Of the 1.4 million entrants, about 50,000 qualify for recognition. Two-thirds of those qualified receive Letters of Commendation; the remainder become Semifinalists, about 94% of whom go on to become Finalists. Over half of the Finalists are selected to receive scholarships underwritten by corporations and business organizations, colleges and universities, and by NMSC with its own funds.
Early the next September (beginning of the senior year, almost a year after the PSAT/NMSQT was taken), NMSC determines Selection Index qualifying scores for further recognition by state (including three other areas: DC, US Territories and Commonwealths, and students enrolled in schools outside the US) and US boarding schools (by geographic region). About 16,000 of the 50,000 are recognized as National Merit Semifinalists in this process. The Selection Index qualifying scores for Semifinalist standing vary from state to state and from year to year. As each state is allocated a percentage of Semifinalist winners regardless of overall state performance, statistically significant discrepancies exist between average and median semifinalist award winners between the various states. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation does not release to the public the minimum qualifying score required per state. In the 2007 program, minimum qualifying scores by state ranged from 200 to 223. On 8/21/06, high school principals were mailed notification about their 2007 program Semifinalists. Principals communicate these results to their students, though some misread the NMSC materials and do not release them until the NMSC press release, which comes in mid-September (9/14 in 2007). Those not making Semifinalist are "Commended", and receive a Letter of Commendation; they do not continue in the competition for Merit Scholarship awards.
Semifinalists must fulfill additional requirements and advance to the Finalist level of the competition to be considered for a scholarship. Approximately 15,000 of the 16,000 Semifinalists advance to Finalist standing by submitting SAT scores that confirm the earlier PSAT/NMSQT performance, having an outstanding academic record, and being endorsed and recommended by the high school principal. They must also submit an application that includes high school courses and grades, extracurricular and volunteer activities, and a 500-word self-descriptive essay. The information that is collected about each Semifinalist is used later in the process to choose scholarship winners. All Finalists receive a Certificate of Merit in recognition of their outstanding performance in the competition.
Of the 15,000 Finalists, about 8,200 receive Merit Scholarship awards. All Finalists are considered for one of the 2,500 National Merit $2,500 Scholarships, which are awarded on a state representational basis. NMSC's own funds support the majority of these awards but corporate sponsors help underwrite these awards with grants they provide to NMSC in lieu of paying administrative fees. About 1,100 Merit Scholarship awards are provided by corporate sponsors for Finalists who meet criteria specified by the sponsor. Most of these awards are for children of the sponsor's employees, for Finalists living in a particular geographic area, or for Finalists who have career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage. These two types of awards can be used at any regionally accredited college or university in the United States. There are also approximately 4,600 college-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists who plan to attend a sponsor college. Finalists report to NMSC their first choice college ("College-Sponsored Merit Awards"). In addition, about 1,500 program participants who are below the Finalist level receive Special Scholarships provided by corporate sponsors.
Before receiving an award, a Finalist must (a) notify NMSC of plans to enroll in a college or university in the United States that holds accredited status with a regional accrediting commission on higher education, and (b) plan to enroll full time in an undergraduate course of study leading to a traditional baccalaureate degree. NMSC scholarship stipends are not payable for attendance at service academies, virtual universities, and certain institutions that are limited in their purposes or training. A number of National Merit Scholars do not receive a monetary award because their educational plans or other awards preclude receipt of a monetary scholarship; however, these students may be honored as Honorary Merit Scholars, a designation that acknowledges achievement without providing any financial assistance.
Steps in the Achievement Scholarship competition are parallel to those in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Of 130,000 entrants, some 3,000 students are referred to colleges for their academic potential and an additional 1,600 students are designated Semifinalists on a regional representation basis. Semifinalists are the highest scorers in the states that make up each region and have an opportunity to continue in the competition for scholarships.
Around 1,500 semifinalists go on to be named Finalists and about 800 receive scholarships. These include 700 National Achievement $2500 Scholarships, most of which are provided by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, and about 100 corporate-sponsored Achievement Scholarships awards.