Realities of National Merit Scholarships

This is the time of year when parents of teenagers, who are excellent test takers,  start thinking about National Merit Scholarships.

Next month, high school juniors will be taking the PSAT, which is a requirement to qualify for National Merit honors.

Meanwhile, the National Merit Semifinalist score cut offs for high school seniors who took this test as juniors, was recently released.

Today I am sharing a guest post about the National Merit Scholarships by  Michelle Kretzschmar, who is the creator of the DIY College Rankings Spreadsheet which contains information on over 1,500 colleges that families can use to identify schools best for them.

You can learn a TREMENDOUS amount more about making college more affordable by heading over the Michelle Kretzschmar’s website at DIY College Rankings.

By Michelle Kretzschmar

With PSAT coming up in October, many parents of juniors have been encouraging their them to take the test seriously because of the part of the test’s name that most people leave out-NMSQT.

NMSQT stands for the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

With all the hype about which colleges have the most National Merit Scholars, it’s understandable that parents are hoping that their teens will score high enough to cash in on the benefits of being a National Merit Scholar.

Before all those parents spend the next three to four months anxiously waiting for the release of this year’s qualifying score, they really need to take a closer look at what their students may be getting.

Realities of National Merit Scholarship Benefits

The cash part of the benefits aren’t as amazing or as plentiful as many might think. Becoming a National Merit Scholar isn’t going to get you a free ride to Harvard or Stanford.

Yes, Harvard ranked fourth in the number of National Merit Scholars attending in 2015 but none of them were doing so on a Harvard sponsored National Merit Scholarship. Nor were any of the 176 at Stanford or 166 at Yale. They may have received a corporate National Merit Scholarship or one directly from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, but it wasn’t one sponsored by the school.

It’s time for a little reality check about National Merit Scholarships.

There are actually three different types of National Merit Scholarships based on the sponsoring organization. The National Merit Scholarship Corp. sponsors 2,500 scholarships worth $2,500. These are one-time awards.

Corporations sponsor around another 1,000 scholarships. These can be one-time awards up to $5,000 or renewable awards ranging from $500 to $10,000 a year. Most corporate scholarships are awarded to children whose parents are associated with the corporation or live in the company’s community.

The third type are college sponsored scholarships. This is the largest of the three types, around 4,000 in 2015. These are renewable and are worth up to $2,000 a year.

Basically, less than a third of the scholarships, those sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation itself, come with no strings attached. And they are only one-time awards.

Furthermore, only half of National Merit Finalists actually end up with a scholarship.

And most of those who do aren’t getting anywhere near a full ride.

Unless they picked the right college.

Harvard may not be sponsoring any scholarships but National Merit Scholars who select Texas A&M as their first choice will get a full ride.

National Merit Finalists can get $2,000 off Northwestern University‘s $60,000 plus tuition or pay no tuition if they list Baylor University as their first choice.

Some of the other colleges that offer National Merit Scholars free tuition or full-ride scholarships are:

You might notice a pattern here.

These are not schools that top the most popular college rankings. And this is exactly why they are willing to give National Merit Finalist a lot of money to attend their schools.

Since the media loves reporting which colleges have the most National Merit Scholars, it’s valuable publicity. And the corresponding high test scores and GPA’s will help the school in the college rankings.

This is also why the most competitive colleges in the country don’t bother sponsoring National Merit Scholarships or only provide the basic $2,000 award. They simply don’t need the publicity. They have plenty of amazingly qualified candidates to choose from so they have no need to offer any incentives to attend.

Basically, the entire National Merit Scholarship program reflects the reality of merit scholarships in general.

The most valuable merit scholarships are coming from schools that are trying to attract highly qualified students to their schools. Don’t expect any sort of significant merit reward from colleges that already have more exceptional students than they know what to do with.

If you want the National Merit Scholarship for more than just bragging rights, be prepared to go to a school that the rankings aren’t bragging about.

Michelle Kretzchmar has also created a 50-50 list of colleges that accept at least 50% of their applicants and have at least a 50% graduation rate.


, , , , ,

3 Responses to Realities of National Merit Scholarships

  1. Anna July 16, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

    I think the author just stated it like it is … the reality. We too are middle class. Son wants to go to the most selective colleges and so most likely we will end up paying a lot for tuition even if he becomes a finalist, and we are already trying to prepare for this. Would we be happy and thankful to receive and save $2,500, sure! But it is a small chunk compared to the $30-40,000 tuition. I don’t think this article is snooty, just being realistic. It is true that lots of parents rely on scholarships for their smart kids to go to the Ivies snd such schools and become heartbroken once they realize it it isn’t going to happen

  2. Tom Schaff May 5, 2018 at 1:56 pm #

    The author misses a reality. Rich smart kids can afford to go anywhere, poor smart kids can get free aid anywhere, but middle class smart kids pay full freight to the great schools. National Merit scholarships give middle class kids the opportunity to go college with minimal debt and save their dollars for grad school. In most cases, said National Merit Scholars will be able to graduate in 3 years and use their remaining year for a year of Grad school. While this snooty author minimizes the importance of this scholarship, this upper middle class father of two highly appreciates the tuition plus scholarship at ASU. My son entered and is in a sophisticated honors college whose students rival the “best schools” while we keep our powder dry for Grad school. I appreciated it so much I had my second son take the assessment as a sophomore so he could see where he is, work on areas he can improve on and achieve his scholarship qualifying score this year. Instead of trashing these tests, they should be lauded as the upper middle class’s path to debt free undergrad degrees. It was a godsend to our family. Thumb your nose at the achievements and the financial package if you want, but it was a transformative event for my family and I’m proud and thankful for both of my son’s good fortune because of it.

  3. James April 1, 2018 at 9:44 am #

    Some states like Florida and I think Alabama will offer their own students full rides for NM Scholars. So it’s worth it to see what your state my offer on top of any individual school offer.

Leave a Reply