After cutting back on the value of its National Merit scholarship program, the University of Alabama has upped the ante. The school now offers what may be the most generous NM scholarship in the nation to the 15,000 students nationally who earn National Merit Finalist status.
Alabama is one of a number of schools that offer automatic scholarships to National Merit Finalists or Semifinalists. Only about 1,000 Semi-Finalists each year fail to make the cut due to grades, a low SAT score, or failure to complete the process. And the 1,000 who don't make the cut still can get very generous offers.
Earlier this year Alabama dropped four years of free housing from its NM scholarship, replacing it with a single year. On-campus housing can cost as much as $5,000 per year at Alabama, so it was a big cut in the scholarship's value.
But now Alabama has tweaked its scholarship again. Finalists still only receive one year of housing, but the scholarship is good for 10 semesters of undergraduate or graduate tuition. It also includes a $3,500 per year stipend for four years, an iPad, and a one-time $2,000 grant for summer research or foreign study.
The addition of graduate school tuition is a big deal. A really big deal. Many students will arrive at college with 50 or 60 college hours through high school Advanced Placement classes and dual enrollment. What this change means is that Alabama now gives National Merit Finalists a chance to go all the way through grad school or law school at no cost. I don't know if the medical school is included, but if it is the tuition cost is almost $60,000 per year for an out-of-state student, making this scholarship package worth up to nearly a quarter of a million dollars.
The only other school I've read about that offers a NM scholarship for five years of both undergraduate and graduate is the University of Oklahoma; and I think that scholarship is for tuition only. Ole Miss offers a generous scholarship for NM Semi-Finalists, but I believe it is only good for undergraduate study.
National Merit scholarships are awarded to roughly the top one percent of test-takers in each state. Last year almost 6,000 Mississippians took the PSAT and 136 were recognized as Semi-Finalists. So that's more than two percent of test-takers. The cut-off score for Mississippi is relatively relatively low each year, making it one of the easiest states in the nation to earn Semi-Finalist status. A score of 205, or roughly the 98th percentile nationally, is likely to earn a Mississippi student Semi-Finalist status, and a 204 or maybe even a 203 might squeak through. In most Northeastern states it takes a score of around 221 to make the cut. So unless you score in the top three-tenths of one percent you're out of luck.
Last year Oxford High School produced 12 National Merit Semi-Finalists. I have reason to believe that this year there will be roughly a dozen more. In my opinion dedicated effort could make this number go even higher. And given the value of these scholarships, it's worth the effort.
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