource for people of all ages. Whether you’re studying times tables or applying to college, Classroom has the answers.

  • Accessibility
  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Copyright Policy
  • Manage Preferences

© 2020 Leaf Group Ltd. / Leaf Group Media, All Rights Reserved. Based on the Word Net lexical database for the English Language. See disclaimer .


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, national merit finalist - how to win the scholarship.

PSAT Info and Strategies


Many students take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year. What a lot of students may not notice is the full name of the test is PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Thus, the PSAT is not just good practice for your SATs. It's also the first step in becoming a National Merit Finalist and hopefully, earning a $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

In this article, we'll discuss what steps you need to take to become a National Merit Finalist and compete for a scholarship. We'll also give you advice on how to write a strong application and maximize your chances of becoming a National Merit Scholar.

Here's how the numbers break down:

Each year, about 1.6 million students take the PSAT. Of the juniors who take the exam, about 16,000 earn scores that qualify them as Semifinalists (that's around 1%). This group is narrowed down to 15,000, who become Finalists. Of this group, about 7,500 are awarded scholarships of $2,500 a year (that can be renewed each year you're in college).

This article will explain the three key steps you need to follow to win the National Merit scholarship, from meeting the entry requirements, to scoring well on the PSAT, to submitting a standout application.

Step 1: Meet the Entry Requirements

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) requires you to have a few qualifications to even be considered for the scholarship:

You must be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation.

You must plan to enroll full time in college starting the fall following high school graduation.

You must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident planning to become a U.S. citizen.

These requirements will be checked with a few questions at the beginning of the PSAT.


Step 2: Score in the Top 1% of the PSAT

Becoming a National Merit Finalist is competitive and requires a top score on the PSAT. Although it varies from state to state, most students must score above 1400 (out of 1520) to qualify as a Semifinalist, which means they can compete to move on to Finalist standing.


How can you achieve a top 1% score on the PSAT? Prepare with high-quality materials. Identify your weak points and work to improve them. If the Reading section confuses you, spend the majority of your time practicing those sections. If math isn't your thing, commit yourself to drilling PSAT Math problems. The National Merit competition uses a Selection Index that is based on your Reading, Math, and Writing test scores, so mastering all three sections is key.

Take control of your learning and study with practice questions and sample tests. This practice will also pay off later when you take the SATs in the spring of your junior year and fall of senior year.

Bonus: Aiming for a National Merit Scholarship? If you're not sure you can self-study your way to a qualifying PSAT score, you'll love our PSAT prep program, PrepScholar .

We designed our program to learn your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics and customize your prep to be as effective as possible for you. When you start with PrepScholar, you'll take a diagnostic that will determine your weaknesses in over forty PSAT skills. PrepScholar then creates a study program specifically customized for you .

To improve each skill, you'll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

We also force you to focus on understanding your mistakes and learning from them. If you make the same mistake over and over again, we'll call you out on it.

There's no other prep system out there that does it this way, which is why we get better score results than any other program on the market.

Check it out today with a 5-day free trial:

Improve Your PSAT Score by 150+ Points, Guaranteed

For more info on prepping for the PSAT, check out our detailed guide to attaining National Merit Semifinalist status.

Step 3: Submit an Excellent Application

Complete the NMSC application requirements by fall of your senior year (usually early October). This application allows 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists to move on to Finalist standing.

If you don't become a Finalist or don't qualify, you may still get word that you're a Commended Student or remain as a Semifinalist, which are great distinctions that will stand out on college applications. However, only Finalists are eligible for National Merit Scholarship awards.

The online NMSC application is the same as your college application in some ways and different in other ways.


You must submit the following:

  • Your academic record (transcript)
  • SAT scores*
  • Information about your activities and leadership roles
  • A personal essay

*You have to take the SATs on approved dates, usually in the fall of your senior year, and make sure to send along your score report to NMSC. They need to receive your scores by December 31st of your senior year. While there is no strict cutoff for SAT scores, they must be competitive like your PSAT scores (usually around 1400 or above) so they know your PSAT wasn't a fluke.


  • A recommendation from your high school principal or someone the principal designates as a school official
  • Information about your school's curricula and grading system

Let's dig into each component to maximize your chance of building a strong application to win the National Merit Scholar title.

Academic Record and SAT Scores

The National Merit Corporation is first and foremost looking to award academic achievement. There is no strict cutoff, but a competitive GPA (3.5 and above) and high SAT scores (approximately 1400 and above) are recommended. Your academic record should also show that you challenged yourself with honors and AP classes. When you're a high school junior, there isn't much you can do about this, other than continue to excel in your classes.

Ready to go beyond just reading about the SAT? Then you'll love the free five-day trial for our SAT Complete Prep program . Designed and written by PrepScholar SAT experts , our SAT program customizes to your skill level in over 40 subskills so that you can focus your studying on what will get you the biggest score gains.

Click on the button below to try it out!

Sign Up!

Extracurricular Activities and Community Service

The NMC is also looking at the skills and accomplishments shown in your application. Demonstrated leadership goes a long way--for example, leading in Student Council or other student organizations.

Your activities should reveal your passions and interests--it is usually better to show "depth over breadth." In other words, get deeply involved in a few activities you're passionate about rather than showing minor participation in every club, team, and organization your school has to offer. Almost all activities are valuable if they show your commitment, leadership potential, and ability to work with and help others.


Recommendations go a long way. Cultivate good relationships with your teachers, counselor , and principal and provide a "brag sheet" for them with the qualities and accomplishments you would like them to include in your recommendation.

Your brag sheet may include the following:

  • What six adjectives best describe you?
  • What do you consider your greatest accomplishment(s)?
  • What are your strongest goals for the next five years?
  • What is a meaningful experience you have had during high school?

These anecdotes will make writing a lot easier, and they'll thank you for this.

Make sure to ask for your recommendation at least three weeks in advance of the deadline, and follow up with your writer to make sure it'll be submitted on time. The earlier you notify them, the more ahead you'll be of your classmates, most of whom will need college application letters.

Personal Essay

The personal essay adds your voice to your application materials. Your essay is the place where you can share your unique story and perspective and make your application materials come to life.


Here is an example of a past National Merit essay question:

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

The space allows for about 500 - 600 words.

You should focus on two important components of the essay. First, the NMC wants to see that you can express yourself clearly and powerfully through writing . Make sure to proofread, edit, and revise for any spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or weaknesses in syntax and diction.

Second, your essay reveals how you think about yourself , your accomplishments, and your goals. What do your experiences mean to you? What do they reveal about your identity? Spend some time brainstorming before you decide what aspects of your identity are most important to share with the NMC readers.

For example, did a group science fair project show you the power of collaboration in making new discoveries? Did a Student Council debate reveal the complexity of perspectives on a single issue? Did Lisa Simpson teach you the importance of sticking to your principles, even if your family may not always agree?

The topics are endless, and there is no best answer, but whatever you choose should reveal something significant about who you are . Once you have your first draft, ask a friend, family member, counselor, or English teacher for feedback on what worked and what didn't. It's a short essay, so make sure every sentence is there for a reason and important for telling your story.

In Conclusion

Staying motivated and committing yourself to all these goals will put you in the best position toward becoming a National Merit Finalist. Remember, only 15,000 students (< 1%) are chosen as Finalists, and of those, only about 7,500 students receive scholarships. On a percentage basis, it's even more competitive than getting into the Ivy League, so even with all your hard work, you'll still need a certain amount of luck!

NSMC notifies students if they have become finalists in February of their senior year. Scholarship notifications go out in March. By that time, most of your college applications will be done and submitted.

Now you just have to try to relax and wait for the decisions to come! If you complete all the steps mentioned above, you can be confident that you've done all you can – now hopefully the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will recognize all your hard work.

What's Next?

Want more tips on how to get a top PSAT score? Check out our guide on how to get a perfect PSAT score for all the info you need to know.

Are you striving for perfection on the SAT? Read our detailed guide by our resident SAT full scorer .

Aiming to get into a top-tier school? Check out our article: What's a good SAT score for the Ivy League?

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

Check out our 5-day free trial today:

Improve Your SAT Score by 160+ Points, Guaranteed

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

national merit essay question

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”


The Admissions Strategist

National merit scholarship (how to win it): the winner’s guide.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for scholarships and recognition that started in 1955.

Each year, approximately 7,500 Finalists receive scholarships. About 1,100 outstanding National Merit participants who are not Finalists also receive Special Scholarships annually.

Some colleges even offer free tuition or full-ride scholarships to National Merit Finalists.

Scholarship money is always great, but it isn’t the only benefit to the National Merit program. Becoming a National Merit Finalist is a prestigious honor that can give your chances of college admission a major boost.

So, how can you reap the benefits of becoming a National Merit Finalist? Read this guide to learn everything you need to know!

Odds of Winning a National Merit Scholarship

Before we get started, you should know that earning a National Merit Scholarship is even more competitive than earning acceptance to an Ivy League college.

  • Millions of students take the PSAT each year. About 16,000 students become Semifinalists, and 15,000 become Finalists.
  • Of the Finalists, about 7,500 receive scholarships.

Of course, even if you don’t win a scholarship, becoming a Semifinalist or Finalist is a great honor.

It can make you a more competitive college applicant and earn you additional scholarship money from some colleges.

So, let’s find out how to increase your chances of success.

How to Enter the National Merit Program

Entering the National Merit Program is simple: Take the PSAT (formally known as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) during the fall of your junior year in high school.

The test is usually administered in October.

National Merit Scholarship: How to Win

Click above to watch a video on how to win the National Merit Scholarship.

If you meet certain qualifications, taking the PSAT/NMSQT automatically enters you in the National Merit Scholarship competition.

These qualifications are:

  • Being enrolled as a high school student who is progressing normally toward graduation
  • Planning to enroll full-time in college the fall after you graduate from high school
  • Being a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident who plans to become a U.S. citizen

On your PSAT test form, you will answer four questions that determine whether you meet these requirements.

Next Steps: Qualifying for Scholarships

Of course, taking the test is only the beginning. To continue through the competition, you’ll need to:

  • Score in the top one percent of PSAT test-takers
  • Find out if you’re a Semifinalist or a Commended student
  • Complete an application (if selected as a Semifinalist)
  • Submit SAT scores
  • Find out if you’ve qualified for scholarship(s)

Let’s take a closer look at each step of this process.

Score in the Top One Percent

After you take the PSAT, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) receives and reviews scores.

  • If you meet the basic qualifications described above, they look at your Selection Index .
  • The Selection Index is calculated by doubling the sum of your Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics scores.

About 16,000 high scorers become Semifinalists.

  • This represents less than one percent of test-takers, meaning you’ll need to score in the top one percent to qualify as a semifinalist.

However, scores are considered on a state-by-state basis, so that students from across the nation have a chance to qualify.

Students often ask what score they’ll need to become a Semifinalist. This is hard to answer, because it varies from year to year. It’s usually somewhere around 1400.

For more information, you can call the NMSC at 847-866-5100 and ask about the previous year’s cutoff in your state.

Get personalized advice!

Receive notification of semifinalist/commended status.

You’ll have a long wait before you find out if you’ve achieved Semifinalist status.

In late September of your senior year, about 34,000 students receive a Letter of Commendation. Commended Students are based on a Selection Index score that is slightly lower than the Selection Index score needed to become a Semifinalist.

  • Commended students don’t continue in the competition, but some do receive Special Scholarships.
  • It’s also something positive to mention on your college applications.

An additional 16,000 students are notified that they have qualified as Semifinalists, usually in early September. All Semifinalists will receive application materials from NMSC through their schools.

Complete an Application

To advance from Semifinalist to Finalist, you will need to complete the NMSC application. 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists become Finalists.

These applications are usually due in early October. The application is similar to a college application.

It includes:

  • Information about your activities and leadership roles
  • A recommendation letter from the principal or a school official designated by your principal
  • Information about your school’s grading system and classes

To become a Finalist, you must:

  • Have excellent academic performance all four years of high school (preferably a 3.5 GPA or higher)
  • Have SAT scores that “confirm your PSAT performance”
  • Continue meeting basic qualifications, including being enrolled in the last year of high school and planning to enroll in college in the fall

In the “Tips” section at the end of the article, we’ll discuss how to put your best foot forward with an impressive application.

Submit SAT Scores

SAT scores are part of the NMSC application. You’ll have to take the SAT on approved dates, usually during the fall of senior year.

  • The NMSC must receive your scores by December 31 of your senior year.
  • Although the NMSC doesn’t give a specific cutoff score for the SAT, they do say that your score should confirm your PSAT score.

Basically, your score should be close to your PSAT score to demonstrate that your PSAT performance wasn’t a fluke. You should aim for around 1400 or better.

Qualify for Scholarships

In February, about 15,000 Semifinalists receive a letter that they have advanced to Finalist standing.

Your high school principal will receive a certificate and present it to you.

From the Finalist group, winners of Merit Scholarships are selected. These selections are based on abilities, skills, and accomplishments.

Between March and mid-June, 7,500 Finalists learn that they have been awarded Merit Scholarships. There are three types of scholarships:

  • National Merit $2500 Scholarships: Every Finalist is considered for these single payment scholarships, which are awarded on a state-by-state basis. Selections are not based on financial circumstances, major or college choice, or career plans.
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards: Corporate sponsors designate awards for children of employees or members, residents of communities where the company operates, or Finalists with career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage. These awards are usually $500-$2000 and may be one-time awards or renewable for all four years of college.
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards: Officials of sponsor colleges select winners from Finalists who have been accepted for admission and have informed NMSC that the college is their top choice. These awards are renewable for four years of undergraduate study.

Schools that offer free tuition or free-ride scholarships to National Merit Scholars include:

  • Texas A&M
  • University of Oklahoma
  • University of Arizona
  • Auburn University
  • University of Tulsa
  • Baylor University

In addition, about 1,100 excellent National Merit Program participants who are not Finalists receive Special Scholarships.

These may be one-time awards or renewable for four years of study. Students must meet the sponsor’s criteria and submit an entry form to the sponsor organization.

Tips for Winning a National Merit Scholarship

Now, we’ll look at tips that will help you qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.

These tips fall into two categories: earning a high score on the PSAT and submitting a top-notch NMSC application.

How to Earn a High Score on the PSAT

  • Answer PSAT practice questions or take practice tests on the CollegeBoard’s website. Becoming familiar with the structure, format, and question types is extremely helpful.
  • When you get a question wrong, take the time to read the right answer and understand why it’s correct. Why did you get the question wrong? What steered you in the wrong direction? What’s a better strategy you can use in the future?
  • Based on how you perform on practice tests, determine your strengths and weaknesses. As you continue preparing, focus on improving in your areas of weakness.
  • This may mean drilling math questions, studying vocabulary words (along with roots, prefixes, and suffixes), brushing up on grammar, or practicing with reading passages.
  • If you need a lot of help in a subject area, consider hiring a tutor or working with a teacher at your school.
  • Continue taking practice tests/answering practice questions to ensure that you’re improving and getting closer to your target score.

How to Submit a Competitive NMSC Application

  • Have a GPA of at least 3.5 or better. You should have performed consistently well throughout high school, and you should have taken challenging courses. Of course, you can’t change your previous performance and schedule, but do your best to earn the highest grades possible now.
  • Earn a high score on the SAT (preferably 1400 or better). You can prepare for the SAT in much the same way you prepared for the PSAT.
  • Show deep extracurricular involvement in a few areas you’re passionate about, along with leadership experiences whenever possible.
  • Cultivate positive relationships with your principal and other school officials. Ask for your recommendation at least three weeks ahead of time. Provide a list of qualities, experiences, and accomplishments they can mention in your letter.

Writing an Excellent Personal Essay for Your Application

Your NMSC essay must be 500-600 words.

The personal essay topic varies each year. Here’s one example from a previous year:

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

Like your college application essay, this essay is intended to showcase your unique personality and perspective.

Follow the same guidelines you should follow when writing your college application essay:

  • Brainstorm what aspects of your life, personality, and values you’d like to share with the NMSC.
  • Write in your authentic voice and be honest. The committee wants to know who you are as an individual.
  • Open with an anecdote that introduces the topic you’d like to address. Use specific details that make the story yours.
  • Be reflective. What did you learn from the experience you’ve described? How did it help you grow or influence your life? Why does the topic you selected matter to you?
  • Proofread and edit. Make sure you’ve conveyed your ideas clearly and using appropriate conventions. Cut unnecessary fluff and clarify confusing parts.
  • Have a parent, friend, and/or teacher read your essay and provide feedback.

Final Thoughts: National Merit Scholarship (And How to Win It!)

If you become a National Merit Scholar, it’s a huge honor that can qualify you for several scholarships (and even a full ride at some schools).

  • Winning a National Merit scholarship is a long and highly competitive process, but it’s doable with practice and dedication.

The steps you must take to win a National Merit scholarship—earning good grades, participating in leadership and extracurricular activities, preparing for and performing well on the SAT, building relationships with teachers and administrators, and crafting a personal essay—are also essential for applying to college.

  • So, aiming for a National Merit scholarship is a win no matter what happens. Do your best, but don’t stress too much over the results.

You’ll learn a lot from the experience, and you’ll build the competitiveness of your college application. If you win a scholarship or two along the way, that’s icing on the cake.

Learn how we can help you with college and career guidance! Check out our YouTube channel!

Click Here to Schedule a Free Consult!

Featured Solution

national merit essay question

College Application Boot Camp

Stay on track and ease your anxiety with our second-to-none college application assistance.

How to get into Carnegie Mellon

Quick Links

  • Ethics & Honesty
  • Privacy Policy
  • Join Our Team

(732) 339-3835

[email protected]

national merit essay question

Compass Education Group

National Merit Scholarship Program Explained

national merit essay question

Below we cover the the most frequently asked questions about the National Merit Scholarship Program. Please see our National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs page for the latest information on actual and projected Selection Index cutoffs by state.

What is the National Merit Scholarship Program and how do you enter? The NMSP is a program administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in cooperation with the College Board to recognize high achieving high school seniors. Some recognition levels are based purely on junior PSAT/NMSQT scores, while other levels have additional qualifications (explained below). The NMSC gives out approximately $50 million in scholarships each year, and some colleges provide lowered —or even free —tuition to recognized students, multiplying the net impact of National Merit severalfold.

You must take the PSAT/NMSQT as a high school junior and either attend high school in the United States or U.S. Territories or be a U.S. student studying abroad. On your PSAT score report, you will see a section with your Selection Index and how you answered the questions about your entry eligibility. If there is an asterisk next to your Selection Index, it means that NMSC believes that you are ineligible.

What if I couldn’t take the PSAT? Every year students miss the PSAT for legitimate reasons such as illness. To allow those students the opportunity to compete in National Merit, NMSC has a process known as alternate entry . Students must make a written request to NMSC for an alternate entry application form. The application itself must be signed off on by your principal or counselor and postmarked no later than April 1 after the missed PSAT/NMSQT.

national merit essay question

What is the Selection Index? The Selection Index is a weighting of your PSAT component scores to determines the level of your recognition within the initial stages of the National Merit program.

How is the Selection Index calculated? The Selection Index is double the sum of your Reading and Writing (RW) score, and Math score divided by 10. Alternatively, you can simply drop the last zero on your section scores, double the RW and add the Math. For example, a student with scores of 690 RW and 720 M would have a Selection Index of 69 x 2 + 72 = 210. You cannot directly calculate a Selection Index from a Total Score (320 – 1520). For students entering the competition with an SAT score through Alternate Entry, note that — when calculating a Selection Index — each SAT section is capped at 760. If, for example, you have a 700 RW and 800 Math, your Selection Index would be 70 x2 + 76 = 216.

Why is the Reading and Writing twice as important as the Math? The emphasis on “verbal” skills has a long history with the NMSP. The digital PSAT no longer has separate Reading and Writing scores, but the RW score is still doubled.

I’ve already received my PSAT scores; how can I find out whether I will qualify for recognition? Although you can use the Compass projections to estimate whether you are likely to qualify as a Commended Student or Semifinalist, there is no way of knowing your official status until high schools are notified by NMSC in early September of your senior year (sometimes schools hear by late August). Compass has published the cutoffs for the class of 2024 and estimates for the class of 2025 . An historical archive dating back more than 15 years can be found here . The Commended cutoff for future classes becomes unofficially known in the April after the PSAT. Compass will report this score and how it may impact Semifinalist cutoffs on our regularly updated cutoffs post.

Will I qualify as a Semifinalist if I am in the 99th percentile for Selection Index according to my score report? Although approximately 1% of test takers will become Semifinalists, there are a number of reasons why percentile scores are far too inaccurate to determine eligibility. Even the state percentiles that are now on the digital SAT report do not have enough information, because they are actually based on the prior 3 years of scores. Further, the percentile is rounded, and not accurate enough to determine cutoffs.

Why do some states have more Semifinalists and Finalists than other states? Although Commended Scholars are honored based on a single, national cutoff, NMSC distributes Semifinalists proportionally to states (and District of Columbia and U.S. Territories) based on the number of graduating students in the state. For example, California sees approximately 2,100 Semifinalists each year—the most in the country. It gets 13% of Semifinalists because it produces approximately 13% of high school graduates. Mississippi, on the other hand, typically sees about 135 National Merit Semifinalists, because the state produces a bit more than 0.8% of U.S. graduates. The distribution is completely unrelated to the number of students taking the PSAT in the state.

Why are Semifinalist cutoffs so much higher in some states than in others? Two things that have impact on cutoffs are participation rates and demographics. In some states, ACT is the dominant test and not as many students take the PSAT. This leaves some students out of the competition and will tend to produce lower cutoffs. Some states have large pockets of extremely qualified students and are particularly competitive. For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey have class of 2024 cutoffs of 222 and 223, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had NMSF cutoffs of 207 for the class of 2024. The minimum Semifinalist cutoff for a state is the national Commended level. If, for example, the Commended cutoff is at 210, no state can have a Semifinalist cutoff less than 210.

How are Semifinalists set for homeschoolers, boarding school students, or U.S. students studying abroad? Homeschoolers are treated no differently than other students in a state. U.S. students studying abroad will have to meet the highest state cutoff in the country. For the class of 2024, that was 223. Boarding school cutoffs are the most complex to calculate. Instead of being set at the state level, they are determined regionally. A Northeast boarding school student, for example, must meet the highest cutoff of any state within the Northeast region. NMSC defines boarding schools as schools with predominantly out-of-state students. NMSC considers your state to be where you went to school when you took the PSAT, not your state of residency or the state of your new school.

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to participate? NMSC has made this part of the process easier to understand than it was in the past. Students at high school in the U.S. or in U.S. Territories are eligible. Period. Students studying abroad are eligible as long as they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. (“green card”) or 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.

Will NMSC notify me if I become a Semifinalist? No. NMSC provides information only to schools until a student becomes a Finalist. Homeschoolers are the exception.

When will my school tell me? NMSC mails information to schools in late August. Some schools let students know their status in early September. Many schools wait until NMSC officially releases student names to the press in the second week of September. Compass will track all of the latest news on our Semifinalists cutoff page.

Will being a Semifinalist help get me into my first-choice college? While Semifinalist status is a nice award to list on your application, you should not expect it alone to have a significant impact on your admission chances at most colleges. The recognition tells college that you did well on the PSAT. Your SAT and ACT scores are far more important to colleges; your National Merit status does not add much new information. However, having a high number of enrolled Semifinalists is seen as a badge of honor at some colleges and will factor in their admission decisions. Some colleges have programs specifically to attract National Merit Finalists and offer large merit awards.

Do I need to take the SAT to become a Semifinalist? No. Commended Student and Semifinalist recognition are based only on your Selection Index and your entry eligibility.

What happens after I am named a Semifinalist? Semifinalists will receive login credentials for the Finalist application portal. You will need to provide background information and an essay. Your school will need to provide its recommendation and electronically submit your application in the second week of October,

What is the National Merit Finalist essay prompt? NMSC may change the prompt in future years, but it has been the same for many years. It is broad enough that most students are able to use or slightly rework their Common App essay. For the class of 2024, the prompt was:

“To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.”

There is not a word limit specified, but the essay must fit within the provided space (approximately 3500 characters). Expect to keep your essay to 600 – 650 words.

Do I need to take the SAT or ACT to become a Finalist? Among the requirements to proceed from Semifinalist to Finalist is that you receive a “confirming score.” This score helps validate that you can, on an official SAT or ACT test date, achieve a high score and confirm your testing skill.

Can a high ACT score be a confirming score? Yes, the ACT can be used to confirm PSAT results.

How high of an SAT score do I need for a confirming score? The confirming score is determined each year by NMSC and is calculated in the same way as the PSAT Selection Index. The confirming score is set nationally, so it does not matter what Semifinalist cutoff you met. The confirming SAT Selection Index (SSI) generally falls at or near the Commended cutoff.

The easiest calculation of the SSI is from your section scores. Drop a zero, double your RW, and add your Math score. For example, Student X might have a total score of 1450, with section scores of 720 RW and 730 M. Student X’s SSI would be 2(72) + 73 = 217. It’s possible for a student with a lower total score to have a higher SSI. Student Y has a total score of 1430, with section scores of 750 ERW and 690 M. Student Y’s SSI would be 2(75) + 69 = 219.

You cannot determine your SSI directly from your total score. One student scoring 1400 might have a high enough SSI, whereas another student with a 1400 might fall short. You must know your RW and Math scores.

How high of an ACT score do I need for a confirming score? NMSC wants to have a level playing field, so it converts components of the ACT score into an SAT Selection Index. In order to do that, you need to use the official concordance tables published by ACT/College Board. There is no SAT Science, so NMSC does not look at ACT Science. So discard that score.

Step 1: Add your ACT English and ACT Reading scores Step 2: Use the ACT E+R to SAT RW concordance table to find the concordant SAT RW score based on the sum in step 1. Be sure that you are going in the correct direction when using the concordance tables. ACT E+R to SAT RW is not always the same as SAT RW to ACT E+R. Step 3: Use the ACT M to SAT M table to find the concordant SAT M score based on your ACT Math score. Step 4: Calculate your SAT SI: drop the last zeros (i.e. divide by 10), double your RW, and add your Math score. You want this number to be at least as high as your class year’s Commended Student score.

Example: A student has ACT scores of 32E, 34M, 33R, and 31S. Science is not used. The sum of E and R is 65. In the concordance tables, this is equivalent to a 700 RW. The 34 Math is concordant to a 760. This student’s SAT Selection Index is 70×2 + 76 = 216.

When do I have to take the SAT or ACT for the score to be ‘confirmed’? You can use any SAT or ACT score from the fall of your sophomore year to December of your senior year. This means that you could have received an SAT confirming score even before taking the PSAT/NMSQT. NMSC recommends that you not wait until the December test date.

How do I submit scores to NMSC? NMSC does not automatically know your SAT and ACT scores. You must submit them just as you would to a college. The College Board code for NMSC is 0085. The ACT code is 7984. Please verify these codes before submitting. Since NMSC will use your highest scores, there is no penalty for choosing them as one of your free score recipients when you register for the SAT or ACT.

Can I superscore SAT or ACT dates in order to reach the confirming score cutoff? No. NMSC will use your highest scores, but will not superscore across test dates.

If I have achieved a confirming score, is there any reason to shoot for a higher score? The requirement for a confirming score is simply true or false when applying to become a Finalist. However, your test scores are used to evaluate you during the scholarship phase of the competition. Depending on your goals, you may want to optimize your score.

Can sophomores qualify for National Merit recognition? No. Even if your scores are high enough, you will not be eligible for National Merit as a sophomore unless you will be graduating a year early. In that case, you should contact NMSC or your principal about next steps as NMSC has no way of automatically knowing your eligibility.

Is it hard for a Semifinalist to become a Finalist? Of the 16,000 Semifinalists, 15,000 become Finalists. You must go through an application process to proceed to Finalist level and then to compete for National Merit Scholarships. As part of the application, you must meet citizenship requirements, have a satisfactory academic record, achieve a confirming score on the SAT or ACT (and submit the scores to NMSC!), write an essay, and receive a recommendation from your principal. More information can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide . In the Semifinalist letter from your school (it will NOT come from NMSC unless you are homeschooled), NMSC will provide details about how to begin the process online.

When will I find out if I am a Finalist? You will be notified in February of senior year.

Do all Finalists receive scholarships? What is a National Merit Scholar? Only about half of Finalists become National Merit Scholars and receive a National Merit Scholarship. There are three types of scholarships for Finalists, each with its own criteria. A student can only receive one type of scholarship. Approximately 4,000 Finalists receive scholarships from sponsoring colleges with renewable stipends of $500–$2,500 per year. Students must be accepted by a sponsoring institution and list the college as first choice in order to receive a college-sponsored award. These awards are not transferable to another college. Corporations sponsor approximately 1,000 awards for Finalists each year with a minimum one-time value of $2,500 or $1,000 renewable. Most of these awards are to Finalists who are the children of employees. Approximately 2,500 students receive awards of $2,500 directly from National Merit. These awards are highly competitive and are allocated proportionally by state. A list of sponsoring colleges and corporations can be found in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide .

I’ve heard about colleges that provide full-ride awards. Why are college-sponsored awards only listed as $500–$2,500 per year? Colleges can also choose to provide additional awards to National Merit Finalists. These are not technically National Merit Scholarships, but they can be the most important awards for many students. Which colleges offer these awards and how much they offer can change from year to year. In recent years, Florida has had a generous scholarship program for National Merit Finalists, and schools such as UT-Dallas and Texas A&M also provide substantial awards. Compass does not maintain a database of scholarships. The National Merit forum at is a useful resource.

Are scholarships available to Commended Students and Semifinalists? Technically, these students cannot be National Merit Scholars, but approximately 1,100 of them will receive Special Scholarships from sponsoring corporations. As with other corporate-sponsored awards, these are predominantly for the children of employees, although companies can also identify students in a particular region or field of study.

When will I find out if I receive a scholarship? You will be notified of scholarship status sometime between March and June of your senior year. In order to receive a college-sponsored scholarship, you must note the college as your first choice on the National Merit application. It can be to your advantage not to immediately choose a first-choice college—you can leave it as “Undecided.” You do not want to miss out on a large scholarship because you have listed the wrong college. There is no reason to list a college that does not provide National Merit Scholarships. List your first-choice among college that do provide scholarships. You can update your choice via the Online Scholarship Application portal.

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.


Role: --- Student Parent/Guardian Counselor Other

Class Year: --- 2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029 Other N/A

Popular Posts

  • National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2025 November 15, 2023
  • SAT and ACT Policies and Score Ranges for Popular Colleges and Universities November 20, 2023
  • Colleges that Allow Self-Reporting of SAT and ACT Scores November 20, 2023
  • National Merit Scholarship Program Explained October 4, 2023
  • Using digital PSAT Scores to Compare SAT and ACT October 23, 2023

Recent Posts

  • The PSAT Counselor Toolkit November 16, 2023
  • What’s a Good Digital PSAT Score? November 3, 2023

Previous Post Superscoring and Score Choice Policies

Next post national merit semifinalist cutoffs class of 2024 - archived, 456 comments.

' src=

Hello! I had a question about Alternative Entry. If a student took the PSAT/NMSQT as a 10th grader (as practice, with the rest of his class), would this then disqualify him from using the “Alternative Entry” method in 11th grade? I realize that to do Alternative Entry you can’t already taken the PSAT– but I wasn’t sure if that applied to just PSATs in junior year, when kids are eligible for entering the National Merit competition. [For clarification- I’m sure the test that the kids took was the PSAT/NMSQT, and NOT the PSAT 10.] Thank you!

' src=

Steph, Only the junior year PSAT/NMSQT serves as a qualifier for National Merit. The sophomore year test your student took is, therefore, irrelevant. The Alternate Entry process specifically applies to students who are unable to take the 11th grade PSAT.

' src=

Hi Art, For a 10th grader, would you recommend taking PSAT/NMSQT or SAT given that to qualify for NMSC, the child would have to re-take PSAT/NMSQT again in junior year.

Vivek, There is not a right or wrong answer here. Normally I would recommend that a student go ahead and take the PSAT. It’s convenient; it’s very similar to the digital SAT. That last part is important. If the student’s testing career is going to extend beyond this December (and that’s true for virtually all sophomores), they will be taking the digital SAT. If your student wants to get in a paper SAT, they have until December. For all but a very small number of sophomores, that seems like overkill. A fall sophomore is unlikely to be at a point where they’ll get a final score (the exception would be students already well into the 1500s). And it doesn’t have a practice benefit because the paper SAT is almost gone. So my soft recommendation would be to go ahead and take the PSAT.

' src=

1. For the students who got selected to semi-finalists, they need to submit only one school of their choice (one of the questions) in the NMSQT finalist application – does the public/private school choice make a difference in getting the Corporate/NMSQT awards? 2. Do the parents need to be an employee of the Corporate Sponsors to receive any awards under the corporate awards category?

Thank you in advance. Best,

Neelahm, If a Semifinalist becomes a Finalist and has listed a school that sponsors National Merit, NMSC will generally match the student with a school award. If the student’s first choice is not a sponsor, then they will be eligible for a corporate or NMSC award. The student’s first choice school can be updated through April, I believe, but the matching process starts in March.

Most corporate awards are for the children of employees. You can find more info here on page 10 of the Student Guide .

' src=

English Learners cannot take the NMSQT w/accommodations such as “extended time”; the system does not allow them. Is this a true statement?

Synde, That is a true statement. There is no accommodation specifically for English Learners on the PSAT, SAT, or ACT as far as I am aware.

' src=

Hello Art If my ACT is 35 & translates to 228/230 ( twice taken ) and SAT is (229) , which do you think should I submit? Also if I do ACT should I just submit the superscore as it will include both. Would you also be able to chime in with regards to colleges which would be a better option to send SAT ( 1530 ) or ACT (35 both times) ?

As always thank you so much for your time & help Best MaryAnn

Mary Ann, Both your SAT and ACT are so strong that it doesn’t matter for National Merit which one you provide. Those scores are only used as a minimum qualifying standard — the “confirming score.” They are not used in the competition itself.

It’s very much a toss-up for colleges. As a single point to point concordance, a 35 is equivalent to a 1540. In the other direction, a 1530 is concordant with a 35. You might say that the ACT is ever so slightly stronger.

Thank you so much for your kind help and time! Best !

' src=

My son is in his junior year and he has an SAT score of 1570 and a PSAT score of 1460. Do you think he has a chance to qualify to become a semi finalist for NMSQT Scholarship? Please let us know.

Thanks, Usha

Usha, Only his PSAT score matters for qualification as a Semifinalist. Actually, it’s the Selection Index that matters, not so much his 1460. The SI puts twice the weight on the Reading and Writing score. You’ll find his Selection Index on his score report. The cutoffs are determined by state. In some places he would probably qualify easily. In other states he might miss out. See our estimates in my other post here .

' src=

I wanted to ask if you know what the typical cutoffs for the National Merit African American, Hispanic recognition, Rural recognition typically are? I know they’ve been making some changes the past few years? I’m a tutor who’s going to be doing some pro bono work at a Title I school in our county for some of their top sophs this coming fall and the admin asked if i knew what the typical cutoffs are for those programs!

Love your blog!

MG, I wish I could be more helpful here, but College Board doesn’t release the figures — at least not en masse. The cutoffs are set by state, and student must be in the top 10% of scores (they can also qualify via AP scores). You might want to call College Board and ask about your state.

Thank you for the kind words, and thank you for helping students in your local area!

Leave a Reply Cancel Reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Please enable JavaScript to submit this form.

By using this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy .

© 2023 Compass Education Group. SAT, PSAT, NMSC, National Merit, Merit Scholar, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, HSPT and AP are registered trademarks not owned by Compass Education Group. The trademark holders were not involved in the production of, and do not endorse, this website.

  • SAT, ACT, & PSAT
  • PROCTORED (In-Person or Live Online)
  • INTERACTIVE (Online, On-Demand)
  • DIGITAL ADAPTIVE (New for Class of ’25 & Beyond)

national merit essay question

Get Free Profile Evaluation

National merit scholarship requirements: the complete guide.

Student at graduation ceremony

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 11/29/23

With tuition prices seemingly rising yearly, students can seek out scholarships to help ease the financial burden of attending college. To learn more about the National Merit Scholarship, read on!

Scholarships are an excellent type of financial aid to cut tuition costs and make your college experience more affordable. And the best part? There are tons of different scholarships out there designed to fit various backgrounds, interests, and academic achievements. 

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the National Merit Scholarship requirements, how to win, and what scores you'll need to have a fighting chance. Read on to learn how to get the National Merit Scholarship and cut your tuition costs!

What Is the National Merit Scholarship? 

The National Merit Scholarship is a prize and recognition awarded through the National Merit Scholarship Program. The program began in 1955, and approximately 1.5 million high school students enter annually. 

Students who achieve exceptional scores on the PSAT/ NMSQT are typically notified in early September that they qualify as semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship. National merit qualifying scores are based on “Selection Index scores (calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Test scores).” 

In February, approximately 15,000 were informed they were finalists. From March to mid-June, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) will decide which finalists (approximately 7,500) will receive a Merit Scholarship. There are three types: 

  • National Merit $2,500 Scholarships
  • Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards 
  • College-sponsored Merit Scholarship Awards 

National Merit Scholarships are single-paid scholarships awarded to high-achieving test-takers on a state-representational basis. Though it’s not a full-ride scholarship , it can significantly contribute to your college expenses. 

Female student celebrating with fists in air

National Merit Scholarship Requirements

You’ll be asked questions on PSAT/NMSQT test day to gauge your eligibility for the program by making sure you adhere to the following requirements: 

  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT “in the specified year of the high school program” and no later than your third year in grades 9 through 11 (your junior year). 
  • Must be enrolled in high school (traditional or homeschool) and be making good progress toward graduation 
  • You plan to go to college right after high school
  • You attend school in the U.S., the District of Columbia, or a U.S. commonwealth/territory

If you do not meet the last National Merit Scholarship requirement and attend school outside of the U.S., you may still be eligible if you’re: 

  • A U.S. citizen 
  • Lawful resident 
  • Applied for a permanent residence and haven’t been denied 
  • Intend to become a U.S. citizen as soon as possible

Make sure to read the eligibility requirements on the National Merit Scholarship website before applying to ensure you have met each standard. 

How to Get the National Merit Scholarship

If you’re wondering how to get the National Merit Scholarship, these steps can help you become a finalist and a winner. 


The first step to winning the National Merit Scholarship is acing the PSAT/NMSQT. Taking the PSAT 8/9 or the PSAT 10 will not make you eligible: it must be the PSAT/NMSQT. 

An excellent PSAT score can help you become one of the approximately 50,000 students selected from over a million test-takers to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship: PSAT scores are your first step. 

Score Highly on the SAT or ACT

If you’ve been named a semifinalist, you must take the SAT or ACT to become eligible to be a finalist . Your scores from either test are used to confirm your performance on the PSAT/NMSQT. These scores can help you become a finalist but won't be used to determine whether you're a National Merit Scholarship winner. 

Remember to request your scores from the College Board or ACT be reported to the National Merit Scholarship Program. The NMSC will calculate your Selection Index score based on your performance. You can see how this is done through your Online Scholarship Application (OSA). 

Maintain Good Academic Standing

Good academic standing is key to becoming a National Merit Scholar. To be eligible, you must have a consistently impressive academic record from grades 9 through 12. Remember, your work isn't finished, even after submitting your ACT or SAT scores. 

Your school will supply your transcripts to the program, and they are required to report any decline in your academic performance to the NMSC. 

Have a Strong Application

A strong OSA includes: 

  • High SAT or ACT scores 
  • An endorsement for your standing as a finalist by your school’s principal or a principal-designated school official
  • A well-written essay  

Once you’ve finished, your principal or school official will fill in school-specific information. The National Merit Scholarship essay prompt can change annually. One past prompt is: 

“ Describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. ”

While prompts can change yearly, general steps to writing a good essay include: 

  • Brainstorming relevant anecdotes, people, and places relevant to the prompt. 
  • Maintain your writer’s voice, but be professional and avoid slang. 
  • Don’t just state the what: state the why and how. How did an event make you feel? How did it change you? Ensure your essay shows the depth of your reflection. 
  • Edit, edit, and edit again: you don’t want grammar and spelling mistakes to distract your reader! 

If you’re wondering, there’s no need to partake in an interview to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. These scholarships are primarily based on your academic performance and academic achievements. 

What Score Do You Need for the National Merit Scholarship? 

You'll need to achieve a high PSAT score for the National Merit Scholarship. Approximately 1% of the top test-takers are named semifinalists. The NSMC compiles your scores from each section (8-38) and multiples the sum by 2 to get your Selection Index score. 

Unlike the international Fulbright Scholarship , the National Merit Scholarship is specifically geared towards recognizing exceptional American high school students on their path to pursuing undergraduate education in the United States, District of Columbia, or U.S. commonwealths and territories. 

Take a look at the National Merit cutoff by state range from 207 to 224, based on the Recent Selection Index: 

When Does National Merit Finalist Come Out?

Finalists will get a letter in the mail at their home addresses in early February. Or, they can check their Finalist letter on their Online Scholarship Application account. You can find more details about the National Merit Scholarship Competition in the information provided.

Female graduate wearing cap and gown throwing confetti

National Merit Scholarship: FAQs 

If you still have questions about how to get a National Merit Scholarship, these FAQs can help. 

1. What Qualifies You to Be a National Merit Scholar?

National Merit Scholarship winners are chosen out of finalists based on: 

  • Academic performance 
  • Information about the school's curriculum and grading system
  • PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index score
  • Written recommendation from the principal or school official 
  • Information about the student's activities and leadership
  • A personal essay

2. What PSAT score do you need to be a National Merit Scholar?

National Merit Scholars are in the top 1% of all PSAT test-takers. This means your PSAT score on each section should average about 36-37 for your best chance of becoming a National Merit Scholar. This converts to a total PSAT/NMSQT score of about 1460 to 1520. 

3. Does a 1400 PSAT Qualify for National Merit?

Based on the scores of real grade 11 students who took the PSAT, a score of 1400 puts you in the 97th percentile. You may not qualify for the National Merit Scholarship with this score: it also depends on the cut-off scores of your state. 

4. How Many Finalists Win a Scholarship? 

Approximately half of all finalists (7,500) win a scholarship, and 1,000 students who weren’t named finalists may be eligible for Special Scholarships through the NMSC. 

5. What Are the National Merit Scholarship’s Commended Students? 

Commended students represent more than two-thirds of the 50,000 top-scoring students. These students receive a Letter of Commendation but typically don't have a high enough score to be considered a semifinalist. 

Final Thoughts

If you’re already studying hard for the PSAT/NMSQT, your hard work could help you get a National Merit Scholarship. Remember that becoming a National Merit Scholar requires strong PSAT and SAT or ACT scores. If you become a semifinalist, you must submit your OSA for your chance at becoming a winner. 

Good luck on your quest to become a National Merit Scholar! 

First name, vector icon of a person

Get A Free Consultation

You may also like.

The Columbia Interview: Info, Prep Tips + Sample Questions

The Columbia Interview: Info, Prep Tips + Sample Questions

How to Get Into Virginia Tech: Admission Requirements + Tips

How to Get Into Virginia Tech: Admission Requirements + Tips

Vector icon of person in suit with a check mark to its right


How To Write A National Merit Essay

  • Author Sandra W.

national merit essay question

Writing A National Merit Essay Sample 

When writing National Merit Scholarship essay, approach used is the same as you would any other scholarship essay. One way to structure your essay is to focus on a life altering or defining moment. Draw from a simple occurrence that ever happened to you, or consider getting more intense event. This event can be like; losing a home during storm, and relay what lesson you took from that experience. In the introduction paragraph of your essay, analyze this defining moment, and the last sentence have your thesis statement that summarizes how that event affected your outlook on life.

In your body paragraphs highlight how your life has been affected by this moment. Can be personally or academically and finally, conclude by relating this experience to your goals your desire for becoming a National Merit Scholar. Organize brainstorming for essay topics to get other peoples insight, and then edit your final product.  National merit essay vary in subject. However, most of them talk about personal experience.

Tips that will guide you write a personal merit essay

  • Have subject matter that you can understand better as it is the most important aspect of your essay. Give yourself time to brainstorm the ideas as this will help you consider the find a subject you had not considered at first.
  • Discuss major accomplishments, and why you consider them accomplishments. Do not limit yourself to accomplishments you have been formally recognized for only. The best interesting essays often are based on accomplishments that were achieved sometimes back, but become crucial when placed in the context of your life. This comes to pass only when the scholarship committee receives a list of your credentials.
  • Disclose any quality, or skills that distinguish you from others. Consider your favorite books that may have influenced your life in a meaningful way. Any difficult time in your life, that you went through and how it changed you.
  • Have you ever struggled mightily for something and succeeded in a big way
  • Over many things in the world, what would you most like to be doing right now? Where would you most like to be given the freedom to choose as this will help you realize what you love most.
  • What is most unwavering personality that you strongly believe and how do people regard you? Do you maintain strong beliefs or adhere to a philosophy?
  • Discuss anything that you have ever done outside classroom that demonstrates qualities sought after by universities studies.
  • What are your most important extracurricular or community activities and the dreams that you hold so tight for future goals  and you wish to accomplish.

Recent Posts

  • A Sample Essay on Birds 21-08-2023 0 Comments
  • Is Homeschooling an Ideal Way... 21-08-2023 0 Comments
  • Essay Sample on Man 14-08-2023 0 Comments
  • Academic Writing(23)
  • Admission Essay(172)
  • Book Summaries(165)
  • College Tips(312)
  • Content Writing Services(1)
  • Essay Help(517)
  • Essay Writing Help(76)
  • Essays Blog(0)
  • Example(337)
  • Infographics(2)
  • Letter Writing(1)
  • Outlines(137)
  • Photo Essay Assignment(4)
  • Resume Writing Tips(62)
  • Samples Essays(315)
  • Writing Jobs(2)


National Merit Scholarship Essay

National junior honor society essay.

National Junior Honor Society I love to learn and I believe that is the point of coming to school. In the sixth grade I got interviewed by Ms. Spille and I got accepted into the AVID program at Lake Braddock. This program has taught me several things, for example, how to be more responsible, how to be organized and how to use my time wisely. I always turn in my homework on time and do my best, so it looks nice and neat. I am one of the only people who use my agenda out of my classes.

AICPA Legacy Scholarship Essay

AICPA Legacy Scholarship Application Short Responses Please answer each of the following questions to be considered for an AICPA Legacy Scholarship. Each response must have a minimum of 100 words and a maximum of 250 to be eligible for review. 1) Why are you interested in becoming a CPA, and how will it impact your career? If someone asks me “Why do you choose audit as your career?”

National Honor Society Application Essay

National Honor society was established to recognize outstanding high school students. National Honor society recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of academic success, leadership, character and service. I should be in National Honor Society because I think I represent a lot of the qualities needed to be in this organization. Throughout my years in high school, I have been very involved in the band program here at Langham Creek. As a freshman, I started out in Concert 2 band.

Gerald Graff Hidden Intellectualism Essay

Everything I do revolves around my music. I have been around music all my life, whether it was listening to it or playing it. I’m very passionate about music and I love playing an instrument. The instrument

Band Scholarship Essay

As a nervous freshman about to embark on my high school journey, I had the choice to end my band career. Despite not knowing at all what to expect, I decided to pursue the fine arts into

Personal Narrative: The Trumpet

In the genesis of the school year in 2013, I determined that I was choosing to learn a new instrument. The instrument of my choosing was the trumpet, the mightiest and first of them all. My band teacher, Mrs. Clark, was desperate for me to play the trumpet. My settlement was set with her opinion on my skill set. This is only the start of my journey to effectuate the improbable.

Nurse Scholarship Essay

As a first generation student to attend college from a family of seven, the journey to a higher education has been arduous and overwhelming. My family gives me all the encouragement I need and are very optimistic about pursuing a higher degree. Unlike myself, my parents did not have the opportunity to attend college. My parents were born and raised in a small town in Mexico where the highest level of education they received was fifth grade. I have worked since I was 14 years old to support my parents with bills, and also saving for college and my own vehicle.

Music Therapy Personal Statement

After discovering music therapy, I fell in love with the idea of working with children on a one on one basis. I believe my gentle nature has lead me to want to work on a one on one basis, instead of a full classroom. One of my biggest inspirations, for following my dream to become a music therapist was my high school chorus director, Linda Tieman. She brought me to Ohio University, and helped me to further explore music therapy. Mrs. Tieman introduced me to an Ohio University alumni, Jessica Lucas, who graduated with a music therapy degree.

Personal Narrative: A Career In The Music Industry

Fortunately after years of learning music, I have acquired useful skills that could help me perform better in college. Since I was a kid, my father would always listen to his favorite songs when he had free time, for instance, while driving a car. At first, I actually don’t enjoy music that much, I thought it was annoying and loud. But as I listen to it more, I grew fond of it.

Personal Statement: A Career In Music Education

My band director was the one who really made me want to be a teacher. He had such a passion and intensity for music education; it was really inspirational. 3. Who or what helped you choose to remain a teacher? My students help me stay motivated and help me get out of bed every morning.

A Music Career Analysis

My grandpa, when I was little, always used to sing around the house and to the kids to make us laugh. It had always made me feel the same way I do today-that even if you do not sound like the world's greatest singer, you can still sing and do what you love to do. As for my music teachers, Mr. Howe is the one that got me started playing the trumpet, as well as the piano and the guitar when I was a child growing up in the Mulvane school system. He was not necessarily the best at teaching the high school classes in the school, but he definitely was good at getting the new players (the fifth-graders) started out fresh, and I am very grateful for the fact

Older Adults Involvement In Music

Learners who take part in learning instruments on one to one basis or as part of ensembles, or playing music in a group were usually a motivating factor. The participants in this study described music-making “as a means for interaction with others” as well as “developing a new skill” and “reminiscing”. They included that other than learning to play a repertoire, they gain knowledge about technical mastery, the experience of participating in an ensemble, and developing skills in reading and interpreting music. Some of the adult learners stated that playing an instrument could also effectuate emotions and memories related to family members. There are also participants who were motivated to play music as it helps them to recover their health issues and improving cognitive abilities.

Musical Learning: A Case Study

Aim The aim of this portfolio is to trace several instigators that have an impact and determine young learners first motivation to begin active forms of engagement in musical learning, such as instrumental lessons. Not only a description of them but also the identification of these factors as promotive or demotive, having an adaptive or maladaptive impact to musical development. Guided by the longitudinal study carried out by McPherson and Davidson (2012) who explored the biographical determinants of different musical journeys and of musical excellence, I embark my self in a process of literature review to look for the different catalysts shaping children musical tendencies and comparing one case study from their research, and one student

Transformative Moment In Life

At a young age, I constantly wanted to express myself through music. I always found a way to incorporate music into my daily life, whether it be by blasting my favorite music, creating my own funky songs, or even having the opportunity to participate in my elementary school choir. My love for music actually took flight after I had decided to join my elementary school choir, however, in my opinion, it is not the most transformative moment in my life. After elementary

Negative Effects Of Music Education

What if there is one activity that can benefit students in every school across the nation? An activity that helps students to raise their grades and scores on standardized testing? An activity that allows students to form lasting friendships? An activity that will help students become more disciplined and confident? Would you let your child take that activity?

More about National Merit Scholarship Essay


  1. Students qualify as National Merit Semi-Finalists

    national merit essay question

  2. National Merit Scholarship Essay Help

    national merit essay question

  3. National merit scholarship essay question

    national merit essay question

  4. National Merit Scholarship

    national merit essay question

  5. National Merit Finalist

    national merit essay question

  6. Definition essay: National merit scholarship essay

    national merit essay question


  1. Where Can You Find the Answers to Boy Scout Merit Badge Worksheet Questions?

    Unofficial merit badge worksheets are available for free at However, the Boy Scouts of America discourages the use of such worksheets. A list of current merit badges and their requirements is available at

  2. How Do You Answer a Question in Essay Format?

    According to the The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue, a good essay is focused, organized, supported and packaged. Keywords should also be identified within the question around which the answer is constructed.

  3. How to Write a Perspective Essay?

    Writing a perspective essay begins with choosing a topic, determining the thesis statement for the essay, choosing a specific point of view and backing up the essay with concrete examples, illustrations and questions.

  4. National Merit Scholarship Essay Example 1

    Scholarship Essays · To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have

  5. National Merit Scholarship Essay Example 2

    Scholarship Essays · To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have

  6. What's up with the National Merit essay? : r/ApplyingToCollege

    What's up with the National Merit essay? ... Describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have

  7. How to Write a National Merit Essay

    You can approach the National Merit Scholarship essay as you would any other scholarship essay. According to Kansas State University and Dr. Kay Peterson from

  8. National Merit Finalist

    Recommendations · What six adjectives best describe you? · What do you consider your greatest accomplishment(s)? · What are your strongest goals

  9. National Merit Scholarship (How to Win It!): The Winner's Guide

    Your NMSC essay must be 500-600 words. The personal essay topic varies each year. Here's one example from a previous year: To help the reviewers get to know you

  10. guide

    ... essay authored solely by the Semifinalist. Semifinalists must respond to an essay prompt provided on the osa, which helps scholarship se- lection committees

  11. National Merit Scholarship Program Explained

    Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.” There is not a word limit specified, but the essay

  12. National Merit Scholarship Requirements: The Complete Guide

    Explain why this is meaningful to you.” While prompts can change yearly, general steps to writing a good essay include: Brainstorming relevant anecdotes, people

  13. How To Write A National Merit Essay

    How To Write A National Merit Essay · Discuss major accomplishments, and why you consider them accomplishments. · Disclose any quality, or skills

  14. National Merit Scholarship Essay

    National Merit Scholarship Corporation Essay – Jacob Klenke Most people of academic achievement ought to be able to readily cite a vast number of supportive