National Merit Scholarship Awards

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.

How Much?

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.


  • Our daughter (homeschooled since third grade) was named a semi-finalist!!! We hope she will be able to get a scholarship. Is it hard to make finalist?

  • Congrats! The vast majority of semi-finalists will go on to become finalists. Most often students who don’t progress have something very negative on their record (like low grades or disciplinary action) or they fail to turn in paperwork. I encourage you and your daughter to start looking at scholarship options. Best of luck!

  • My son is currently a 10th grader in an IB school. He is taking the PSAT this year. He may decide to apply without a diploma to 2 elite schools next year. If acceped, he will skip his senior year. If not, he will cast a broader net and reapply his senior year. He asked me how this would effect his ability to qualify for national merit. By this plan, he won’t know if this year is his 2nd to last year of high school until he is accepted/rejected next year. Would you be able to direct him on this issue? Sorry if my question is not clear!

    Thank you.

    • Hi Liz,
      My suggestion is to call the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They have specific procedures in place to work with students who graduate from high school early. They are very helpful on the phone. Phone: (847) 866-5100

    • Hey I’m a semifinalist this year. Liz, your son would be able to rank as semi and then finalist if he took the test next year and then graduated at the end of the year.

      • They are familiar with kids who graduate early, but always best to check in and make sure you do everything required.

  • I am a bit confused. This site seems to indicate that a home schooler can actually become a merit scholar. The merit scholar site says you have to be enrolled in school and provide all sorts of things like transcripts that wouldn’t really exist for a home schooler. How does that part work?

    • Hi Drake,
      Thanks for your question. Homeschoolers are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship program and many homeschoolers receive acknowledgement and scholarships through the National Merit program each year. Homeschool transcripts are most often issued by homeschool parents. Some families instead use an umbrella or accrediting school. The process for National Merit is similar as it is for college admissions. Students are required to submit a variety of materials – transcript, essay, list of activities, test scores, and also an endorser recommendation. The endorser is often a teacher or professor who has worked with the student as part of their homeschooling.

  • Is it possible to obtain a National Merit Scholarship if after grades 9-12 as homeschooler, the student decides to do a volunteer year of service before going to university?

    • Hi Todd,
      I suggest you call the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They make the rules so they are the best ones to comment on the specifics of a student’s situation. I would also keep in mind that the bigger scholarships often come from individual colleges and they will make their own individual choices about whether or not they allow a gap year.
      Best wishes!

  • I homeschool my daughter and she might make the semifinalist national merit scholarship program this year. I called NMS and was told that I am not involved with the next step because the Highschool my daughter is enrolled takes over from there. They are the ones that send the transcript, grades, letter of recommendation, list of achievements, etc… How can that be if they don’t have any of my daughter’s records? I explained that my daughter is homeschooled and she’s enrolled in the Highschool just because she’s taking dual enrollment classes and the school is paying for it, but I was told that it doesn’t matter; the Highschool is responsible.

    • Hi Hope, Is your daughter independently homeschooled or it is through a charter or virtual school? For homeschooled students the parent is the counselor for National Merit. It may be that your daughter’s school code was entered incorrectly. I encourage you to call the National Merit Scholarships Corporation again and connect with another specialist. They are usually quite helpful on the phone.

  • Hello,

    Thank you for writing this article.

    In anticipation of my kid being a NMSF this Sept-Oct, I am trying to figure out what information is required, specifically from the homeschool parent, to fill out on the NMSF-NMF application form as it will be smack in the middle of college application rush and I wanted to have a clearer picture on what is needed ahead of time. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Also, do you know whether NOT taking AP and DE classes would negatively impact my child from advancing to Finalist standing? She instead covered a vigorous and challenging curriculum with home created college-level classes and Coursera. Would that be enough? She got a near-perfect score on the SAT as well.

    • Congrats to your child on their strong test scores! While the application could always change from year to year, it has always been fairly simple. Follow the directions and pay attention to deadlines. Most students simply reuse a version of their Common Application essay for this purpose. The vast majority (over 90%) of National Merit semi-finalist make it to finalist standing. The most common reasons for failing to make finalist are not completing the application, low grades (i.e. multiple Cs or below), or negative disciplinary history. So, just stay on top of deadlines and encourage your student to complete the application.

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