Do National Merit finalists get full-ride scholarships?

In some cases, yes!

Previously, we wrote about what ACT or SAT score can earn your student a full-ride scholarship

In this post, we are going to focus on another source of full-ride scholarships – National Merit Finalists. In my research regarding full-ride scholarships, I have found that there is a growing trend away from giving full-ride or even full-tuition scholarships to National Merit Finalists. However, there are still some schools that offer these. They tend to be less competitive and/or lesser-known schools. 

However, by leveraging financial aid opportunities at lesser-known colleges and universities, your student may be able to set themselves up for long-term success. They could potentially get a full-ride scholarship (or a notable financial aid offer!) from a smaller college and still have a stellar academic experience, then go on to graduate debt-free. In today’s world where the average student loan load coming out of college is close to $28,400 after graduation, that’s nothing to sniff at. So, let’s dive into what a National Merit Finalist is, and how you can look for schools that reward this level of merit.

What Is The National Merit Scholarship Program?

Per their website:

The National Merit® Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. Approximately 1.5 million high school students enter the program each year.

To enter, students take the PSAT/NMSQT before their junior year of high school. They also need to be enrolled in high school (public, private, or home school all can qualify), and be expected to graduate “on time” the following year (their senior year).

What is a National Merit Finalist, and How Hard Is It To Achieve?

You may be wondering, how hard is it to be a National Merit Finalist? It’s very difficult! 1.5 million students take the PSAT/NMSQT test every year. 

Only about 16,000 students across the country are named semi-finalists. 

About 15,000 of those students are named finalists. 

To become a semi-finalist, a student needs to be a top scorer on the PSAT/NMSQT test for his or her state, when taken the junior year of high school. Each state will have its own cutoff score, so a score that would make semi-finals in one state may not be high enough in another state.

Here are a few of the colleges where national merit finalists get full-ride or full-tuition scholarships:

  • University of Alabama – flagship campus and Hunstville
  • Auburn University (in-state students only)
  • University of Arkansas (flagship campus)
  • Arizona State University 
  • University of Arizona 
  • Florida A&M (in-state students only)
  • Florida International University 
  • University of Idaho
  • Iowa State University (in-state students only)
  • University of Maine
  • Mississippi State University
  • University of Tulsa
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of Houston
  • West Virginia University

These are just a few of the schools that still offer large scholarships to National Merit Finalists. 

What If My Student Isn’t a Finalist?

What if your student doesn’t make the National Merit Finalist category, but is a National Merit Semi-Finalist? 

Some schools do offer full tuition to National Merit Semi-Finalists. However, even if they don’t have scholarships specific for semi-finalists, having this particular feather in your student’s cap may make their application for both colleges and financial aid more appealing. Additionally, students can focus on a few other academic credentials to help them secure a scholarship, including:

  • SAT/ACT score
  • GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essay

Making sure your student has a well-rounded application, in addition to being a National Merit Semifinalist, can be helpful in securing financial aid.

Finding Financial Aid for Your National Merit Finalist

Our latest data lists 87 colleges that offer full tuition and full-ride scholarships for National Merit Finalists. You can find these, along with all the other merit scholarships offered by colleges around the U.S., by registering for MyCAP today. Through your account, you’ll be able to search for scholarships, track application and financial aid deadlines, organize financial aid awards your student has received, calculate the actual cost of colleges on your student’s “to apply” list, and more. 

Plus, our team of experts is available through regular Office Hours and paid consultations for MyCAP members.

Our goal is to help you pave the most affordable path to college — regardless of your situation! If your student is a National Merit Finalist, you may find that they have endless options available to them. Leveraging MyCAP can help you to set realistic expectations for financial aid and the cost of college, and make the best possible decision for both your student’s education journey and your family.

Sign up today by clicking here!