The National Merit Scholarship Program is a United States academic scholarship competition for recognition and college scholarships administered by National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), a privately funded, not-for-profit organization. The program began in 1955. NMSC conducts two annual competitions for recognition and scholarships: the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is open to all students who meet entry requirements, and the National Achievement Scholarship Program in which only African American students participate. Each year a total of approximately 10,500 scholarships are awarded through NMSC programs. The corporation's headquarters are located in Evanston, Illinois.
Of the 1.5 million entrants, about 50,000 qualify for recognition. More than two-thirds of those qualified receive Letters of Commendation; about a third of the 50,000 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.