Everything You Need to Know About National Merit Commended Scholar

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a female student carrying her bag and notebooks while looking at the camera smiling

Everything You Need to Know About National Merit Commended Scholar

What is a National Merit Commended Scholar?

What is a National Merit Commended Scholar? Scholarships sound very appealing when it comes to college admission. However, it can be complicated. According to the College Board, even though over 4.5 million high school juniors took the PSAT the previous year, only 7,500 were chosen as finalists for the National Merit Scholarship, which is less than 5% of the total.

How can a high school student qualify for the National Merit Scholarship? What is a “National Merit Commended Scholar”? What does the admissions process signify for your prospects at prestigious colleges? Does receiving the National Merit designation have advantages besides the initial scholarship opportunity?

The PSAT, also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is taken by more than 3.5 million high school students annually. This test will give you a good idea of how you will do on the SAT and tell you if you will be eligible to be a National Merit Commended Scholar.

You can experience what it’s like to take a standardized test with the PSAT. Your test results are not transmitted to colleges and do not affect your high school grades. Even so, you should treat this exam seriously. Your eligibility to be a National Merit Commended Scholar is based on your PSAT results.

What is the PSAT?

In the fall of their sophomore or junior year of high school, most students take the PSAT. Ask a teacher or school counselor for information about the PSAT test dates and the process of registration.

For the PSAT, many students need to prepare. If you decide to study for the PSAT, you will have a significant advantage over your classmates. Studying for the SAT is the best method to prepare for the PSAT.

View of a woman reading a letter in a sofa.

National Merit Commended Scholar Requirements

What is the National Merit Commended Scholar requirements? The National Merit Scholarship Program is a national academic competition for high school students to win scholarships to pay for their college education. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) oversees its administration.

Students who perform well on the PSAT are eligible for the National Merit Program. The test’s full name is the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT for short. Don’t take the PSAT 10, an alternative that won’t count for the National Merit Scholarship, but the official PSAT/NMSQT instead.

High scorers may be named “commended students,” “semifinalists,” or (after submitting an additional application) “finalists” by the NMSC after receiving their PSAT results. About 7,500 students are chosen from the finalist list to receive scholarships.

To be eligible as a National Merit Commended Scholar, AdmissionSight has listed the three main requirements:

  1. The PSAT/NMSQT must be taken by students in the designated high school program year and no later than the third year of grades 9 through 12. Typically, this means that junior-year students should take the test in the fall.
  2. Secondly, applicants must be homeschooled or full-time students at a traditional high school. They must also have good grades and plan to go to college in the fall after graduating high school.
  3. Finally, to qualify, students must either be U.S. citizens or permanent residents enrolled in high school overseas or attending high school in the United States, the District of Columbia, or another U.S. commonwealth or territory.

The NMSC will use a few factual questions at the start of the PSAT/NMSQT to establish a student’s eligibility for the program.

National Merit Commended Scholar Cutoff

When is the National Merit Commended Scholar cutoff? Students who took the PSAT in October 2021 should refer to the cutoffs in the table below. (Alternatively, these are the requirements for the Class of 2023.)

a female student writing on her notebook

The complete list of Selection Index scores for National Merit Semifinalists is shown below.

State Selection Index
Alabama 212
Alaska 210
Arizona 214
Arkansas 210
California 220
Colorado 217
Connecticut 221
Delaware 218
DC 223
Florida 216
Georgia 218
Hawaii 215
Idaho 215
Illinois 219
Indiana 214
Iowa 212
Kansas 214
Kentucky 212
Louisiana 213
Maine 215
Maryland 222
Massachusetts 220
Michigan 218
Minnesota 216
Mississippi 210
Missouri 213
Montana 207
Nebraska 212
Nevada 210
New Hampshire 213
New Jersey 223
New Mexico 208
New York 219
North Carolina 217
North Dakota 209
Ohio 216
Oklahoma 211
Oregon 216
Pennsylvania 218
Rhode Island 216
South Carolina 213
South Dakota 212
Tennessee 215
Texas 219
Utah 211
Vermont 213
Virginia 221
Washington 220
West Virginia 207
Wisconsin 213
Wyoming 207
Average Score 215

The bar was extremely high if you took the test in Washington, DC. You needed a score of 224 or above. The states with the lowest cutoffs, at 207, were West Virginia, North Dakota, and Montana. For all states, the average cutoff was 215;

If you haven’t taken the PSAT yet but want to be considered as a National Merit Commended Scholar, you should strive for a Selection Index score of 2–5 points better than the state-specific cutoff. Because qualifying scores can vary a little yearly, you should set your sights a little higher.

Stages of Becoming a National Merit Commended Scholar

  1. Recognized Students. Students who scored in the top 50,000 on the PSAT are informed that they made the first cut in April. Your school will let you know if you are given this recognition and meet the requirements to be a semifinalist or commended student.
  2. One-third of the recognized pupils are semifinalists. The PSAT semifinalists represent each state’s top scorers. You will receive a new application to continue in the National Merit Scholar competition if you are chosen as one. This application takes into account community activity and has an essay component.
  3. Commended Students. More than two-thirds (approximately 34,000) of about 50,000 high scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT received Letters of Commendation in late September in recognition of their outstanding academic promise. Commended Students are selected based on a nationally applied Selection Index score, which varies from year to year and is usually lower than the level required for participants to be named Semifinalists in their respective states. Although Commended Students are not eligible for National Merit Scholarships, some may be eligible for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
  4. Finalists. If you were chosen as a finalist, your high school and the two institutions you nominated will be notified in February of your senior year. A Certificate of Merit serves as official documentation of this wonderful honor. Up until this point, about 15,000 semifinalists had advanced.
  5. Merit Scholars. In March, approximately 7,500 seniors are informed that they had been named “Merit Scholars” and selected to win the $2,500 National Merit Scholarship. The finalists were chosen based on their qualifications, aptitudes, and achievements. Various business and academic awards are available in addition to being a National Merit Commended Scholar. Depending on the company or institution, the quantities change.

If you’re set on being a National Merit Commended Scholar, start by excelling in your classes and getting ready for the PSAT. As soon as you can, start. The summer is a great time to prepare for the PSAT because it is only offered once a year, in the fall.

AdmissionSight has helped students with their college applications for more than ten years. You can also look at our advice on standing out when applying for scholarships. To have a thorough discussion, scheduling an initial consultation with us is advisable.




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