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A National Merit Scholarship Success Story

This article was originally published by CAP team member, Wendy Nelson, for My Kid’s College Choice.

I always love when parents share a merit scholarship success story! This one is from the mom of a National Merit Finalist. Her daughter found a great-fit school offering a full-tuition national merit scholarship. I asked her to share her daughter’s journey with us. As always, I keep these posts anonymous.

Interview with a National Merit Finalist’s Mom

How did your daughter start her college search?

We originally used a variety of college coaching and other resources to create an initial list of colleges and universities that would be a good fit for my daughter.

Was your daughter already settled on majoring in Engineering when she started her college search?

Yes, she did an engineering based summer exploration camp at the University of MN, the summer before her senior year and came out of that experience 100% sure engineering was for her.  She went to a high school that taught a classical curriculum so that helped her decision as she had a good foundation in humanities, art history, English, sciences with a more liberal arts focus.  Engineering definitely narrowed the college list based on the limited number of schools that have it.

What did the college coaching resources advise for your daughter?

We found the advice was consistent in pushing her to the top tier colleges, those that she had a lower probability of getting into, and tended to be the higher cost schools. After visiting some of these schools, we also found that those schools were not always the best fit for her culturally.

When and how did you find the Merit Scholarship List websites?

When – summer before her senior year.

How — I don’t remember exactly but signed up for the Upside Down College Search webinar you [Wendy] did. When we came across the concept of the “upside down college search”, it gave us a different lens through which to consider her options, and broadened the school list to those schools where she could graduate with less debt.

When did you focus your search on National Merit Scholarships?

When she found out she was a National Merit Scholar semi-finalist in the fall of her senior year, we used the mykidscollegechoice tool, the Merit Scholarship List subscription (now part of the MyCAP platform), to search for schools that based scholarships on the National Merit Finalist status. From there, we added a few schools that she had initially not considered.

Can you talk about any of the colleges with National Merit Scholarships that you considered?

Yes, Hope College, one of the few small colleges that has engineering, offered a reduction in tuition based on national merit. We visited there before she knew she was a merit scholar as she was drawn toward smaller campuses and cities. She also looked at Catholic University in DC, they offered merit scholarships but not national merit. 

How did she find her final college choice?

University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) was not on the radar until we got your list and she knew she was a national merit scholar. With a last-minute visit to UNL, she was immediately impressed with the smaller city feel, yet a Big10 research institution. She applied and received their automatic scholarship, once she learned she was a National Merit Finalist. Knowing it was an automatic scholarship took the guesswork out of it.

Finding the right school can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack, and this list was instrumental in helping her both narrow the list, as well as add a few options she otherwise would not have considered.

If she didn’t love UNL as much as she did, we would have widened to ASU and some of the Texas schools that were on the list of national merit scholarship schools. I never saw anything come out from the national merit association that helped with identifying schools that gave scholarships either.  It was a very confusing process and your list was instrumental in getting the scholarship information. Many national merit students likely don’t even know about them and are already locked into ivy league or schools that have the selective profile. From your database, we also learned more about the Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP) where some schools give in-state tuition to out-of-state national merit scholars and other good students.  

I heard back from this mom that school had started at UNL, her daughter was on campus and loving it.

Types of National Merit Scholarships

If your student has a good chance at making it to the national merit finalist level, it’s important to understand the different types of national merit scholarships offered. Type #5 are the “cream of the crop” national merit scholarships, often offered in amounts up to full ride and more.

  1. National Merit $2,500 Scholarships – These scholarships are awarded directly by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to a select number of National Merit Finalists.
  2. Corporate-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships – Many companies sponsor their own National Merit scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This category of scholarships is only offered to National Merit Finalists. These may be reserved for children of employees, for members of the company’s community, and/or for students studying areas the company wants to encourage.
  3. College-Sponsored National Merit Scholarships – Colleges and Universities offer about 4,000 scholarships each year to National Merit Finalists who have been admitted to and commit to attending their schools. These vary in amounts from $500 – $2,000 per year and are renewable for up to 4 years.
  4. National Merit “Special Scholarships” – About 1,200 students who take the PSAT/NMSQT every year are awarded “special scholarships” through corporations and other business organizations. These organizations each have their own criteria for how the “special scholarships” are awarded. These are awarded to students who do not become National Merit Finalists.
  5. Merit Scholarships Awarded by Colleges Based on National Merit Scholarship Program Status – These scholarship are not associated with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They are awarded directly by the colleges like any other institutional merit scholarships. They are simply based on National Merit Program Status instead of, or in addition to, being based on GPA and ACT/SAT score. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation does not publish a list of these opportunities. You can find the ones that are offered in Full Tuition and Full Ride amounts on my Full Scholarship List. In addition, my Merit Scholarship List (this is now part of the MyCAP program) subscription site allows you to search directly for this type of national merit scholarship offered by colleges around the country in all different amounts.

Looking for Help In Your Scholarship Search?

Signing up for your free MyCAP account can help your student tip the scales in their favor when it comes to finding and applying for scholarships that are a good fit. Thousands of dollars in private scholarships are awarded every year, and MyCAP gives you and your college-bound student the ability to easily search for these untapped sources to fund your college education. At MyCAP, we have the fifth type National Merit Scholarships listed within our platform for all the schools that offer this type of financial aid, and if your student is high-achieving, we also make it possible to hone in on the best scholarships available that will be automatically awarded based on their GPA and ACT/SAT.

You can sign up for your free account by clicking here.

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