Alternate Entry for NMS?

Hi! I am in a state that has a selection index of 223 for a finalist spot, which is virtually impossible to get on the PSAT. However, I recently took the SAT and calculated my index to be 235, which is much higher than the necessary index.

Is there a way I can submit my SAT score instead of my PSAT score to NMSC? How does this work? Would I be a finalist?



Yes, there is! Due to Covid preventing many people from taking the PSAT, and other exceptional circumstances that sometimes apply to students, there is an alternate way to apply for national Merit Scholarship, which is by using your SAT score. You can read about it on the national merit scholarship website. Search for something like “alternate ways to apply” for the National Merit Scholarship. It’s there somewhere.
There are a couple strings attached, but for most students it should work:
You had to have taken the SAT within a certain time frame, I think the last year or 2, and you have to fill out a simple online form and have the College Board send your score report to the NMSC. These two things have to be done by a certain date - I think it is April 2021.
My student got a 1590 on the November SAT, which was very lucky, and took a lot of studying and stress, and when we heard the January PSAT would be held in a way that seemed unsafe and during a peak infection period for Covid in our area, I made a decision not to have my son take the test. Both because of health risks and more stress. Someone mentioned to me there may be alternate ways to apply, and lo and behold it is true. I even called NMSC to check, and they confirmed it.
One aspect to know about this alternate entry is that your SAT score will be “converted” to a PSAT score. What this means is that for the purposes of determining your selection index, your SAT sub scores on each of the 3 sub score sections are “maxed out” at 38. (This acknowledges that the SAT is harder than the PSAT so you sort of get a score boost by converting your SAT to PSAT in the process).
As an example, here is how my son’s score was converted to an NMS selection index score:
SAT score total 1590
EBRD score total 790, math score total 800
Three sub scores (which you can find in the score report): 39 and 40 EBRD, 40 math
But for purposes of NMSC, Each sub score can be no more than 38.
So his NMSC sub scores are: 38, 38, 38
The way to calculate your NMSC selection index is by adding all those together and multiplying by 2
So my son’s NMS score is: (38x3) x 2 = 228.
228 is the maximum achievable NMS score, so I know for sure he is guaranteed to be a National Merit Semifinalist, because no higher score would be achievable. Our state cutoff is 223, but he exceeds that.
A different example would be:
SAT total 1520 (790 EBRD, 730 math)
Sub scores: 40 and 39 for EBRD and 36.5 math.
The conversion to NMSC selection index score would be: 38, 38, 36.5
So the NMSC Selection Index score would be:
(38+38) + 36.5 and then double that = 225. This would still be over the required 223.
Hope this is clear and helpful!

I suggest anyone interested in the alternate entry process read the document from NMC at

Some of the above information is not accurate.

Agree with this. Also suggest calling/emailing NMC directly at various steps along the way. My D21’s school had to cancel the official PSAT because of a snow day so the entire class got thrown to alternate entry. It’s a big public HS [with all the demographics correlated with good standardized test scores] that typically has 40+ semi-finalists and this year (even with COVID) managed to pull out 50+ semi-finalists (IDK how many finalists). But there was quite a bit more paperwork and stress than I remember with my older kid, and some of the steps need to be taken by the school, which made me super nervous :). The NMC folks were quite helpful and willing to send emails like “we’ve received the alternate entry and it’s in order.”

In case it helps with any parents feeling worried about this whole process, I’ve got two very different happy ending stories to share. My older child was a NMSF with 1520 PSAT, 36 ACT and 1550 SAT scores who failed to make NMF because of poor HS grades. She still got a great academic scholarship to a wonderful small LAC where she is now thriving, doing theoretical math research as an undergrad and even getting decent grades for once! :wink: BTW, I kind of loved the rejection letter because of its directness re: the grades - helpful for her to hear they do matter, I’m not sure she believed me all those years. And not making finalist status has not negatively impacted her life trajectory in any way at all. My younger child just learned she made NMF with her alternate entry and she will either choose an expensive fancy-pants school (this one has the grades to be admitted!) with no scholarship and then be forced to confront the need for a high-paying job right away or a school that gives great NMS money where she can pursue the arts she loves. I just put together a spreadsheet with her likely choices and the 4-year estimated cost ranges from $40k to over $350k.