national merit scholarship finalist essay

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National Merit Scholarship Essay Example 2 - Influential Person or Obstacle

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. explain why this is meaningful to you.

Hot, salty tears continuously run down my dirt-streaked face and cling to the tip of my nose. I can feel the flush of blood run to my cheeks in embarrassment. All I can think is, "I am so patheticly weak!" I can feel my stomach aching, and I know, if it hadn't already, my breakfast would be coming back. My limbs feel like giant rubber hoses, with no life in them. There is no will in me to move from my current position, with my knees curled to my chest, and my face in the dirt.

The sun is beating down on my back with sharp lances of sunlight. "Come on, get up." I hear from far away to my left. it is not unkind, but I have no inclination to obey it. "You can do it. Mind over matter." The voice is getting closer to my ear, but still my resolve to do anything has vanished. Suddenly, there she is, knelt on the ground so she can put her face directly in front of mine. "Almost done! You can do it, just finish! Always finish!" In my mind, though, I know I'll never be able to finish the last eight miles of our marathon.

Without quite realizing it, I allow my coach to help me to my feet. Her face breaks out into an incredulous grin. My mind doesnt even function enough to wonder how she can manage to smile, or stand after the first eighteen miles. Coach T resumes spewing her never-ending monologue of encouragements, all while running next to me, until finally, the unthinkable happens. We cross the finish line.

Finishing those twenty-six miles was undoubtedly the most rewarding and satisfying moment of my life. Never before have I needed so much focus or determination. Yet I know that without Coach T there to help me, I would never have finished. She has been so much more than just my high school volleyball coach; she has helped me learn things that no other person ever could. She taught me that quitting anything is never an option, but most importantly, she taught me that i can do anything if I sincerely try. And I have carried that lesson with me everywhere since.

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national merit scholarship finalist essay


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Many students take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year. What a lot of students may not notice is the full name of the test is PSAT/NMSQT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Thus, the PSAT is not just good practice for your SATs. It's also the first step in becoming a National Merit Finalist and hopefully, earning a $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

In this article, we'll discuss what steps you need to take to become a National Merit Finalist and compete for a scholarship. We'll also give you advice on how to write a strong application and maximize your chances of becoming a National Merit Scholar.

Here's how the numbers break down:

Each year, about 1.6 million students take the PSAT. Of the juniors who take the exam, about 16,000 earn scores that qualify them as Semifinalists (that's around 1%). This group is narrowed down to 15,000, who become Finalists. Of this group, about 7,500 are awarded scholarships of $2,500 a year (that can be renewed each year you're in college).

This article will explain the three key steps you need to follow to win the National Merit scholarship, from meeting the entry requirements, to scoring well on the PSAT, to submitting a standout application.

Step 1: Meet the Entry Requirements

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) requires you to have a few qualifications to even be considered for the scholarship:

You must be enrolled as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation.

You must plan to enroll full time in college starting the fall following high school graduation.

You must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. lawful permanent resident planning to become a U.S. citizen.

These requirements will be checked with a few questions at the beginning of the PSAT.


Step 2: Score in the Top 1% of the PSAT

Becoming a National Merit Finalist is competitive and requires a top score on the PSAT. Although it varies from state to state, most students must score above 1400 (out of 1520) to qualify as a Semifinalist, which means they can compete to move on to Finalist standing.


How can you achieve a top 1% score on the PSAT? Prepare with high-quality materials. Identify your weak points and work to improve them. If the Reading section confuses you, spend the majority of your time practicing those sections. If math isn't your thing, commit yourself to drilling PSAT Math problems. The National Merit competition uses a Selection Index that is based on your Reading, Math, and Writing test scores, so mastering all three sections is key.

Take control of your learning and study with practice questions and sample tests. This practice will also pay off later when you take the SATs in the spring of your junior year and fall of senior year.

Bonus: Aiming for a National Merit Scholarship? If you're not sure you can self-study your way to a qualifying PSAT score, you'll love our PSAT prep program, PrepScholar .

We designed our program to learn your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics and customize your prep to be as effective as possible for you. When you start with PrepScholar, you'll take a diagnostic that will determine your weaknesses in over forty PSAT skills. PrepScholar then creates a study program specifically customized for you .

To improve each skill, you'll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

We also force you to focus on understanding your mistakes and learning from them. If you make the same mistake over and over again, we'll call you out on it.

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For more info on prepping for the PSAT, check out our detailed guide to attaining National Merit Semifinalist status.

Step 3: Submit an Excellent Application

Complete the NMSC application requirements by fall of your senior year (usually early October). This application allows 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists to move on to Finalist standing.

If you don't become a Finalist or don't qualify, you may still get word that you're a Commended Student or remain as a Semifinalist, which are great distinctions that will stand out on college applications. However, only Finalists are eligible for National Merit Scholarship awards.

The online NMSC application is the same as your college application in some ways and different in other ways.


You must submit the following:

  • Your academic record (transcript)
  • SAT scores*
  • Information about your activities and leadership roles
  • A personal essay

*You have to take the SATs on approved dates, usually in the fall of your senior year, and make sure to send along your score report to NMSC. They need to receive your scores by December 31st of your senior year. While there is no strict cutoff for SAT scores, they must be competitive like your PSAT scores (usually around 1400 or above) so they know your PSAT wasn't a fluke.


  • A recommendation from your high school principal or someone the principal designates as a school official
  • Information about your school's curricula and grading system

Let's dig into each component to maximize your chance of building a strong application to win the National Merit Scholar title.

Academic Record and SAT Scores

The National Merit Corporation is first and foremost looking to award academic achievement. There is no strict cutoff, but a competitive GPA (3.5 and above) and high SAT scores (approximately 1400 and above) are recommended. Your academic record should also show that you challenged yourself with honors and AP classes. When you're a high school junior, there isn't much you can do about this, other than continue to excel in your classes.

Ready to go beyond just reading about the SAT? Then you'll love the free five-day trial for our SAT Complete Prep program . Designed and written by PrepScholar SAT experts , our SAT program customizes to your skill level in over 40 subskills so that you can focus your studying on what will get you the biggest score gains.

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Extracurricular Activities and Community Service

The NMC is also looking at the skills and accomplishments shown in your application. Demonstrated leadership goes a long way--for example, leading in Student Council or other student organizations.

Your activities should reveal your passions and interests--it is usually better to show "depth over breadth." In other words, get deeply involved in a few activities you're passionate about rather than showing minor participation in every club, team, and organization your school has to offer. Almost all activities are valuable if they show your commitment, leadership potential, and ability to work with and help others.


Recommendations go a long way. Cultivate good relationships with your teachers, counselor , and principal and provide a "brag sheet" for them with the qualities and accomplishments you would like them to include in your recommendation.

Your brag sheet may include the following:

  • What six adjectives best describe you?
  • What do you consider your greatest accomplishment(s)?
  • What are your strongest goals for the next five years?
  • What is a meaningful experience you have had during high school?

These anecdotes will make writing a lot easier, and they'll thank you for this.

Make sure to ask for your recommendation at least three weeks in advance of the deadline, and follow up with your writer to make sure it'll be submitted on time. The earlier you notify them, the more ahead you'll be of your classmates, most of whom will need college application letters.

Personal Essay

The personal essay adds your voice to your application materials. Your essay is the place where you can share your unique story and perspective and make your application materials come to life.


Here is an example of a past National Merit essay question:

To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

The space allows for about 500 - 600 words.

You should focus on two important components of the essay. First, the NMC wants to see that you can express yourself clearly and powerfully through writing . Make sure to proofread, edit, and revise for any spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or weaknesses in syntax and diction.

Second, your essay reveals how you think about yourself , your accomplishments, and your goals. What do your experiences mean to you? What do they reveal about your identity? Spend some time brainstorming before you decide what aspects of your identity are most important to share with the NMC readers.

For example, did a group science fair project show you the power of collaboration in making new discoveries? Did a Student Council debate reveal the complexity of perspectives on a single issue? Did Lisa Simpson teach you the importance of sticking to your principles, even if your family may not always agree?

The topics are endless, and there is no best answer, but whatever you choose should reveal something significant about who you are . Once you have your first draft, ask a friend, family member, counselor, or English teacher for feedback on what worked and what didn't. It's a short essay, so make sure every sentence is there for a reason and important for telling your story.

In Conclusion

Staying motivated and committing yourself to all these goals will put you in the best position toward becoming a National Merit Finalist. Remember, only 15,000 students (< 1%) are chosen as Finalists, and of those, only about 7,500 students receive scholarships. On a percentage basis, it's even more competitive than getting into the Ivy League, so even with all your hard work, you'll still need a certain amount of luck!

NSMC notifies students if they have become finalists in February of their senior year. Scholarship notifications go out in March. By that time, most of your college applications will be done and submitted.

Now you just have to try to relax and wait for the decisions to come! If you complete all the steps mentioned above, you can be confident that you've done all you can – now hopefully the National Merit Scholarship Corporation will recognize all your hard work.

What's Next?

Want more tips on how to get a top PSAT score? Check out our guide on how to get a perfect PSAT score for all the info you need to know.

Are you striving for perfection on the SAT? Read our detailed guide by our resident SAT full scorer .

Aiming to get into a top-tier school? Check out our article: What's a good SAT score for the Ivy League?

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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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National Merit Scholarship Essay

National Merit Scholarship Corporation Essay – Jacob Klenke Most people of academic achievement ought to be able to readily cite a vast number of supportive mentors. John Donne recognized this through one of his works, stating that “no man is an island”. I am no outlier to this trend, for I have an immensely helpful family, superb educators, and friends that share similar interests in the world of science. However, I would like to concentrate on a rather unsuspecting part of my schooling as having the highest impact: my junior high music teacher. Amidst my life fixated on textbook education, she forced me to never be complacent, to hold high behavioral standards, and to passionately pursue the flighty sparks of inspiration. My instructor, …show more content…

As an illustration, I had the curiosity of a cat when music was involved, so I initially played trombone, but before junior high was over, I moved through two more brass instruments, tenor sax, and the piano, holistically growing my music skills. From my teacher, I had complete support each time I wanted to learn something new, but on the condition that I would work tirelessly at it. She also spurred me in my love of the sciences, ensuring that I was doing well in my coursework and discussing plans for my future in engineering or some related field. Simply stated, my music teacher pushed me to do what I love, for the fire of inspiration gives life zest in music and everything else. After thirty-three years of teaching at one school, Mrs. Peddicord retired the same night that I graduated junior high. She left the community, and I have not seen her since. To this day, though, I still draw from her numerous parables, quips, and admonishments to bolster my success. My loves of music and of learning have not been quenched, and they have grown inseparable. Music is a relaxation from coursework, and coursework deepens the beauty of music. I hope to find another mentor with influences as hers, for the inspiration and drive that she gave all areas of my life is

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What Is a National Merit® Scholarship

The National Merit Corporation is a privately funded NGO organization that awards brilliant students with a prestigious Merit Scholarship to cover their academic fees. It was founded in 1955, and since then, it has helped over 3 million students achieve their academic dreams. The National Merit Corporation runs two types of programs. The National Merit Scholarship Program awards U.S. high school students that excel at academic performance. The other one, the National Achievement Scholarship Program, founded in 1964, helps Black American youth to pursue their studies. Students applying for one of their scholarships must pass a competition, and our personal statement writers can be very useful for that. These are the different stages of it:

  • First, students must take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test
  • Then, a round of semifinalists is selected. Semifinalists are the students who got the highest scores from their state.
  • From those semifinalists, the organization selects a group of finalists who need to provide an essay, among other documents.
  • Finally, an elite crowd receives a Merit Scholarship. The winners are chosen based on their performance, skills, and abilities.

All You Need to Know about the National Merit® Scholarship Program

If you are thinking of applying for one of their scholarships, you should be aware of the National Merit Scholarship requirements. To be considered for one of their grants, you should attend a U.S high school. You could also attend a school within the U.S Commonwealth or the District of Columbia. You need to be a U.S citizen or be living lawfully in the U.S. as a permanent resident.

Another requirement you should meet is that you need to be a high school student. But, you can be coursing a traditional high school or be a homeschooled student. You should also take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test in the stated year of the high school program. If you meet all the requirements, then you can move into the application process. These are the steps for the application process:

  • After you have taken the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, you will be notified if you are a semifinalist.
  • Semifinalists need to provide their SAT results too.
  • Finalists will have to submit a self-descriptive essay in order to compete for the award.

What You Should Know about the National Merit® Scholarship Application Essay

If you are a semifinalist, as part of your National Merit Scholarship application you will need to submit a self-descriptive essay. In this essay, the jury will judge how well do you express yourself, your word choice, and will get to know you a little bit more. The application essay should help you beat the competition. Since you will be competing with highly talented students from all the territory, you will need to make sure that your application remains memorable.

Your personal application essay is an extremely important part of your application. Just like your scores, your essay will demonstrate your academic abilities. It will tell the jury how well can you express your thoughts on paper, and what do you think about yourself. These two points help them get an idea of the candidate. And if they like your answer to the essay, you can probably win the competition.

Learn How to Write a National Merit® Scholarship Essay

If you need to write an essay as part of your application, make sure you submit a winning National Merit Scholarship essay. Learning how to create one can improve your chances of winning the competition. Here is some expert advice that will help you write a winning essay. Take a look at them:

  • Your essay should be written in 500 to 600 words. Make sure you meet the word count as it will demonstrate that you know how to summarize information and explain relevant details only.
  • Read the question carefully and several times. Ensure that you have understood it and you know what you should write about.
  • Once you have an idea of the topic, start brainstorming several events that marked your life. Since your essay has to reveal a significant part of your life, make sure that you want to share it.
  • After brainstorming, pick the moment in your life that had a major impact. Summarize it and explain why did it affect you, and how did it shape you.
  • Your description should reveal your personality, what you have learned from that episode, and how do you embrace changes.
  • When you finish writing it, you should take the time to proofread it. Submitting a flawless essay is key to advance in this highly competitive contest. Make sure that there are no typos, grammatical mistakes, or orthographical errors. Your sentences should also be coherent and short. Avoid complex ones as they may make it harder for the reader to understand what you are saying.

Our Services Can Help You Submit a Winning National Merit® Scholarship Essay

Even if you know how to write a National Merit Scholarship essay, you may struggle with thinking about how to organize the information you want to include. And it is no wonder. When you consider that only 1% of the semifinalists made it to the final stage, and only half of them receive a scholarship, writer’s block might start knocking on your door.

That’s why it is better to rely on our service. Our professional and skilled writers can help you craft a personalized essay following your requirements. Our reliable service will treat your details confidentially and only use them to tailor a personal paper. We can help you put your thoughts on paper. In a coherent, interesting, and flawless way, of course. But, besides our flair for language, there are many reasons why you should choose our help. For example:

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If you have decided to obtain a National Merit Scholarship, our experts are able to assist you in personal statement writing in order to make it the excellent one!

Jeff Widman

I enjoy hacking/optimizing systems. currently working as a software engineer focused on infrastructure/plumbing. founded/sold two companies., the magical 4.0–national merit finalist essay.

When I was a junior in highschool, I had to write a 500 word essay as part of the process of becoming a National Merit Finalist (remember the PSAT?). This is still o still one of my favorites:


The Magical 4.0

As I walked to the front of the class and began to read, I found it impossible to think; I could only read each word one at a time. It was the last day of finals, and I was presenting my narrative project to my English class. Only four days earlier, my dreams had been shattered. I had lost my 4.0. Struggling for an “A” throughout the quarter, it had come down to the very last test; I needed to get a 98. When the teacher returned my test, an 89.5 glared in red at the top of the page. Even more painful was the inner questioning that had immediately followed. My narrative project became my analytical tool as I struggled to make sense of my loss. Re-telling the event in the third-person, I shoved my emotions aside and asked the questions I previously had not dared to face.

As the quarter had progressed everything else had faded except this goal of maintaining my 4.0. Every spare moment had been spent studying Chemistry, or revising my World Literature essay. My friends had become strangers. Because I had been consistently going to bed after midnight, my performance in Track had suffered–I no longer had any chance of running in the State meet.

But how could I distill this experience into a narrative? Could I adequately describe the effort that had gone into my 4.0, or how close I had come to getting an A, only to see it pulled just out of my reach on the very last test? Would my audience even care? Would they understand how hard I worked for perfection, how I expected perfection–how I was used to perfection? Would they understand what it meant to lose perfection?

I labored over my narrative to shorten it–every time I started typing it would just grow and grow. The ending was the biggest challenge; it wasn’t until I started typing the last paragraph that I came up with the idea of a happy-ever-after ending, the ending I almost had, where I scored a 99 instead of an 89.5.

Not until after my presentation, as I shared my reflections on the experience, did I reveal to the class that I had really gotten the 89.5. Afterward my English professor would write, “This was one of my favorite moments of last year, Jeff. Maybe best of all was the brilliant move to have the ending different than what actually happened in your life, and then reveal that ‘real’ ending in your comments. The entire room was transfixed by your revelation; I could feel it. You both criticized yourself and elevated yourself by so bravely doing that.”

The contrast between the two endings–the dream and the reality–underscored what my narrative project had made me realize was my only question: Had I overvalued perfection? Even if I had achieved the 99, would my 4.0 have been worth so much sacrifice?

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