What is the National Merit Scholarship?

The National Merit Scholarship is a competition that takes place in the United States every year, since 1955. Students compete for scholarships given by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), an organization based in Evanston, Illinois. After passing some requirements, competitors have to submit an essay and a list of achievements. That includes extracurricular awards and leadership positions they have had in high school. Students participating have an incredible academic record, which is confirmed by their amazing performance in the SATs. Typically, an important person from their school recommends them.

After passing these requirements, a group of students, fewer than 1% of the initial participants, become finalists. Winning students have the most achievements, accomplishments, best academic skills, and a big potential for future success. Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft, won one of these scholarships back in 1973.

A graduation cap with a red tassel laying on top of a white shirt sleeve.


The National Merit Scholarship Corporation was founded just when the United States was leaving its Cold War years behind. When they started to realize the struggling condition the country was in but the amazing intellectual level its citizens had, this corporation was created. Its main goal was to identify young people who were outstanding and give them scholarships to encourage them to develop their abilities even more and keep improving their lives through higher education.

In 1964, because of the Civil Rights Act, the program started a promise, to identify more African-American students and encourage them to follow their dreams and get a good education. As of today, nearly 230,000 students have been given recognition because of their accomplishments. A little more than 34,000 receive scholarships.

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This type of corporation and program should be cherished by any country that has them. They represent hope to those people who want to pursue higher education but can not afford it. Year after year, the costs of tuition and other fees, in public and private universities and colleges increase, making it harder for people with low-income jobs to pay for them. Students don’t only have to pay for tuition, they also have to afford housing, food, gas, books and personal items such as clothing. Scholarships are either the help they need, the ray of light that can change their lives by helping them study something they love and enjoy.

How to apply

If you want to apply to this program you must fulfill these requirements:

  • Be a full-time student in high school who plans to enroll in a full-time university after the end of the competition.
  • Be a U.S citizen or a permanent resident who is planning on becoming a citizen by following the country’s law. Those who have applied for residency and haven’t been denied can compete too.
  • Take either the SATs (a test that measures critical reading, mathematics problem-solving, and writing ability, instead of focusing on knowledge) or the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) in their junior year of high school and at their own school. Students who plan on finishing high school in 3 years must be in their last year when taking the test.

You can visit their website for additional details!

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