Benefits of Being a National Merit Scholar

Last updated: Nov 22, 2019

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. That year, 58,158 students qualified for the program. That number rose to about 1.6 million in 2017.

Admission to the program is based on PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10 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 3.5 million high school students vied for admission to the National Merit Scholarship Program in 2017. Roughly 1.6 million qualified.
  • About 50,000 advanced to Commended Student and semifinalist status.
  • About 15,000 were expected to advance to finalist.
  • About 7,500 were expected to become 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 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 climb to 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, scholarship recipients in the high school Class of 2019 are expected to share $42 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.
  • And beginning this year, Special Scholarships will benefit 1,200 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, the schools benefit from the bragging rights that enrolling Merit Scholars can bring.

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 can accrue to Merit Scholars, including “access to a variety of high-dollar scholarships for both Florida residents and non-Florida residents.”

National Merit Scholar finalists also are eligible for the USF Golden Achievement Scholarship Program. Recipients receive many benefits, including:

Scholarships and Financial Support

  • Tuition waived for fall, spring sessions
  • Scholarships for study abroad
  • 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

Exclusive Campus Services

  • Honors College enrollment
  • Honors College Living-Learning Community
  • Research opportunities
  • First-year luncheon with USF’s president

Career, Education, and Development Support

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

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

Find out what a National Merit Semifinalist had to say about USF after joining us for a Scholar's Experience visit. Ready to experience it firsthand? Schedule your own Scholar's Experience visit to see the highlights of attending USF for yourself.