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50-50 Highlights: 112 Overlooked Colleges for National Merit Scholarships

student with money from colleges for national merit scholars(Updated 2022) 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.

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 7,600 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 $500 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 2018-19 Annual Report, (the most recently available report) of the 15,148 finalists, only 7,642 received National Merit Scholarships. The awards totaled $31.2 million which averages to $4,082 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 2019, Stanford enrolled 124, Harvard 207, and MIT 134. 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.

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And for those competitive colleges that do such as the University of Chicago, Carleton College, and Vanderbilt University, the amounts tend to be small relative to the actual cost of attendance. The University of Chicago expects to sponsor 60 National Merit Scholars® in 2022. The value of the scholarship is $2,500 and the expected total cost of attendance is over $80,000.

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 158 schools or systems sponsoring National Merit Scholarships®, 112 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.

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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.

The table below lists 50-50 colleges for National Merit Scholars®. All expect to sponsor National Merit Scholarships ®this past year. Texas has the most schools with eight on the list. Indiana is second with seven schools. Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and South Carolina all tied for third with 5 each.

50-50 Colleges for National Merit Scholars®

 

Name Type State NMSC Expected Count for 22 Full-time Under-grads Total price for in-state students 2020-21 Total price for out-of-state students 2020-21
The University of Alabama Pub AL 115 27,750 $31,050 $50,520
Texas A & M University-College Station Pub TX 110 49,442 $31,467 $58,024
The University of Texas at Dallas Pub TX 100 17,979 $30,744 $55,722
Arizona State University Pub AZ 85 57,485 $29,578 $47,668
University of Oklahoma Pub OK 75 18,564 $30,374 $45,755
University of Kentucky Pub KY 60 20,239 $31,546 $50,356
University of Arizona Pub AZ 55 28,556 $30,416 $54,443
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Pub MN 36 28,989 $28,827 $47,125
Auburn University Pub AL 35 22,458 $32,678 $52,838
Michigan State University Pub MI 35 34,588 $29,230 $54,536
University of Arkansas Pub AR 30 20,252 $26,176 $42,664
Purdue University-Main Campus Pub IN 30 33,575 $22,782 $41,584
Iowa State University Pub IA 25 25,271 $21,940 $37,128
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College Pub LA 25 24,097 $33,394 $50,071
Clemson University Pub SC 25 20,021 $32,880 $55,872
University of Iowa Pub IA 20 20,227 $25,376 $47,339
Wheaton College Pri IL 20 2,195 $52,940 $52,940
University of Kansas Pub KS 20 16,439 $25,476 $42,344
University of Missouri-Columbia Pub MO 20 21,344 $27,711 $45,993
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Pub NE 20 18,949 $26,250 $43,380
University of Utah Pub UT 20 18,749 $24,278 $42,883
University of Idaho Pub ID 15 6,323 $21,820 $41,056
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Pri IN 15 1,952 $71,664 $71,664
University of Maryland-College Park Pub MD 15 28,160 $27,807 $53,919
Rutgers University-New Brunswick Pub NJ 15 33,788 $33,002 $49,784
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Pri NY 15 6,262 $75,824 $75,824
Miami University-Oxford Pub OH 15 16,079 $34,499 $54,926
University of Tulsa Pri OK 15 2,819 $63,807 $63,807
The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Pub TN 15 22,914 $32,498 $50,898
Southern Methodist University Pri TX 15 6,616 $79,050 $79,050
University of South Florida Pub FL 12 29,650 $23,866 $34,780
University of Louisville Pub KY 12 11,598 $29,678 $46,024
West Virginia University Pub WV 12 18,726 $24,124 $40,468
Rhodes College Pri TN 11 1,788 $66,470 $66,470
Calvin University Pri MI 10 2,914 $52,606 $52,606
St Olaf College Pri MN 10 2,916 $65,010 $65,010
Mississippi State University Pub MS 10 17,089 $25,904 $40,944
University of Mississippi Pub MS 10 14,839 $25,762 $42,034
University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Pub OH 10 24,301 $28,150 $43,484
Oklahoma State Universit Pub OK 10 17,624 $24,239 $39,759
University of Dallas Pri TX 10 1,424 $62,400 $62,400
University of Houston Pub TX 10 28,966 $24,631 $36,847
University of Wisconsin-Madison Pub WI 10 30,063 $27,158 $55,046
Missouri University of Science and Technology Pub MO 9 5,412 $23,887 $41,838
University of South Carolina-Columbia Pub SC 8 26,174 $29,121 $50,361
Indiana University-Bloomington Pub IN 6 31,632 $26,187 $52,566
University of Oregon Pub OR 6 16,400 $30,312 $55,764
University of Alabama at Birmingham Pub AL 5 10,402 $27,630 $39,462
University of Alabama in Huntsville Pub AL 5 6,730 $28,266 $40,662
Harding University Pri AR 5 3,294 $33,480 $33,480
Hendrix College Pri AR 5 1,061 $66,310 $66,310
Kansas State University Pub KS 5 14,497 $25,890 $41,766
North Dakota State University Pub ND 5 9,339 $23,246 $27,549
The Pennsylvania State University Pub PA 5 64,607 $37,396 $54,460
Furman University Pri SC 5 2,294 $68,234 $68,234
Santa Clara University Pri CA 4 5,478 $72,984 $72,984
Samford University Pri AL 3 3,501 $51,314 $51,314
Ouachita Baptist University Pri AR 3 1,502 $41,650 $41,650
Colorado State University-Fort Collins Pub CO 3 19,944 $25,466 $44,187
Florida Atlantic University Pub FL 3 16,617 $24,775 $37,220
Florida International University Pub FL 3 27,551 $23,803 $36,201
New College of Florida Pub FL 3 646 $21,048 $44,076
Drake University Pri IA 3 2,731 $60,328 $60,328
Luther College Pri IA 3 1,775 $59,775 $59,775
Bradley University Pri IL 3 4,450 $50,200 $50,200
Illinois Wesleyan University Pri IL 3 1,622 $65,676 $65,676
Loyola University Chicago Pri IL 3 10,924 $63,640 $63,640
DePauw University Pri IN 3 1,719 $68,898 $68,898
Goshen College Pri IN 3 753 $49,690 $49,690
University of Evansville Pri IN 3 1,716 $55,196 $55,196
Valparaiso University Pri IN 3 2,678 $58,726 $58,726
Centre College Pri KY 3 1,333 $58,710 $58,710
Louisiana Tech University Pub LA 3 7,854 $23,847 $30,589
Gordon College Pri MA 3 1,390 $52,850 $52,850
University of Maine Pub ME 3 7,847 $26,230 $47,020
Hope College Pri MI 3 2,908 $50,360 $50,360
Kalamazoo College Pri MI 3 1,426 $66,268 $66,268
Michigan Technological University Pub MI 3 5,294 $31,349 $51,651
Bethel University Pri MN 3 2,313 $53,990 $53,990
Gustavus Adolphus College Pri MN 3 2,220 $61,299 $61,299
University of St Thomas Pri MN 3 6,126 $62,476 $62,476
Saint Louis University Pri MO 3 6,847 $64,892 $64,892
Truman State University Pub MO 3 3,687 $22,284 $29,644
Montana State University Pub MT 3 12,026 $23,059 $42,789
University of North Dakota Pub ND 3 7,173 $24,498 $28,768
Creighton University Pri NE 3 4,330 $58,618 $58,618
University of New Mexico Pub NM 3 12,124 $23,865 $40,203
University of Nevada-Reno Pub NV 3 14,323 $26,252 $41,906
Fordham University Pri NY 3 8,887 $79,216 $79,216
Stony Brook University Pub NY 3 16,586 $27,743 $45,413
Ohio University-Main Campus Pub OH 3 14,676 $30,764 $40,558
The College of Wooster Pri OH 3 1,921 $68,650 $68,650
University of Dayton Pri OH 3 8,314 $62,220 $62,220
Lewis & Clark College Pri OR 3 1,812 $71,692 $71,692
Willamette University Pri OR 3 1,264 $69,598 $69,598
Lehigh University Pri PA 3 5,070 $72,065 $72,065
University of Pittsburgh Pub PA 3 18,298 $35,147 $49,174
College of Charleston Pub SC 3 8,466 $31,153 $51,483
Wofford College Pri SC 3 1,753 $65,183 $65,183
Belmont University Pri TN 3 6,330 $56,450 $56,450
Tennessee Technological University Pub TN 3 7,834 $25,166 $35,198
Abilene Christian University Pri TX 3 3,297 $53,672 $53,672
Texas Tech University Pub TX 3 29,010 $27,156 $39,426
University of North Texas Pub TX 3 26,353 $25,386 $35,202
Virginia Commonwealth University Pub VA 3 18,734 $32,997 $54,335
University of Puget Sound Pri WA 3 1,830 $69,661 $69,661
Washington State University Pub WA 3 22,315 $28,520 $43,463
Western Washington University Pub WA 3 12,622 $25,805 $42,563
Whitman College Pri WA 3 1,288 $66,408 $66,408
Lawrence University Pri WI 3 1,393 $64,260 $64,260
Marquette University Pri WI 3 7,715 $62,688 $62,688
University of Wyoming Pub WY 3 7,783 $20,790 $34,530
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50-50 Highlights: 112 Overlooked Colleges for National Merit Scholarships

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