top of page

What You Need to Know About the National Merit Scholarship

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

What types of scholarships are awarded?  There are 3 types of scholarships:

  1. One-time $2500 Scholarship awarded by National Merit Scholarship Corporation

  2. A Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship (one-time or renewable for 4 years)

  3. A College Sponsored Merit scholarship.

Note:   While there are many institutions in Florida that meet the eligibility criteria, only 6 institutions participate with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation as a College Sponsor for the 2017-18 academic year:

  1. Florida State University

  2. New College of Florida

  3. University of Central Florida

  4. University of Florida

  5. University of Miami

  6. University of South Florida

The Benacquisto Scholarship Program is a merit scholarship for Florida high school graduates who receive recognition as a National Merit® Scholar. Eligible scholars will receive an award equal to the institutional cost of attendance for an in-state student minus the sum of Bright Futures and the National Merit® award.  In other words, National Merit Scholars who take advantage of the Benacquisto will receive a full ride (all expenses paid) education.

What are the steps to becoming a National Merit Scholar?

  1. Take the PSAT/NMSQT in October of the 11th grade

  2. If your score is in the top 1% of all students in your state, you are named a Semifinalist.  (In 2018, the score needed for this was 219 or above).

  3. All Semifinalists must go through an application process. As part of the application, you must:

  4. meet citizenship requirements

  5. have a satisfactory academic record

  6. achieve a confirming score on the SAT (and send to NMSC)

  7. write an essay

  8. receive a recommendation from your principal/guidance counselor

(NMSC is intentionally vague regarding what they consider a satisfactory academic record.  The confirming SAT score changes each year based on the aggregate results of that year’s test.)

How difficult is it to qualify?

  1. NMSC aims to award Semifinalist status to about 16,000 students across the nation.  This explains why the state selection indexes (cut off scores) are different from year to year.

  2. In order to be ready for the PSAT by 11th Grade, a student needs to finish Algebra I and Geometry prior to October of Junior year.

  3. Since this is a one-time chance, test preparation before the PSAT is helpful and necessary.

What is the PSAT?

A 2 hour and 45 minute standardized test with 4 sections:

– Reading Test (60 minutes) – Writing and Language Test (35 minutes) – Math Test-no calculator (25 minutes) – Math Test-calculator (45 Minutes)

Although it is given in the fall of the 11th grade to qualify for National Merit, taking it it in the 9th and 10th grade is recommended practice and allows you to see how close you are to a qualifying score.

How do I take the PSAT?

  1. Be sure to sign up at a participating public or private school in time to take the PSAT in October of the 11th grade. You will not be able to do this online; you must contact and sign up at the school directly.  Check with the school at the end of the previous spring to find out when you need to let them know that you wish to take the PSAT at their school. Most public schools will let you take the test with them, but you must get registration papers and fees to them in a timely manner (usually in September of that year.)  This time will vary because some schools make provisions for a number of additional students and some have just enough for their own students.

  2. If an emergency or illness prevents you from taking the test and you still want to enter the competition, you must contact National Merit by March 1 to see if they will consider you for some alternate testing.

Important Note: On test day, the student is asked to fill out “Student Information”. One of the questions asks “if the student is regularly enrolled in a school”.  A homeschooled student must answer “YES” to this question. Home school is considered by National Merit to be a viable school program. A student who answers “NO” to this question will be DISQUALIFIED from the National Merit Competition because a student must be “in school” to participate. Further, there is a HOME SCHOOL CODE that must be entered in the area designated for “School Code” on the test form in order for the student to receive his/her scores directly rather than through the school where the test was taken.

When will I know if I am a Semifinalist?

Early December: National Merit mails score reports to high school principals.

March 1: Postmark deadline for students who missed taking the PSAT/NMSQT to request consideration for alternate entry into the Merit program.

September: Schools are notified of the students who are Semifinalists (16,000).  Students are invited to fill out a Merit Scholarship application online which must be completed by the deadline (usually mid-October).  To be considered for a college sponsored scholarship, the student would need to choose an institution that participates in the National Merit Competition as a first choice when responding to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

February:  NMSC names Finalists (15,000).

March-Jun:  NMSC awards scholarships (one of the 3 types identified above) to about 8,000 students.

Note:  You must enter college FULL TIME at the college where you received a college sponsored National Merit Scholarship in order to keep the scholarship.  YOU MAY NOT POSTPONE COLLEGE OR GO PART TIME.

How do I Prepare?

As stated above, it is important to complete both Algebra I and Geometry before October of 11th grade, and Algebra II is strongly encouraged.

Take the PSAT in the 9th grade to get a base score as well as an experience of what the test is like.  Use your score to plan your preparation for the run up to the test in junior year.

Endeavor to understand and internalize the test format and content by taking multiple PSAT and SAT practice tests (IMPORTANT: make sure any practice tests you take are written by the College Board itself).

Analyze your mistakes so you know where to focus your study.  Look for any weakness and practice those concepts or kinds of questions so you don’t repeat your mistakes.

Use College Board’s Khan Academy to help you with test prep.  Any SAT practice will help you on the PSAT.

Article updated July 2018 by Mindy Pierce Mindy Pierce is home school mom who has been teaching her children for 10 years.  Her daughter earned the status of National Merit Finalist and was awarded a National Merit Scholarship (Corporate) in February 2018.  She will be attending the University of Central Florida’s Burnett Honors College in the fall.  She is the recipient of the Benaquisto Scholarship which covers her entire education (tuition, room and board and all other expenses).


bottom of page