The PSAT/NMSQT in junior year is the traditional route to National Merit. However, there is an alternate path via the SAT for students who were unable to take the PSAT in the fall.
Who is eligible for alternate entry?
The wording from NMSC is that alternate entry is for students missing the PSAT “because of illness, an emergency, or other extenuating circumstance (but meets all other requirements for program participation.” Also eligible are students whose PSAT score “cannot be considered for entry to the National Merit Scholarship Program due to a testing irregularity or score cancellation.”
What is the first step in the alternate entry process?
Students in the class of 2025 must apply for alternate entry by April 1, 2024 (postmark deadline). Before students can apply for alternate entry, they must apply for an application! You do not need to have taken the SAT before you apply for alternate entry. Get the process started right away. Your SAT can be taken as late as June.
How do I get an application form for alternate entry?
If you have missed the PSAT and the testing window is closed, you must write (not email or call) NMSC to request alternate entry information. You must include your name, home address, your contact information, the name and address of your high school, and “a brief explanation of why [you] , missed the test.” This request can come from a counselor, student, or parent. We recommend that the student or parent handle the request directly (counselors are busy with so many things). You will, however, need to get the signature of your principal or counselor on the actual alternate entry application.
National Merit Scholarship Corporation
Attn: Scholarship Administration
1560 Sherman Ave, Suite 200
Evanston, IL 60201-4897
If you have questions about the process, you can contact NMSC at (847) 866-5100.
If I was unable to take the PSAT because my school did not offer the PSAT, can I use alternate entry?
NMSC strongly encourages students to attempt to find a spot at another school to take the PSAT/NMSQT. This is often not possible. Many schools will not accept unenrolled students. Students who miss the PSAT for this reason should apply for alternate entry. NMSC is vague about whether students in this situation will automatically approved. Anecdotally, many (most?) are able to use alternate entry.
Alternate entry sounds like a better option than the PSAT. Should I skip the PSAT and just do alternate entry?
The PSAT/NMSQT is the only automatic entry-point for the National Merit Scholarship Program. There is no guarantee that you will be approved for alternate entry, and you will need approval from your school. There are also ethical questions that students must answer for themselves about whether they should actively avoid taking the PSAT in order to enter National Merit.
Is alternate entry available if I took the PSAT?
Not if you took the PSAT/NMSQT in your junior year. If you took the test as a sophomore or took the PSAT 10, those do not impact your eligibility for alternate entry.
What SAT scores will NMSC consider for alternate entry?
NMSC will note on the alternate entry form which test dates will be accepted. Typically, the dates are August of junior year (August 2023 for class of 2025) through June of junior year (June 2024). You can take the test multiple times. NMSC will use your highest score, but it will not superscore. You must send an official score report to NMSC (code 0085). While NMSC may allow scores to be submitted as late as October 15th of senior year, there is no reason not to submit them immediately!
Can I submit an ACT score for alternate entry?
No. ACT scores can be used as “confirming scores” for Semifinalist hoping to become Finalists, but they are not entry points into the National Merit Scholarship Program.
How is my Selection Index calculated from my SAT score?
While your PSAT report comes with a Selection Index, your SAT report does not. The process for calculating a Selection Index is the same for both exams, with one important difference — because the PSAT Reading and Writing (RW) score and Math score only go to 760, SAT section scores are capped at 760.
The RW score is doubled and added to the Math score. That total is divided by 10. Another way to think about it is dropping the rightmost zero in your scores, doubling RW and adding Math. Because of the doubling of RW scores, you cannot calculate a Selection Index from the Total Score. Here are several examples of Selection Index calculations from SAT scores:
- RW: 720 Math: 700 Total Score: 1420 Selection Index: 214 (72×2 + 70).
- RW: 700 Math: 720 Total Score: 1420 Selection Index: 212 (70×2 + 72).
- RW: 740 Math: 800 Total Score: 1540 Selection Index: 224 (74×2 + 76).
- RW: 740 Math: 760 Total Score: 1500 Selection Index: 224 (74×2 + 76).
Do I need a certain score to qualify for National Merit honors?
Alternate entrants face the same Commended Student and Semifinalist cutoffs as PSAT/NMSQT takers. For more information on scores, see Compass’s post on National Merit cutoffs. You may also want to visit our FAQ on the National Merit process.