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Below we cover frequently asked questions about the National Merit Scholarship Program. Please visit our National Merit Semifinalist Cutoff page for the latest information on actual and estimated Selectivity Index cutoffs by state.
NMSP is a program administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation in cooperation with the College Board to recognize high achieving high school seniors. Some accreditation levels are based entirely on junior PSAT/NMSQT scores, while other levels have additional qualifications (explained below). NMSC awards nearly $50 million in scholarships each year, and some colleges offer reduced—or free—tuition for accepted students, multiplying the net effect of National Merit.
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You must take the PSAT/NMSQT as a high school junior and either the United States or the US. Must attend high school in the region or be a US student studying abroad. On your PSAT score report, you’ll see a section with your selection index and how you answered questions about your admissions eligibility. If you have an asterisk next to your selection indicator, it means that NMSC believes you are ineligible.
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Every year students miss the PSAT for legitimate reasons such as illness. To give those students a chance to compete in the National Merit, NMSC has a process called Alternative Admission. Due to the pandemic, NMSC has adopted a no-excuse alternative admissions policy for the Class of 2022. Students can apply directly to NMSC and be considered based on their SAT scores.
The Selection Index is a weighting of your PSAT component scores that determines your acceptance level in the initial stages of the National Merit Program.
The Choice Index is twice the sum of your reading, writing, and language and math test scores. For example, a student with scores of 34, 35 and 36 would have a selection index of (34+35+36)x2 = 210. Most students remember their section scores (160–760) rather than their 8–38 test scores. The selection index is still easier to calculate. First, ignore the trailing zero in your score; Then double your ERW score; Then add up your math scores. For example, a student with an ERW score of 690 and a math score of 720 would have a selection index of (69)x2 + 72 = 210. The two methods will always work because of the constant relationship between test scores and section scores. You cannot calculate the selection index directly from the total score (320-1520). For students competing with SAT scores through alternative admissions, remember — when calculating the selectivity index — each SAT section is limited to 760. For example, if you have 700 ERW and 800 Math, your choice index would be ( 70)x2 + 76 = 216.
NMSP has a long history of emphasizing “verbal” skills. Even when there was no writing section on the PSAT or SAT, the verbal section was doubled and added to the math score for the 60-240 selection index range. Also, the College Board considers reading and writing and language as separate tests. In short, “double testing” is nothing new.
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Although you can use compass estimation to predict whether you qualify as a merit student or semifinalist, there is no way to know your official status until high schools are notified by NMSC in early September of your senior year ( Sometimes schools hear as early as August. finished). Compass has announced the cutoffs for the class of 2021. Recommended cutoffs for future classes are unofficially known after the PSAT in April. Compass will report these scores and how they may affect semifinalist cutoffs in our regularly updated cutoff posts. NMSC does not publicly release state cutoffs, so Compass provides this information to students. For the Class of 2022, the semifinalist cutoff can only be estimated by September 2021.
Although approximately 1% of test takers will become semifinalists, there are several reasons why percentile scores are imprecise in determining eligibility, especially since cut-offs vary dramatically from state to state. Compass estimates are better estimates, but they are still only estimates.
Although Distinguished Scholars are awarded based on a single, national cutoff, the NMSC distributes semifinalists proportionally based on the number of undergraduate students in the state (and the District of Columbia and US territories). For example, California sees approximately 2,100 semifinalists each year—the most in the nation. It gets 13% of semifinalists because it makes up about 13% of high school graduates. Mississippi, on the other hand, typically sees about 135 National Merit semifinalists, as the state produces just over 0.8% of US graduates. The distribution is completely unrelated to the number of students taking the PSAT in the state.
Two factors that affect the cutoff are participation rate and population. In some states, the ACT is the dominant test and not as many students take the PSAT. This leaves some students out of the competition and produces a lower cutoff. Some states have large pockets of highly qualified students and are particularly competitive. For example, Massachusetts and New Jersey have a class of 2021 cutoff of 222. At the other end of the spectrum, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming had NMSF cutoffs of 209 for the Class of 2021. The minimum semi-finalist cutoff for the state is the nationally recognized level. For example, if the recommended cutoff is 210, no state semi-final cutoff can be less than 210.
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Homeschoolers are not treated differently than other students in the state. US students studying abroad must meet the nation’s highest state cutoffs. For the class of 2021, it was 222. Boarding school cutoff is the most difficult to calculate. are determined regionally rather than at the state level. For example, a student from a Northeast boarding school must meet the highest cutoff of any state in the Northeast region. NMSC defines boarding schools as schools with primarily out-of-state students. The NMSC considers the state where you went to school when you took the PSAT, not your state of residence or the state of your new school.
NMSC has made this part of the process easier than in the past. The US or the US High school students in the regions are eligible. Duration Study abroad students are eligible and intend to become U.S. citizens as long as they are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents of the U.S. (“Green Card”) or have applied for permanent residence, whose application has not been denied. is by law.
NMSC mails information to schools in late August with some schools notifying students of their status in early September. Many schools wait until the NMSC officially declares the names of the students in the second week of September. Compass will track all the latest news on our semifinalist cutoff page.
While semifinalist status is a nice award to list on your application, you shouldn’t expect it alone to have a significant impact on your chances of admission to most colleges. Accreditation tells colleges that you did well on the PSAT. Your SAT and ACT scores matter a lot to colleges; No more new information is added to your National Merit Status. However, getting a high score in the semifinals is seen as a badge of honor at some colleges and factors into their admissions decisions. Some colleges have programs designed specifically to attract National Merit finalists and offer larger merit awards.
Psat National Merit Faq
What happens after the semi-finalist names are announced? Semifinalists will receive login credentials for the Finalist Application Portal. You must provide background information and an essay. Your school must provide its recommendation and submit your application electronically by the second week of October.
NMSC may change the prompt in future years, but it has remained the same for many years. It is comprehensive enough that most students are able to use or slightly rework their Common Application essay. For the Class of 2022, the prompt was:
“To help the reviewers get to know you, describe your experience, a person who influenced you, or an obstacle you overcame. Explain why it was meaningful to you. Use your own words and write your response in the space provided. limit.”
A word limit is not specified, but the essay must fit within the space provided (approximately 3500 characters). Expect to keep your essay to 600 – 650 words.
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You will receive a “guaranteed score” as part of the requirement to move from semi-finalist to finalist. This score helps verify that you can, on an official SAT or ACT test date, achieve a high score and ensure your test proficiency.
Confirmed scores are determined annually by the NMSC and are calculated similarly to the PSAT Selection Index. Guaranteed scores are set nationally, so it doesn’t matter what you do with the semi-finalist cutoff. Confirmation SAT Selection Index (SSI) is usually at or near the recommended cutoff.
The easiest calculation of SSI is from your category score. One zero, double drop
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