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One of the most stressful parts of preparing for college is figuring out how to pay for it. College tuition is expensive, and costs are only increasing. Securing financial aid for college expenses is more important now than it ever has been before. Whatever remains unpaid from grants and scholarships, student loans often cover. While there are families who have established college savings plans for their children, or can afford to help pay for some of the college expenses, this is becoming less common and many students are faced with paying off their own loans after they graduate.

The National Merit Scholarship Program

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For this reason, students should take advantage of any scholarship opportunities that come their way. The National Merit Scholarship program is one of these opportunities, and it is a big one. The competition for the scholarships is intense, out of all the high school juniors in the country who take the test, the program grants only about 7,600 awards, but the scholarship awards can be substantial.


The PSAT/NMSQT test is used by the National Merit Scholarship program to determine a student’s eligibility for the scholarship through this program. While sophomores are encouraged to take the PSAT/NMSQT test for practice, all students must take the test in their junior year for consideration in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

When to Prepare

It is highly recommended that juniors begin preparing for the PSAT/NMSQT when they start classes in September. It is important that those who wish to be considered for the scholarship are prepared to take the test in September or October. This means studying for the test should begin in September at the latest, and students should work with their guidance counselors to make arrangements to take the test as soon as they are ready.

Many scholarships require research, long applications, letters of recommendation, and even essays on particular subjects in order to qualify for consideration for a scholarship award. The National Merit Scholarship Program requires a good score on the PSAT/NMSQT test – a test that every student takes anyway as a preparation to take the SAT or ACT. It only makes sense for students to begin preparation in September so that they can take the test in time to qualify for this scholarship.