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The National Merit Scholarships:  It pays to be prepared!

Many parents of college-bound students are curious about the National Merit Scholarship Program and how their students can qualify for the monetary awards.  Last week, the semi-finalists were announced.

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How do students apply for the National Merit Scholarship Program and what kind of awards are offered? 

College parenting expert, Wendy David-Gaines, explains in detail how a student becomes a part of the program and why it pays to be prepared going into the competition.  It all has to do with the PSAT (Preliminary Scholarship Aptitude Test):

High school students take lots of tests but scoring well on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) PSAT/NMSQT can lead to recognition in and money from the National Merit® Scholarship Program. Last week the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) announced the semifinalists QT can help pay for it. Parents can help their college-bound get ready now because the test will be given again in October.

About 16,000 high school juniors achieved the highest scores in critical reading, mathematics, and writing skills to qualify when they took the test last year. The 7,600 projected winners of $33 million worth of scholarships will be announced next spring.  “These scholarship recipients will join more than 308,000 other distinguished young people who have earned the Merit Scholar title,” according to NMSC.

Although only juniors can be scholarship winners, all students may find studying for it useful as college prep. By taking the test, the college-bound get free access to online college and career planning tool My College QuickStart™, feedback on skill strengths and weaknesses, and a free, personalized SAT study guide based on PSAT/NMSQT results.

The 2013 PSAT/NMSQT, co-sponsored by the College Board and NMSC, served as the initial screening of approximately “1.4 million juniors in more than 22,000 high schools” who entered the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program, according to Merrick Patch when it announced a local Semifinalist winner. The highest scorers in each state became Semifinalists. Finalists will be selected in February based in great part on their academic record and SAT® scores. Winners of Merit Scholarship®  awards are selected from the Finalist group after submitting additional test scores, a high school official’s written recommendation, info about the student’s activities and leadership, and an essay.

There are three types of Merit Scholarship®  awards that can be won by the 15,000 or so expected Finalists:

  • The National Merit® $2500 Scholarships are a single payment awarded without considering financial need, college choice, major selected or career plans.

Corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards are those for children of employees or members, residents of a community where the company sponsor has operations, or finalists with specific career plans the sponsor seeks to encourage. Such scholarships may be renewable or one-time awards, depending on the sponsor’s rules.

$10,000 scholarship, no essay or minimum GPA

College-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards go to those Finalists offered admission who have specified the sponsoring college as their first choice. The awards are renewable.

Special scholarships provided by corporations and businesses are available for entrants who are outstanding but not Finalists. These may be one-time or renewable, depending on the sponsor’s rules.

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The 2014 PSAT/NMSQT will be offered on Wednesday, October 15, and Saturday, October 18. Like the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT will be redesigned for 2015. Parents and their college-bound students may learn more about the current test and changes to come to compete in the National Merit® Scholarship Program. The better-prepared students are, the more likely they are to win. Parents and students can form a team to tackle all aspects of the college process.

National Merit Scholarship

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