Admit-A-Bull // Official Admissions Blog

Benefits of Being a National Merit Scholar


A thing’s value to a person depends on what matters to that person. That’s subjective. A thing’s value also can be tangible and quantifiable. That’s objective. Pride born of doing something few people can accomplish is subjective, and academic and personal excellence that can be measured in dollars, diplomas, and careers is objective. The point is that, when considered both subjectively and objectively, the benefits of being a National Merit Scholar are tangible, quantifiable, and potentially deeply satisfying.

National Merit Scholars at USF participating in research using a drone.

What Is a National Merit Scholarship?

The not-for-profit National Merit Scholarship Corp. was established in 1955. It launched the National Merit Scholarship Program in 1956 to inspire and reward academic excellence. The first year, 58,158 students qualified for the program. That number is now about 1.5 million every year.

Admission to the program is based on PSAT/NMSQT scores. Overall academic performance and participants’ “abilities, skills, and accomplishments” determine who will be a Merit Scholar once the roughly 18-month selection process concludes.

What Does It Take to Be a National Merit Scholar?

Here are some objective measures of how difficult it is to become a Merit Scholar:

  • About 3.8 million high school students vie for admission to the National Merit Scholarship Program. Roughly 1.5 million qualify.
  • About 50,000 advance to Commended Student and Semifinalist status.
  • About 15,000 advance to Finalist.
  • About 7,500 are named Merit Scholars.

National Merit Scholar at USF

What Can Being a National Merit Scholar Mean to You?

Being part of the National Merit Scholarship Program justifiably is a point of great pride. It means you have scored in the top 1 percentile of test takers nationwide. So, you’ll be breathing fairly rare air when you’re in the program and your Merit Scholar status begins in earnest — and, if you reach the top, you’ll be mingling with the titans of academia.

Pride is a subjective measure of what it means to be a Merit Scholar. Dollars are a more objective metric. Along with bragging rights, National Merit Scholars share in awards valued at $39 million:

  • Awards range from $2,500 National Merit Scholarships to corporate- and college-sponsored scholarships.
  • Variable and fixed renewable corporate-sponsored awards range from $500 to $10,000 a year, with single-payment one-time awards of $2,500 to $5,000.
  • Sponsor colleges offer renewable awards of $500 to $2,000 a year for up to four years of undergraduate study.
  • There are also Special Scholarships for the 1,000 or so outstanding applicants who don’t become finalists.

Clearly, preparing for the PSAT can pay dividends. At the very least, doing well in the National Merit Scholarship Program can boost your odds in the college application process.

Award amounts are the focus of many frequently asked questions about the scholarship program and its benefits, but dollars aren’t the only measure of how Merit Scholars benefit. Some colleges offer scholarships and perks for Commended Students, semifinalists, finalists, and Merit Scholars. In turn, schools get bragging rights for enrolling an impressive percentage of Merit Scholars.

Student working in a robotics lab.

USF Is Among Schools Wooing Merit Scholars

A look at USF shows the range and scope of benefits that Merit Scholars and National Merit Finalists can accrue, including access to a variety of high-dollar scholarships for both Florida residents and non-Florida residents.

Florida Residents

  • Scholarship covering your full cost of attendance, fall and spring sessions
  • USF National Merit Tradition of Excellence Award ($20,000 or $5,000 per year)
  • Scholarships for study abroad (USF Passport Scholarship, $2,000)
  • Funding for academic conferences, research, publication
  • Access to expert advising in the Office of National Scholarships to help you compete for prestigious national and international awards
  • Tuition waived for first year of graduate study in most USF programs

Non-Florida Residents

  • Scholarship covering your full cost of attendance, fall and spring sessions, for four years or until you complete your bachelor’s degree
  • Scholarships for study abroad (USF Passport Scholarship, $2,000)
  • Tuition waived for first year of graduate study at USF immediately following completion of undergraduate degree (applies to most USF graduate programs)

Exclusive Campus Services

  • Honors College enrollment
  • Eligibility for Honors College Living-Learning Community
  • Research opportunities
  • First-year luncheon with USF leadership

Career, Education, and Development

  • Internships
  • Free standardized test prep courses
  • Leadership development opportunities

Subjectively and objectively, there’s a lot of incentive to practice for the PSAT.

But no matter your PSAT score, the USF Office of Admissions is ready with answers to your questions about the benefits of attending USF. Contact us online, or reach us by phone at 813-974-3350.