Homeschoolers who wish to earn larger merit scholarships should wish to take the PSAT seriously. The PSAT is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. While the scholarships awarded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation are fairly small, a number of colleges offer large scholarship packages to National Merit Finalists who enroll. Colleges that offer awards include state universities, private liberal arts colleges, and Christian colleges.
How the Process Works
Juniors take the PSAT at schools during October of their second to last year in high school, most typically junior year. Starting in the fall of 2023, all PSAT tests will be digital.
Homeschoolers may register for the PSAT with local public or private schools. Testing is typically in October, so students should plan to contact schools ahead of time to secure a testing spot.
Students who score well on the exam will proceed through the National Merit process. Some will receive Commended student status (which typically does not lead to monetary awards).
The top 1% of PSAT scorers in each state will progress to National Merit semifinalist status. This announcement is made early fall of senior year. Semifinalists will then complete an application, including a transcript, recommendation, SAT or ACT scores, and essay. This process is open to homeschoolers, and many participate each year.
For students who do not score in the top 1% of testers, the PSAT is typically only useful as testing practice. Students do not submit the PSAT to colleges and it is not considered in college admissions.
Three Types of National Merit Scholarships
There are three types of National Merit awards – those awarded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, those awarded by companies – often parent employers, and those awarded by universities. All three awards categories tend to be fairly small (typically around $2,500) compared to the cost of a college education. The more significant scholarships come from universities that tie additional awards, such as full tuition awards, to National Merit Finalist status. Schools that offer these large merit awards do so to attract top caliber students.
Offers vary widely from year to year and college to college. Some schools offer a guaranteed scholarship to all National Merit finalists who select their college as a first choice. Others offer limited awards on a competitive or first come, first serve basis. Awards range up to full-ride scholarships that include tuition, room, and board. Some schools also offer special perks such as technology stipends, books, study abroad or undergraduate research scholarships, or automatic admissions to Honors programs or dorms. As with any “full” scholarship, students should look carefully at awards and note that often, room and board awards will be for “minimum” plans so there may be some out of pocket costs.
The PSAT is a single test taken on a single day. Even top testers can really never be assured how a test will go on a given day so there is an element of luck. Also, National Merit sets different PSAT score cut offs for different states so it is much more difficult to earn the award in some states than in others.
Students should note the larger awards come primarily from more mid-tier colleges and universities. These may not be a good fit for students who are focused on more highly selective colleges. Many of these schools are also located in areas of the country that may not be appealing for some students. Also, it is worth noting that many students eligible for these awards may be successfully admitted to highly selective schools that meet full financial need.
Still, these are opportunities that work out very well for some top scoring homeschooled students. Many of the schools listed below provide additional services and support for National Merit Scholars. These opportunities can include enrollment in Honors Colleges and programs providing support for undergraduate research. Some even fund an extra fifth year of education, allowing a student to make progress toward a Master’s degree. Large scholarships offer the possibility of a quality, affordable, and debt free undergraduate education. Merit awards may be particularly appealing to middle income students who often struggle most with college costs. Middle income homeschoolers may make too much for significant financial aid, but families may not have adequate savings or income to cover their expected family contribution.
Colleges with Larger Awards for National Merit Finalists
Many colleges change their merit scholarship approaches and amounts from year to year. So, students who want to prioritize merit scholarships will need to research and check with the admissions offices of the schools they are interested in.
Here is a sampling of a few colleges that offered larger merit awards for national Merit for the high school Class of 2023.
The University of Alabama, finalists receive the full cost of tuition for up to five years, standard housing for four years, an additional stipend, research funding, and money toward books.
University of Oklahoma Has made a serious commitment to recruiting National Merit winners. They have over 400 on campus. They offer scholarships for in-state and out of state students, cash stipend, technology and textbook stipend, study abroad stipend.
University of North Texas Full tuition (in-state or out of state), room and board, and a textbook allowance.
University of Idaho Full scholarship, including tuition (in-state or out of state), fees, room, and board
Fordham National Merit Semifinalist, National Hispanic Scholar, National African American Recognition Program Scholar, or National Indigenous Recognition Scholar, in the top 3% of the Fordham admitted pool may be offered full tuition (after consideration of financial aid).
Texas Tech National Merit Finalists receive full cost of attendance including tuition, fees, room, board, and stipend
Washington State University Four year full tuition scholarship, instate and out of state, valued up to $100,000.
University of Houston: Scholarship includes tuition, fees, and study abroad stipend
Hope College National merit finalists who name as their first choice receive $24,000 a year scholarship
New Jersey Institute of Technology National Merit Finalists receive tuition and fees for four years.