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So You’re a National Merit Finalist – Now What?


Written by College Coach Guest Authoron February 25th, 2016

Bright Horizons College Coach occasionally features blog posts written by guest authors. You’ll find more information about each guest author in the About the Author section on the blog post.

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Congratulations on progressing to National Merit Finalist status! While you may be enjoying the recognition this has afforded you within your school and community, you might also be wondering what this designation means for you from a financial perspective? According to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, about 50-60% of National Merit Finalists receive funding as a result of their status. You could receive one of three types of awards:
  • A one-time $2,500 scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. All Finalists are automatically considered for this award, but the NMSC awards it only to the top of the National Merit Finalist pool.
  • A renewable, college-sponsored award from a participating college or university. The minimums for these awards range from $500 to $2,000 (depending on financial need). In order to receive this scholarship you must notify NMSC that an institution is your first choice by the published deadline.Some colleges go beyond these minimums and award specific recruitment scholarships to National Merit Finalists. They may even offer other opportunities like summer research and study abroad. Institutional awards for National Merit Finalists are like other merit-based scholarships; less selective schools may be generous and creative in their attempts to enroll you, while more selective colleges award only the minimums (or do not participate in the program at all).
  • A corporate-sponsored award from a company that employs your parent, operates in your community, or wants to encourage a particular career path for scholars. These awards range in amount and in renewability. You may have to fill out a separate application to be considered for this award.
By March 1, NMSC asks you to report a first choice college or let them know if you want to remain undecided. In the week after March 1, NMSC sends a roster to each college letting them know which students have selected them as first choice. As you make your decision about who to report as first choice (or whether to remain undecided), research the websites of each of the colleges you are considering. This will help you determine if they participate in the NMSC program, how much they award, and if they have any particular deadlines you need to meet to gain maximum consideration. When selecting a first-choice college, keep these things in mind:
  • Sometimes (not always), there can be an advantage in reporting a college as first choice by March 1. Some colleges limit their awards and give priority to the students who appear on their first roster from NMSC. Alternatively, you may want to show “demonstrated interest” at a particular college by letting them see you have selected them as first choice.
  • Remember, if you report a college as first choice, you can always change your mind. However, be careful not to miss NMSC’s deadline for reporting this change. Technically you have until May 31 to change your first choice. However if a college offers you an award and NMSC goes out with an announcement of that award on May 1, then you are no longer able to transfer the college sponsorship, and you will be ineligible at the new institution. Therefore to be safe, make sure you report your new first choice to NMSC by April 30 at the latest. This makes sense, since you’ll be deciding where to enroll by then anyway!
In addition to the procedural requirements of receiving funding (including a renewal process each year), how much money (if any) you receive as a National Merit Finalist ultimately depends on the college where you decide to enroll and on which type of scholarship you receive. And similar to its impact on your admission, National Merit Finalist status is just one piece of the college finance puzzle. Relevant Episodes of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation:

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