Prior to 2015, black high school students who were planning on attending college could qualify for the National Achievement Scholarship, a scholarship established by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) to encourage black American youth to continue their education. Since that program is no longer awarding scholarships, students are now encouraged to compete in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

National Achievement Scholarship History

In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. That same year, NMSC announced the establishment of the National Achievement Scholarship.

Purpose of the National Achievement Scholarship

The National Achievement Scholarship was specifically designed to encourage academically accomplished black American high school students to pursue higher education. The program also encouraged colleges throughout the United States to increase their recruiting efforts to increase opportunities for black American high school students.

Transition to National Merit Scholarship Program

More than 4.6 million black American students entered the National Achievement Scholarship program between 1965 and 2015. However, as of 2015, the National Achievement Scholarship is no longer being awarded, and its funds have been redirected into a fund for scholarships that provide assistance to high-achieving, underrepresented college graduates.

What has Replaced the National Achievement Scholarship Program?

Students who once qualified for a National Achievement Scholarship are instead encouraged to compete for the National Merit Scholarship Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) in their junior year of high school.

What Is the National Merit Scholarship Program?

The NMSC scholarship is a financial award that began in 1955. Each year, it is given to 7,500 students who both excel academically and display leadership qualities. To choose the finalists, NMSC considers the students’ PSAT test scores, academic record and activities, as well as the school’s curriculum and letters of recommendation. Finalists are also asked to submit a personal essay. Each finalist receives a one-time award of $2,500.

Other National Merit Scholarship Awards

In addition to the $2,500 award, finalists may also receive a corporate- or college-sponsored Merit Award. These awards are sponsored by specific businesses or by the college a student wishes to attend. They can either be one-time awards or renewed annually while the student is an undergraduate.

How High Does the PSAT Score Need to Be?

Of the 1.6 million students who take the PSAT every year, only 7,500 will receive a National Merit Scholarship. To be considered for the scholarship, you must score in the top 10 percent of all test takers. While the qualifying PSAT score varies from year to year due to changes in percentiles and scoring scales, on average, a “high score” on the PSAT is considered to be above 1,420 out of a possible 1,520. Score cut-offs also vary by state.

What Score Will Put Me In the Top 10 Percent?

Because the number of test takers varies from year to year, there is no concrete number for what constitutes a “high score” on the PSAT. However, scoring above 1,300 will most likely place you in the top 10 percent of test-takers nationwide and therefore, in contention for a Merit Scholarship.

When Will You Find Out if You Receive a Scholarship?

The PSAT is typically offered in the fall. Students typically receive their scores in December, approximately six to eight weeks after the test. Your score report will indicate whether your score is high enough to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship. Students who are being considered as semi-finalists for the scholarship will be notified by mail the following September, once the qualifying scores are made available. Finalists are notified in early February by mail.

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