Do you have questions about National Merit and the PSAT? Read on to learn more about what National Merit is and how students can qualify for scholarships. At the end of this post you will find a list of colleges that have a reputation for offering generous scholarships to students who have earned National Merit recognition. Please note, colleges adjust scholarship awards every year, so it is always important to verify any information with the college directly.
WHAT IS NATIONAL MERIT?
National Merit is the largest private scholarship corporation in the country. The first qualifier for earning National Merit recognition is earning the qualifying score on the junior-year PSAT/NMSQT. Qualifying scores vary from year to year and state to state. High scores can also be linked to other scholarship opportunities. Read our blog post The PSAT/NMSQT Selection Index Demystified to learn more about scoring.
NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP MYTHS
MYTH: ALL NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARS ARE GUARANTEED HUGE SCHOLARSHIPS FOR THE COLLEGE OF THEIR CHOICE.
TRUTH: Students must select their top-choice schools from the schools that offer NM scholarships. And even then, they are competing with other NM scholars for those awards.
MYTH: THE ONLY WAY TO GET MERIT AID FROM IVIES AND ELITE COLLEGES IS THROUGH THE NM SCHOLARSHIP.
TRUTH: Most elite universities offer very little merit aid. If they offer merit aid, it is generally privately endowed, offered by the university (not NM), and competitive. There are ZERO ivy-league schools that offer NM scholarships.
MYTH: NM SCHOLARS DON’T NEED TO HAVE AN EXCELLENT SAT/ACT SCORE IN ORDER TO BE AWARDED SCHOLARSHIPS.
TRUTH: Many universities offer merit-based aid for SAT/ACT scores. And when compiling a financial package for students, universities will consider both a student’s NM Scholar status and their SAT/ACT scores to see what the best fit for the university and the family is. Need-based aid can also factor into how much NM scholarship money a student may be offered. It’s important for students to apply for multiple scholarships as NM aid is never a guarantee.
HOW CAN YOU IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF EARNING NATIONAL MERIT?
- Plan to do Summer and Fall Prep of some kind.
- Take ALL the practice tests.
- Take an official SAT in August, September, or October
- Prep! (Choose from any combination of MTAT Courses, Boot Camps, Tutoring, Study Groups, or free online prep.)
NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP TIMELINE
FALL SOPHOMORE YEAR: Indicator PSAT
- Scores of 200+ on Selection Index show potential for NM achievement. Score of 180+ shows potential for very high PSAT scores (1300/1400+).
SUMMER BEFORE JUNIOR YEAR: Prep begins
- Students should plan for a minimum of 20-30 hours for a 100-point improvement.
- Students should plan to take ALL of the College Board released practice PSAT and SAT tests.
- Students should plan to take the official August SAT. Order QAS report for $12; it will show every missed question for review.
FALL JUNIOR YEAR: PSAT NMSQT Test administered in October
- Students must continue ongoing prep.
- Students will test in either mid- or late-October.
- Scores are released in December (digital) and early January (paper).
- Take the SAT (or ACT). Students should test in the fall and only retest in the spring if needed to increase admissions qualifiers or scholarships.
FALL SENIOR YEAR: PSAT Finalists/Semi-finalists announced
- Students must complete the NM application, essay, and short answers and submit everything on time (the deadline changes each year). Official SAT/ACT scores must be submitted to NMSC by Dec 31st. “Comparable” score will be calculated using the selection-index score model, even for ACT (when converted to SAT using concordance).
- Submit high school paperwork: endorsement and transcript.
- Submit college coursework if applicable.
- College Choice: students will need to select their top-choice school for NM consideration but may declare “undecided” and then notify the NMSC as soon as possible.
- Sponsor College as First Choice: students should research schools with National Merit scholarships to ensure that they make a wise choice. These schools are often considered target or safety choices for a student.
- College-sponsored NM awards are NOT transferable if a student later decides to transfer schools, so they need to feel confident in their choice.
- All Finalists will be awarded the NM Finalist $2500 scholarship. Additional corporate-sponsored scholarships and stipends are awarded based on the NM finalist application.
WINTER SENIOR YEAR: NM Scholarships Awarded
- February: students will be chosen as finalists and will receive a Certificate of Merit from their high school. Students should submit NM sponsor college as first choice college by March 1st in order to be considered for the first round of applicants.
- March and May: scholarship winners notified.
SPONSOR COLLEGE AWARDS BASED ON REGION (subject to change!)
The following information is current as of January 2020. Colleges make changes to their National Merit Scholarships each year. Check the university webpage for the most up-to-date NM scholarship info!
ACU: National Achievement (full tuition), National Hispanic Recognition (up to $6000/yr), Semi-Finalists and Finalists guaranteed full tuition + $1500 stipend, Commended $2000
BAYLOR: Invitation to Excellence (competition for full tuition scholarships)
A&M: Finalist, must name A&M first choice ($42,000 + $1000 study abroad stipend + $3000 NMRA supplement for 5th year)
TEXAS TECH: Finalist, must name Tech as first choice for full tuition, fees, room/board, transportation and personal stipend
UTDALLAS: Automatic admission into Honors College, full tuition, $4000 semester cash stipend, $3000 NMSC scholarship, up to $6000 for study abroad, $1500 semester on-campus housing stipend
UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON: Finalist, full tuition and required fees, one-time $1000 undergrad research stipend, one-time $2000 study abroad stipend; must select as first choice
OUT OF STATE
ALABAMA: Full tuition up to 5 years, four years of on-campus housing, $14,000 stipend, $2,000 allowance for research or study abroad, $1,000 technology enrichment allowance
BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Finalist first-choice, $80,000 (over 4 years)
BYU: Full tuition, limited availability
FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Cost of attendance, regardless of residency
FLORIDA STATE: Cost of attendance ($80,000+), guaranteed admission to University Honors Program
FORDHAM: Full tuition with A/A- average and top 2-3% of admitted students, competitive
ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: Up to three scholarships up to $160,000; $16,000 otherwise
IOWA STATE: Full tuition for residents, varies for non-residents
LOYOLA: Full tuition for one student, $8,000 if not selected
NORTHEASTERN: Competitive merit-based award
OKLAHOMA STATE: Finalists who select OSU as their first choice, up to five-year full tuition waiver
OLE MISS: Full tuition + room ($54,776 for residents, $118,592 for non-residents)
OU: Semi-finalists with 3.5 GPA earn $4000/yr; Finalists who name OU as first choice gain $68,500
UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: $72,000 (full tuition plus) + $1,500 for study abroad for residents, varies for non-residents + $1,500 for study abroad depending on GPA and test scores
UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS: Finalists, first choice, $40.000
UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI: Full in-state tuition, guaranteed admission to honors program and $1,500 one-time allocation towards purchase of computer, research or study abroad. 60 available, first-come, first-served
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Finalist, cost of attendance (full ride)
UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO: Basic cost of attendance ($66,976 for residents, $137,520 for non-residents)
UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS: $40,000 for residents
UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY: Full in-state or out-of-state tuition and housing stipend
UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE: Full in-state tuition + $32,000 allowance for room, board and books or $80,000 for out-of-state students
UNIVERSITY OF MAINE: Full tuition and most fees
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: Cost of attendance (for Florida residents only)
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Up to $40,000
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: Full tuition + $8,000
UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO: $75,212 for residents, $137,792 for non-residents + iPad
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA: Full tuition/fee waiver for ND and MN residents
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: $40,000 for residents, up to $104,000 with tuition reduction for non-residents
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: Full cost of attendance, guaranteed admittance to honors college and on-campus housing
UNIVERSITY OF TULSA: Full tuition and basic room and board
USC: Finalist, half tuition (limited)
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH: Cost of tuition/fees + room and board
WASHINGTON STATE: Finalist, full tuition
WHEATON COLLEGE: Finalist, merit-based coupled with need-based aid, $68,000-$72,000
In the last two years, More Than A Teacher worked with over 2,000 students from this year’s senior class.
We are so proud of each of them and excited to hear what they are going on to do next. A special congratulations and thank you to the graduates who shared their success stories and let us know about their plans!
|Aaron R. – University of Texas Arlington, Scholarship Recipient|
|Abby S. – Tufts University|
|Alan J. – Austin College, $100,000 Scholarship|
|Alex S. – Texas A&M|
|Cheryl C. – Texas A&M, Visualization|
|Christopher L. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas Dallas, Scholarship Recipient|
|Cole T. – Ole Miss|
|Cooper B. – University of AK, Honors School of Business|
|Corinne S. – Evergreen State College, Awarded Five Scholarships|
|David J. – Texas A&M, Biochemistry|
|Drew B. – Texas A&M, Computer Science|
|Ellie N. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas at Austin|
|Emhely G. – St. Edward’s University, Biomedical Engineering|
|Grace D. – University of Texas at Austin|
|Isabel K. – San Diego State University|
|Jack M. – Texas Tech, Honors Program|
|Kai F. – Samford University|
|Kaylee K. – Texas A&M|
|Lauren H. – Presidential Scholar, George Washington University, Elliot School of Public Affairs|
|Libby M. – National Merit Scholar, University of Texas at Austin, Economics|
|Matthew Z. – Austin College|
|Nathan H. – Willamette University|
|Nisha K. – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Electrical Engineering|
|Rylan D. – University of Texas in Austin, Arts and Entertainment Technology|
|Sharika M. – University of Texas at Austin, Business and Plan II|
Meredith S. – Texas A&M, Mays Business School
Corbin S. – National Merit Scholar, Stanford
Tara W. – Commended Scholar, Trinity University
Joseph S. – University of Texas Dallas, Scholarship Recipient
Trenton N. – University of Texas Dallas, Computer Science
Alyssa R. – Chapman University, Honors Program, Provost Scholarship Recipient
Spencer S. – University of Chicago, Economics and Cancer Biology
Want to share your admission or scholarship story with us? Email [email protected]
Since the release of the Official SAT Study Guide for the revised SAT, there have been only four official practice tests available. That changed last week when Khan Academy published Tests #5 and #6 on their website. Update: The new tests are now available on the College Board website as well.
So if you’ve already exhausted the book and want some new material to work on before your fall SAT or PSAT, download these tests today!
With the October PSAT just around the corner, a lot of parents and students are asking, “What score do students need to get National Merit recognition and/or scholarships?”
Well, it’s a little complicated . . .
First of all, it’s impossible to know exactly what the cutoff is until after the scores are released because the top 3.33% of scorers are eligible for recognition, so the threshold score changes from year to year. Also, because the National Merit Scholarship Program recognizes the top students in every state, the threshold score varies from state to state.
In years past, students could get a pretty good idea what a qualifying score would be based on the previous year’s threshold score for their state. But this year there’s a new test scored on a new scale. Actually, there are two scales. (I said it was complicated.)
When they announced the new SAT and PSAT, the College Board claimed they would be simplifying things by putting them on the same 1600 point scale. But later, they dropped the PSAT top score down to 1520. They also added a separate selection index score on a scale of 8-38. To make matters worse, the Reading and Writing & Language scores are averaged for the overall score, but not for the selection index score. Simple, right?!
The big picture is a little easier to grasp if you start with the selection index scores. Each section (Math, Reading, and Writing & Language) is scored on a scale of 8-38. (Going from 0 to 30 makes more sense to me, but I wasn’t consulted.) Here are some hypothetical scores:
The selection index is the sum of these scores multiplied by 2:
(28 + 32 + 30) x 2 = 180
The highest possible selection index score would be (38 + 38 + 38) x 2 = 228.
Okay, so much for the selection index score. What about the composite score?
The composite score can be calculated by first averaging the selection index scores of the two verbal sections and then multiplying the result by 20. The math Selection Index score is also multiplied by 20. These two scores are then added. For our hypothetical student, we get:
Verbal: [(32 + 30)/2] x 20 = 620
Math: 30 x 20 = 600
The highest possible composite score is 1,520.
Note that the Math score counts for only one-third of the selection index, but one-half of the composite score. Or, in other words, each of the verbal sections counts for 25% of the composite score, but 33% of the selection index. Bottom line: if you’re competing for National Merit recognition, don’t neglect the Writing and Language section. It counts just as much as the other two, and it’s the easiest section to improve.
That’s all fine and good, you might be saying, but what score does a student need to shoot for to get National Merit recognition? What’s the magic number?
As stated above, no one–not even the College Board–knows at this point, but our (fairly conservative) anticipated threshold for National Merit recognition in Texas is 210.
So how many questions do you have to get right on each section to hit this target?
Writing & Language: 40+
Of course, since all sections count equally, if you ace one of them, you’ll have a little more leeway on the other two. As stated above, students tend to get the biggest return on investment on the Writing & Language section since most of these questions test grammar rules that are fairly easy to master. Becoming a better reader or mathematician will require significantly more practice.
Exciting news! The College Board has just released a new practice PSAT with answer explanations.
Just to be clear this is a PSAT, not an SAT. Juniors will take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in October. But the content and difficulty level should be very similar to the new SAT. The Official Guide for these tests won’t be available until June, but there are plenty of resources for students who want to start studying now (see below).
There are four sections:
1. Reading: 60 minutes, 47 questions
2. Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
3. Math (no calculator): 25 minutes, 17 questions
4. Math (calculator): 45 minutes, 31 questions
Here are my thoughts.
Since they’ve scrapped the fill-in-the-blank vocabulary questions, this is really just a reading comprehension test. A couple of the passages have charts, but the questions about them are very easy—similar to the easiest questions on the ACT science section. Two of the passages are old: excerpts from Jane Austin’s Emma and a political piece by Andrew Carnegie. The rest are new: an article about social networking, a science passage about hibernating bears, and a paired passage about bringing back extinct species. My advice: read National Geographic.
Writing and Language:
If you want more study materials for this section, there’s already a book with 375 practice problems. It’s called the Official ACT Guide! That’s right: the new SAT Writing and Language section is almost exactly like the ACT English section. The only real difference is the inclusion of a single graph on one of the passages. Other than that, it’s the same old stuff: relevance, tone, subject-verb agreement, idioms, pronouns, possessives, comma splices, putting sentences in logical order. The questions are even worded similarly to those on the ACT. My advice: take every English section in the Official ACT Guide.
Math (no calculator):
Like I said about the sample questions released a few weeks ago, the math is significantly more challenging than what we’re used to seeing on the SAT and PSAT. These questions look like they came from a Math 1 Subject test—except on this section, you can’t use a calculator! I found myself reaching for my vintage TI-82 so frequently I had to put it in a drawer. I know a lot of students who use their calculators for even the most basic addition; for them, this section will pose a challenge.
Interestingly, the questions are not in order of difficulty. There are four grid-in questions, and both the grid and the instructions are exactly the same as on the current test. Frequent topics on this section are: setting up equations, systems of equations, functions, and quadratic equations—in other words, all the hardest stuff from the current SAT. My advice: take AP math classes.
While it was comforting to have the calculator at my fingertips, it was no help on questions like this:
If the equation 110x + y = 1,210 represents the number of free samples, y, that remain to be given away x days after a coffee shop’s promotion begins, what does it mean that (11, 0) is a solution to this equation?
Your calculator isn’t going to tell you that! Many of the problems include graphs, tables, scatterplots, and histograms. (Again, the Official ACT Guide would be helpful; the science section has similar charts and graphs.) There are also several challenging physics problems (e.g. finding the maximum height of an arrow shot into the sky). My advice: take AP physics.
Compared to the current SAT (and the PSAT that was retired in 2014), the math is more difficult. The reading and writing are, in my opinion, a little easier (mainly due to the lack of obscure vocabulary questions). But don’t panic about the math. Even though it’s harder, students will be scored relative to their peers. (In other words, if it’s harder for you, it’s harder for everyone.) Students who take challenging courses in high school and make good grades should be fairly well prepared. If you’re taking the PSAT in October and want to start studying now, my advice would be to get the Official ACT Guide and the SAT Math 1 and 2 Subject Test Guide (just do the Math 1 tests; Math 2 is very difficult and mainly geared toward students who plan to major in computer science, engineering, or similar fields.)
Note: The answers to the new practice PSAT are all on the last page of the Answer Explanations. (Really annoying!) So just scroll to the end when you’re ready to check your answers. There’s no way to score it yet (scaled scores are based on student performance, and no one has taken it), but you can find your percent correct for each section by dividing the number correct by the total number of questions. Basically, it works just like grades in high school: 90% and above is great; 80-90% is good, and so on.
More Than A Teacher is currently accepting students for one-on-one tutoring for the new PSAT and SAT. If you live outside the Austin area (or just want to avoid traffic), we offer remote tutoring via Skype. Just send us an email to set up an appointment!