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A National Merit scholarship is a merit scholarship that is based on a student’s National Merit Scholarship Program status.  I want to talk about several types of scholarships that can be lumped under the general term of “National Merit Scholarship” because it can be very confusing.

National Merit Scholarship Types:

  1. National Merit $2,500 Scholarships – These scholarships are awarded directly by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to a select number of National Merit Finalists.
  2. Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships – Many companies sponsor their own National Merit scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This category of scholarships is only offered to National Merit Finalists. These may be reserved for children of employees, for members of the company’s community, and/or for students studying areas the company wants to encourage.
  3. College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships – Colleges and Universities offer about 4,000 scholarships each year to National Merit Finalists who have been admitted to and commit to attending their schools. These vary in amounts from $500 – $2,000 per year and are renewable for up to 4 years.
  4. National Merit “Special Scholarships” – About 1,200 students who take the PSAT/NMSQT every year are awarded “special scholarships” through corporations and other business organizations. These organizations each have their own criteria for how the “special scholarships” are awarded. These are awarded to students who do not become National Merit Finalists.
  5. Merit Scholarships Awarded by Colleges Based on National Merit Scholarship Program Status – These scholarship are not associated with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They are awarded directly by the colleges like any other institutional merit scholarships. They are simply based on National Merit Program Status instead of, or in addition to, being based on GPA and ACT/SAT score.


Below is more detail on each type explained above.

National Merit $2,500 Scholarships

As indicated above, these scholarships are awarded directly by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and are only given to National Merit Finalists. However, not all Finalists receive one of these scholarships. All Finalists are thrown into a competitive pool. These scholarships are awarded by state – so many scholarships per state (varies by state). These scholarships do not consider financial need, college choice, major or career plans.

Before we go any further, how many National Merit Finalists are there?

There are approximately 7,500 National Merit Finalists per year and about half of those are awarded a scholarship from categories 1, 2, or 3 listed above.

Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships

As stated above, these scholarships may be limited to children of employees or members of an organization. These corporate-sponsored scholarships are only available to National Merit Finalists. These may be renewable scholarships or one-time amounts. The number of scholarships a company offers may vary from 1 to over 100. About 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarship awards are granted each year. The company works directly with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to identify National Merit Finalist candidates for the scholarships, to select the winners, and to distribute the funds.

College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships

To recap, about 4,000 college-sponsored scholarships are granted to National Merit Finalists by colleges each year. These scholarships are only available to students who have been admitted to a sponsoring college and have committed to attending. There is another similar category of National Merit related scholarships offered by colleges that I will discuss in a later section.  These college-sponsored scholarships differ from the corporate-sponsored scholarships in that the colleges themselves select winners and determine amounts within the $500 – $2,000 range. Thee can get a little tricky because there is a deadline for a student to notify National Merit Scholarship Corporation that they are attending a particular school (before the National Decision Day). If the winner decides not to attend the institution awarding the scholarship, the scholarship is cancelled.

National Merit “Special Scholarships”

This is the first category discussed that is not exclusive to National Merit Finalists. In fact, these scholarships are reserved for students who took the PSAT/NMSQT and did NOT become National Merit Finalists. About 1,200 “special scholarships” are offered through corporations and other business organizations. National Merit Scholarship Corporation contacts a pool of high-scoring candidates through their high schools. The high schools help the candidates submit the necessary application for these scholarships. National Merit Scholarship Corporation evaluates applications and selects winners. The amounts are variable and the awards may be renewable or one-time awards. You can see a listing of organizations that sponsor these “special scholarships” on the National Merit Scholarship Program website.

Merit Scholarships Awarded by Colleges Based on National Merit Scholarship Program Status

This last type of scholarship is different from all the others. This type is not affiliated with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. These are institutional merit scholarships offered directly by the colleges to attract top students. Many colleges pride themselves on attracting a large number of National Merit Scholars. In order to do this, they tend to give out large-sum scholarships to National Merit Finalists, Semi-Finalists and even Commended students. These scholarships are similar to merit scholarships awarded based on GPA and ACT/SAT score. In fact, sometimes a school will require a specific minimum GPA and ACT/SAT score along with national merit status for awarding this type of scholarship.

Below are some examples of scholarships in this category:

  • University of Oklahoma – National Merit Finalists – Full Ride Plus
  • La Sierra University (CA) – National Merit Awards – 33% of tuition for commended students, half tuition for semi-finalists, full tuition for finalists
  • Florida Gulf Coast University $10,000 per year for out-of-state students who are national merit finalists, national achievement finalists, or national Hispanic scholars
  • Loyola University Chicago – one Full Tuition scholarship will be granted to a national merit or national achievement finalist; any finalist who does not receive this scholarship may be eligible for a $2,000 Loyola-sponsored scholarship

I haven’t talked at all about National Achievement Finalists and National Hispanic Scholars. I will do that in another post.

If your student is a potential National Merit Finalist, Semi-Finalist or Commended Student, how do you find these merit scholarships?

The easiest way to find schools that offer merit scholarships based on National Merit status (like the examples in the bullets above) is to search on  You can do a search by Scholarship Type and then choose “National Merit/Achievement” and select the states you’d like to search (up to 5 states per search). In the full database, there are 311 scholarships listed in this category.


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