Most families in the college application process have heard the term “National Merit Scholarship” float around in college counselor meetings and college orientations. However, there is not just one National Merit Scholarship. In fact, there are five different types of scholarships that people lump into the general term of the National Merit Scholarship. In this blog, we will explore the following five different types of scholarships and the financial opportunities that come with each:

  1. National Merit $2,500 Scholarships
  2. Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships
  3. College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships
  4. National Merit “Special Scholarships”
  5. Merit Scholarships Awarded by Colleges Based on National Merit Scholarship Program Status

National Merit Scholarship Types

National Merit $2,500 Scholarships

The National Merit Scholarship Foundation directly grants this type of Scholarship to about half of the approximately 7,500 National Merit Finalists. Instead of giving $2,500 to every one of the finalists, the Foundation compares students in the same state. Therefore, some states are more competitive, and some are less so depending on the school systems’ quality in that region. 

Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships

Sometimes, a company or organization sponsors their employees’ children’s college educations through Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships. If a company or organization is a sponsor, those employees’ students who are National Merit Finalists have the opportunity to win a one-time or renewable $2,500 scholarship. To win such a scholarship, a company must work directly with the National Merit Scholarship Foundation to identify, select, and distribute the scholarship funds. 

College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships

Across the United States, about 4,000 college-sponsored National Merit Scholarships are granted to Finalists every year. Such scholarships range from $500-$2,000 and are only given to Finalists committed to attending a participating university. Unlike the Corporate-Sponsored Scholarships, the Colleges get to choose the students they award instead of just funding the scholarship itself.


If your student is eligible and plans to attend a participating school, keep in mind the application due date. Your student will have to inform the National Merit Scholarship Foundation that they will be attending the school before the national decision day if they want to be in the running for the scholarship.


National Merit “Special Scholarships”

Unlike the three scholarship types discussed above, Special Scholarships are not exclusive to Finalists alone. In fact, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation reserves Special Scholarships that companies or organizations fund for those students who scored highly on the PAST/NMSQT but did not become Finalists. Each year the Corporation contacts high-scoring students through their respective high schools. 


The high schools then aid the candidates in applying for the Special Scholarships. After all the applications are in, the Corporation awards 1,200 students scholarships of different amounts, some of which are renewable. To view a list of the organizations that sponsor a scholarship and their respective application, visit the National Merit Scholarship Program website.

Merit Scholarships Awarded by Colleges Based on National Merit Scholarship Program Status

Although colleges only award these scholarships to National Merit Scholars, the scholarships themselves never touch the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Instead, to boost colleges’ number of National Merit Scholars in attendance, they offer Finalists money to enroll them. Often, the scholarships come in large sums and are very similar to GPA or SAT/ACT-based merit scholarships. Sometimes, schools even require a GPA or SAT/ACT baseline in addition to being a Finalist. 

Below are some examples of scholarships in this category:

  • University of Oklahoma – In-State National Merit Finalists – Full Tuition Plus
  • La Sierra University (CA) – National Merit Awards – 33% of tuition for commended students, half tuition for semi-finalists, full tuition for finalists
  • Florida Gulf Coast University $10,000 per year for out-of-state students who are national merit finalists or national Hispanic scholars
  • Loyola University Chicago – one Full Tuition scholarship will be granted to a national merit or national achievement finalist; any finalist who does not receive this scholarship may be eligible for a $2,000 Loyola-sponsored scholarship


Scholarship Tools and the National Merit Scholarships

While the five different National Merit Scholarship Types can be valuable sources of tuition relief, they are just a drop in the pond when it comes to all of the options your high-achieving student has to save money on their college tuition. From dozens of scholarship types, countless opportunities, and little-known secrets, optimizing your student’s chances of scholarship can seem like an impossible task. 

However, there is no need to scour the internet for hours while trying to pick out your student’s financial opportunities from behind pages of old, confusing university websites. Instead, a college-based scholarship search tool like MyCAP can save you time and give you more detailed search results than you could accomplish by hand. With MyCAP, you’ll see every National Merit Scholarship opportunity, as well as additional private scholarship options. You’ll also be able to better compare the *actual* cost of colleges on your student’s “to apply” list to get a better idea of how far your dollar will go. With your student’s preferences, academic information, and a few minutes, develop a comprehensive list of financial opportunities to make your student’s college experience more affordable. Sign up for free by clicking here!