As a National Merit Scholarship finalist, paying college tuition and fees never posed a problem, despite not being selected for one of the $2500 National Merit Scholarships. Benefits of the program extend far beyond the scholarships offered by the Program itself, and cover more than college tuition. National Merit Scholarships – both the one-time scholarships from the program and college- and corporate- sponsored awards, benefit about 8,200 out of 15,000 finalists. I strongly urge all high school students to take the National Merit Scholarship Program – and its qualifying test, the PSAT, seriously. Even if not selected for one of the $2500 scholarships, it can pay your college tuition. Literally.
You may be wondering how. Well, the National Merit Scholarship Program is highly respected; some colleges even market the percentage of National Merit Scholarship finalists enrolled as a measure of quality. To attract National Merit Scholarship finalists, scholarship boards set aside a funds as enticements for these students. In short, by placing well on the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and subsequently advancing to Finalist status, prospective students become eligible for special college tuition assistance from prospective colleges. However, colleges only consider National Merit Scholarship finalists who listed that college as “first choice” on the exam.
In my opinion, the college-sponsored awards shine as the true stars of the National Merit Scholarship Program. Think about it: they range from $500 to $2000 for college tuition assistance. While the National Merit Scholarship amount of $2500 exceeds them, the college-sponsored awards pull ahead when you realize that those awards are renewable for four years. So, while a $2500 towards college tuition is always just $2500, a college-sponsored scholarship for $1000 becomes $4000 if you keep your GPA up to snuff; $2000 becomes $8000. And that’s not including the additional awards a college may offer.
In my case, not only did National Merit Scholarship finalist status secure funds to pay college tuition, the college also cobbled together a variety of scholarships which eventually paid for my books and some of my meals and housing, substantially reducing my costs. Most of the special treatment, I believe, should be laid at the feet of being a National Merit Scholarship finalist. My extracurricular activities from high school were sparse, my volunteer work practically nonexistent; the only thing going for me was that position as Finalist. And did it ever pull through.
So do your best on the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Study beforehand. Choose your “first choice” college carefully. Never forgo preparing with a ‘luck of the draw’ attitude; remember, preparation for the PSAT/NMSQT should carryover and help your scores on subsequent standardized tests, such as the ACT or SAT, even if you don’t become a National Merit Scholarship finalist. Above all, never let the numbers daunt you. Sure, only 8200 prospective college students nationwide receive National Merit Scholarship assistance. That doesn’t mean one of them can’t be you.