Merit Beyond Grades: What Makes a National Merit Scholar?


Our unique model is about recognizing patterns and form new behaviors to fundamentally change the way we learn. Discover how to apply industry-proven decision making techniques to everyday life. Click here to learn more.

Amazon Link to Book

Merit Beyond Grades: What Makes a National Merit Scholar?

By: Dr. Joseph Kashiwagi

As parents, we often focus on the academic achievements of our children, believing that good grades are the ticket to success. While grades are undoubtedly important, they are not the sole determinant of a student’s potential or eligibility for prestigious honors like the National Merit Scholar. In reality, it is only a small portion for what educators and leaders are looking for in a student in this day and age! The world has changed a lot in the past 10 years and scholarships are much more interested in hearing the impact of a student on the community or their own personal story than looking at their academic grades. We are seeing that academic grades are not directly correlated to the success of a student and that there are so many other factors that are important to the success of a student! It is refreshing to see that the scholarships are looking at the more important factors of a students life than just a number! In this blog post, we’ll delve into what truly sets apart a National Merit Scholar and explore the essential elements beyond grades that parents can nurture in their children to help them achieve this distinction.

1. Intellectual Curiosity and Passion

Beyond rote memorization and regurgitation of facts, a National Merit Scholar demonstrates a genuine curiosity about the world and a passion for learning. Encourage your child to explore various subjects, hobbies, and extracurricular activities that pique their interest. Whether it’s delving into scientific experiments, immersing themselves in literature, or engaging in community service projects, fostering intellectual curiosity lays the foundation for academic excellence and personal growth. Not only with this help them in getting scholarships but it will help them figure out what they want to do for their career. Students who choose what they want to do will be prepared to make bigger decisions in their life when faced with more risky situations.

2. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Grades may reflect a student’s ability to absorb and recall information, but the real-world demands more than just memorization. National Merit  Scholars exhibit strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills, enabling them to analyze complex issues, think creatively, and devise innovative solutions. Encourage your child to tackle challenging problems, engage in debates, and explore diverse perspectives to sharpen their analytical abilities and cultivate a resilient problem-solving mindset. There is a great need in the industry for students who can solve problems and not just do what they are told to do. Automation and AI are taking over all the jobs where a person can’t problem solve. It is important in the future to have this skill to have a future in the world!

3. Leadership and Initiative

Excelling academically is commendable, but true leaders go beyond the classroom walls to effect positive change in their communities. National Merit Scholars demonstrate leadership qualities such as initiative, teamwork, and empathy. Encourage your child to take on leadership roles in school clubs, sports teams, or volunteer organizations. Fostering a sense of responsibility and a desire to make a difference empowers your child to become a leader both inside and outside the academic realm. We have so many followers in the world but we need true leaders. These students need to learn how to work with us and impact other in a positive manner. These skills are overlooked most times when trying to predict the success of a student. We are building the future of our world and we need the best to have this skill!

4. Effective Communication Skills

In today’s interconnected world, effective communication is essential for success in any field. National Merit Scholars possess strong communication skills, whether it’s articulating their ideas persuasively, writing eloquently, or engaging in meaningful dialogue. Encourage your child to participate in public speaking events, debate clubs, or writing competitions to hone their communication abilities. Emphasize the importance of listening attentively and expressing themselves clearly and confidently in both verbal and written forms. Communication can be a powerful tool but also a dangerous one as well. The self-discipline in knowing what to say and when it should be said is important to achieve success! In our globalized and technologically advanced world, students struggle to communicate efficiently and understand each other. This is what is truly needed in our industry, politics and world today!

5. Resilience and Perseverance

Achieving academic excellence and pursuing prestigious honors like the National Merit Scholar inevitably involves setbacks and challenges. National Merit Scholars demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity, bouncing back from failures and setbacks with determination and perseverance. Teach your child the value of resilience by encouraging them to embrace challenges, learn from mistakes, and maintain a positive attitude even in the face of obstacles. Instilling resilience prepares your child to navigate the ups and downs of academic and personal pursuits with resilience and grace. If a student can’t push through adversity, then they are destined to fail. We can’t shelter our students from failure. It is a learning process and it is really about the development of the student. The biggest way to show this is through personal experiences and the display of improvement with family, friends, and passions.

6. Balance and Well-being

While striving for academic excellence is important, it’s equally crucial to maintain a healthy balance between academic pursuits, extracurricular activities, and personal well-being. National Merit Scholars prioritize self-care, stress management, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Encourage your child to cultivate hobbies, spend time with family and friends, and prioritize mental and physical health. Emphasize the importance of time management, setting realistic goals, and knowing when to seek support or take breaks to avoid burnout and promote overall well-being. No student can be successful if they are not healthy. There are so many other parts of life that need to be considered in the success of a child. The mundane and foundational principles of a students life can be the most important. Mental health is rarely talked about but paramount in the mind of educators and professionals!

7. Guidance and Support

As parents, your guidance and support play a pivotal role in nurturing the qualities and skills that set apart National Merit Scholars. Foster a supportive environment where your child feels encouraged to explore their interests, pursue their passions, and overcome challenges with resilience and determination. Celebrate their successes, provide constructive feedback, and instill a growth mindset that values learning and personal development. Your unwavering support and encouragement empower your child to reach their fullest potential and unlock the doors to academic excellence and beyond. You were chosen to be your child’s parent for a reason. Each child is special and important in their own way. Embrace and accept your child for who they are and they will succeed!


In conclusion, while grades are important, they are just one piece of the puzzle in the journey toward becoming a National Merit Scholar. By fostering intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, leadership, communication skills, resilience, balance, and providing guidance and support, parents can help their children develop the holistic qualities and attributes that set them apart as National Merit Scholars. Ultimately, it’s not just about achieving academic success but also about nurturing the values, skills, and qualities that shape well-rounded individuals poised to make a positive impact on the world. These principles are important guidelines for parents regardless of if you are trying to get your child to become a National Merit Scholar. Our world is changing and we need to adapt as parents to understand how to help our children to be successful! Grades are no the most important but the soft skills will actually help them the most to be successful! These are skills that they don’t teach at school but they learn from other activities! I hope that you look at programs at Leadership Society of Arizona where we help students develop these skills!


Arizona is leading the charge for educational choice. As one of the first states to open the door for innovative charter schools, Arizona offers a wide variety of schools to choose from. In the summer of 2023, Arizona passed a law that allows more state funding to be used for private schools as well as charter schools. Because of this change, Leadership Society of Arizona was able to support the grand opening of an innovative private school in August 2023. LeadAZ Private School has created a unique blended approach to homeschooling and in-person education. Students can set the pace of their education but they also get one-on-one access to a team of highly-qualified instructors. Every student creates their own customized education experience. To make this possible, LeadAZ maintains a ratio of only 4 to students to every 1 instructor.

Learn More!