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50-50 Highlights: 105 Overlooked Colleges for National Merit Scholarships

student with money from colleges for national merit scholarships(Updated 2023) The National Merit Scholarship® Program seems like a great opportunity for test savvy high school students and their families to make a substantial dent in college costs. Well, it really all depends. Much to the surprise of many families, being a National Merit® Finalist doesn’t mean a full-ride scholarship to the college of your choice.

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List of Colleges for National Merit Scholarships

Different Types of National Merit Scholarships®

There are three types of National Merit Scholarships. There is the one-time $2,500 awarded by the National Merit Scholarship® Corporation to approximately 2,500 scholars. Corporations sponsor another 1,000 scholarships, mainly for children of employees but also for students living in certain areas or pursuing specific majors. These may or may not be renewable and range in value from $1.000 to $10,000.

The third type of scholarship is generally the most valuable–those sponsored by colleges. These scholarships may be only one-time awards of only $2,500. However, many of them are renewable awards for much more and the most valuable offer the coveted “free ride.”

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that only around half of all finalists will win any scholarship. According to the National Merit® Scholarship Corporation 2019-20 Annual Report, (the most recently available report) of the 15,792 finalists, only 7,530 received National Merit Scholarships. The awards totaled $29.8 million which averages to $3,957 per finalist.

Most Colleges Don’t Provide National Merit Scholarships®

Out of over 1,500 4-year institutions with 500 or more full-time undergraduates, less than 200 offer National Merit Scholarships®. Furthermore, these schools that sponsor such scholarships are generally not the same schools everyone wants to attend. In fact, very few of the most competitive colleges and universities sponsor National Merit Scholarships®. That doesn’t mean these schools don’t have National Merit Scholars®. In 2020, Stanford enrolled 172, Harvard 183, and MIT 159. None of these students received National Merit Scholarships® to attend these schools. These schools just don’t have to offer money as an incentive to attend.

And for those competitive colleges that do such as Tulane, Carleton College, and Vanderbilt University, the amounts tend to be small relative to the actual cost of attendance. Carleton College expects to sponsor 40 National Merit Scholars® in 2023. The value of the scholarship is $2,000 and the expected total cost of attendance is almost $80,000.

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Sponsoring a large number of National Merit Scholarships® is one way schools’ improve their academic standing. By sponsoring National Merit Scholarships, the University of Texas at Austin could claim that it was only second to Harvard in the number of enrolled National Merit Scholars. It stopped participating in the program in 2009. New York University stopped around the same time after sponsoring 83 scholarships for its 2009-10 class. By 2015, Washington University in St. Louis joined those in withdrawing from providing National Merit Scholarships.

Oklahoma University may be next. In 2018, after years of participating in the program and funding four full-time staff members to recruiting scholars, the new president decided to cut back on the program. In 2018, the number of scholars had dropped to 155. This year OU expects to sponsor 75 scholars. This still ranks them in the top ten in the number of scholarships but is a significant drop from previous years.

Colleges with Incentives to Provide National Merit Scholarships®

If you want to get the most out of being a National Merit Scholar®, target a 50-50 school. These are schools that accept at least 50% of students and have at least a 50% graduation rate. Out of 154 schools or systems sponsoring National Merit Scholarships®, 105 of them are 50-50 schools.

This isn’t surprising since many of these colleges are interested in developing a national reputation. Colleges haven’t been shy about publicizing the number of National Merit Scholars® attending their institutions. They are also more likely to provide scholarships that significantly reduce tuition costs while being renewable. Some colleges include yearly stipends or funds for study abroad programs.

On top of waiving tuition for 5 years and providing 4-years of undergraduate housing, the University of Alabama National Merit Scholarship® includes a $3,500 per year stipend and a one-time allowance of $2,000 for summer research or international travel.

The University of Oklahoma still waives 100% of tuition for out-of-state National Merit Scholars® for five years. Students can also use the waiver toward any graduate or professional program if any funds remain after completing their undergraduate degrees.

If you’re willing to attend a less prestigious college, being a National Merit Scholar® could result in an actual “free ride” to college.

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The table below lists 50-50 colleges for National Merit Scholars®. All are expected to sponsor National Merit Scholarships ® based on this past year but are not obligated to. Texas has the most schools with eight on the list. Indiana is second with seven schools. Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, and South Carolina all tied for third with 5 each.

50-50 Colleges for National Merit Scholars®

(Click for Easy Download List of Colleges for National Merit Scholarships)
Name Type State Estimated Number of NMS Scholar-ships 23 Full-time Under-graduates Total price for in-state students 2021-22 Total price for out-of-state students 2021-22
The University of Alabama Public AL 115         28,652 $31,024 $50,494
Texas A & M University-College Station Public TX 110         50,873 $31,703 $58,598
The University of Texas at Dallas Public TX 100         18,771 $31,696 $56,908
Arizona State University  Public AZ 85         60,598 $29,774 $47,864
University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Public OK 75         19,408 $31,293 $47,097
University of Kentucky Public KY 60         20,616 $31,690 $50,688
University of Arizona Public AZ 55         30,238 $30,686 $55,208
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Public MN 36         28,587 $29,416 $47,980
Auburn University Public AL 35         23,131 $33,650 $53,810
Michigan State University Public MI 35         35,692 $29,734 $55,546
University of Arkansas Public AR 30         20,905 $26,978 $43,794
Purdue University-Main Campus Public IN 30         34,163 $22,812 $41,614
Iowa State University Public IA 25         25,912 $22,152 $37,964
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College Public LA 25         24,778 $33,836 $50,513
Clemson University Public SC 25         20,978 $34,164 $57,156
Wheaton College Private IL 20           2,227 $54,700 $54,700
University of Iowa Public IA 20         20,732 $26,358 $48,321
University of Kansas Public KS 20         16,914 $25,520 $42,388
University of Missouri-Columbia Public MO 20         22,074 $28,653 $47,628
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Public NE 20         19,427 $26,316 $43,446
University of Utah Public UT 20         20,129 $24,263 $43,715
University of Idaho Public ID 15           6,416 $22,254 $41,490
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Private IN 15           1,951 $72,651 $72,651
University of Maryland-College Park Public MD 15         29,809 $28,075 $55,756
Rutgers University-New Brunswick Public NJ 15         36,132 $34,130 $51,331
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Private NY 15           6,611 $77,763 $77,763
University of Tulsa Private OK 15           2,889 $66,265 $66,265
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Public TN 15         23,708 $32,658 $51,078
Southern Methodist University Private TX 15           6,894 $81,074 $81,074
University of South Florida Public FL 12         31,946 $24,178 $35,092
University of Louisville Public KY 12         12,244 $30,204 $46,550
West Virginia University Public WV 12         19,276 $24,124 $40,468
Rhodes College Private TN 11           1,850 $66,588 $66,588
Mississippi State University Public MS 10         17,734 $26,460 $42,140
University of Mississippi Public MS 10         15,416 $26,956 $43,798
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus Public OK 10         18,488 $24,770 $40,290
University of Dallas Private TX 10           1,454 $64,956 $64,956
University of Houston Public TX 10         30,403 $25,077 $37,269
University of Wisconsin-Madison Public WI 10         30,720 $27,418 $55,306
Missouri University of Science and Technology Public MO 9           5,537 $24,951 $43,235
University of South Carolina-Columbia Public SC 8         26,994 $29,149 $50,389
Indiana University-Bloomington Public IN 6         32,282 $27,299 $54,318
University of Oregon Public OR 6         17,185 $31,284 $57,327
University of Alabama in Huntsville Public AL 5           7,001 $28,708 $41,104
University of Alabama at Birmingham Public AL 5         10,981 $27,630 $39,462
Harding University Private AR 5           3,354 $34,538 $34,538
Hendrix College Private AR 5           1,084 $50,550 $50,550
American University Private DC 5           7,738 $70,512 $70,512
Kansas State University Public KS 5         14,962 $25,730 $41,801
Calvin University Private MI 5           2,965 $52,840 $52,840
North Dakota State University-Main Campus Public ND 5           9,657 $23,879 $28,354
The Pennsylvania State University Public PA 5         67,296 $38,270 $55,848
Furman University Private SC 5           2,333 $69,880 $69,880
Samford University Private AL 3           3,545 $52,514 $52,514
Ouachita Baptist University Private AR 3           1,524 $43,950 $43,950
Colorado State University-Fort Collins Public CO 3         20,595 $28,346 $47,628
Florida International University Public FL 3         31,296 $23,997 $36,395
New College of Florida Public FL 3               673 $21,928 $44,956
Florida Atlantic University Public FL 3         17,726 $23,969 $36,414
Bradley University Private IL 3           4,521 $51,428 $51,428
Loyola University Chicago Private IL 3         11,401 $65,788 $65,788
DePauw University Private IN 3           1,775 $70,394 $70,394
University of Evansville Private IN 3           1,743 $56,470 $56,470
Goshen College Private IN 3               780 $50,570 $50,570
Valparaiso University Private IN 3           2,728 $60,488 $60,488
Drake University Private IA 3           2,839 $62,125 $62,125
Luther College Private IA 3           1,809 $61,175 $61,175
Centre College Private KY 3           1,349 $60,700 $60,700
Louisiana Tech University Public LA 3           8,246 $24,045 $30,786
University of Maine Public ME 3           8,462 $26,968 $48,568
Gordon College Private MA 3           1,384 $40,310 $40,310
Kalamazoo College Private MI 3           1,455 $68,832 $68,832
Michigan Technological University Public MI 3           5,391 $32,210 $53,356
Hope College Private MI 3           2,918 $50,820 $50,820
Gustavus Adolphus College Private MN 3           2,230 $63,270 $63,270
University of St Thomas Private MN 3           6,323 $63,650 $63,650
Truman State University Public MO 3           3,778 $22,802 $30,523
Saint Louis University Private MO 3           7,091 $66,980 $66,980
Montana State University Public MT 3         12,493 $23,286 $44,022
Creighton University Private NE 3           4,480 $60,224 $60,224
University of Nevada-Reno Public NV 3         14,808 $26,796 $42,888
University of New Mexico-Main Campus Public NM 3         12,472 $23,725 $41,063
Fordham University Private NY 3           9,143 $81,186 $81,186
University of North Dakota Public ND 3           7,510 $24,764 $29,205
The College of Wooster Private OH 3           1,972 $70,850 $70,850
University of Dayton Private OH 3           8,464 $62,510 $62,510
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Public OH 3         25,908 $29,024 $44,358
Ohio University-Main Campus Public OH 3         15,443 $28,616 $38,586
Lewis & Clark College Private OR 3           1,877 $74,452 $74,452
Willamette University Private OR 3           1,630 $60,106 $60,106
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus Public PA 3         18,927 $36,400 $51,432
Wofford College Private SC 3           1,773 $67,638 $67,638
College of Charleston Public SC 3           8,876 $31,153 $52,613
Tennessee Technological University Public TN 3           8,195 $25,332 $35,364
Belmont University Private TN 3           6,556 $58,305 $58,305
Texas Christian University Private TX 3           9,674 $70,428 $70,428
Texas Tech University Public TX 3         29,974 $27,782 $40,052
University of North Texas Public TX 3         28,237 $25,580 $35,396
Virginia Commonwealth University Public VA 3         19,505 $34,108 $55,446
Whitman College Private WA 3           1,388 $71,982 $71,982
Washington State University Public WA 3         23,468 $28,767 $44,083
University of Puget Sound Private WA 3           1,910 $73,134 $73,134
Lawrence University Private WI 3           1,406 $65,910 $65,910
Marquette University Private WI 3           7,835 $63,262 $63,262
University of Wyoming Public WY 3           8,106 $21,805 $36,355
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50-50 Highlights: 105 Overlooked Colleges for National Merit Scholarships

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