The National Merit Scholarship Program is a United States academic scholarship competition for recognition and university scholarships administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The program began in 1955. About 1.6 million students enter the competition at over 22,000 high schools each year. Semifinalists are the highest-scoring program entrants in each state and represent the top 0.5 percent of the state’s senior students. About 34,000 of the 50,000 high scorers in each annual National Merit Scholarship Program are named Commended Students based on a national Selection Index . There is a nationwide cutoff for Commended Scholars, but Semifinalists are chosen according to state-by-state cutoffs.