I've repeatedly blogged about how National Merit Finalists will qualify for automatic full-ride scholarships at many schools.
Of 16,000 Semifinalists named last week, 15,000 will go on to become Finalists. Those who don't make the cut will have poor essays, fail to validate their PSAT with a 1960 or higher on the SAT, have low grades, or receive a negative recommendation from their high school. In Mississippi there are 135 Semifinalists this year; most will become Finalists.
. Let's take a look at two schools offering automatic National Merit scholarships: Ole Miss and Alabama.
I've selected Ole Miss because -- well, just look at the blog name. I've selected Alabama because it has one of the most generous Finalist packages in the nation, and as a result is pulling in lots of Finalists.
Ole Miss offers Finalists a combination of three different undergraduate scholarships; as best I can figure it, eligible students automatically receive two; the third is automatically awarded to students who don't get a scholarship from the National Merit Corporation.
The National Merit Academic Excellence Award is valued at $46,084 ($11,521 per year – includes a full-tuition scholarship, currently valued at $6,996 per year and the standard cost of double-occupancy room in a campus residence hall currently valued at $4,525 per year). Non-Resident students will also receive a full non-resident scholarship currently valued at $12,084 per year. Finalists may receive additional awards. This scholarship is awarded in lieu of the Academic Excellence Scholarship.
Stacked on top of this are the Barnard Scholarship, worth $12,000 and the National Merit Finalist Award, which is worth $4,000 but limited to those students who don't receive a National Merit Corporate award.
So the total value of the Ole Miss package is $62,084 over four years for state residents; it's considered a "full-ride," covering room, board, tuition, and some books. For non-residents the package is worth $82,436. Students receiving this scholarship are eligible for additional awards.
Alabama's award is a little richer, although technically it's not a full-ride. Oklahoma and Alabama are in somewhat of a bidding war in an effort to attract the highest number of Finalists. The winners of this battle are the National Merit Finalists.
Alabama offers housing for only the first year. Students also receive $3,500 per undergraduate year, offset by any National Merit Corporate Award. Add to this a one-time $2,000 award for international study and a free iPad on arrival, plus free tuition, and you have a pretty good package. The real beauty of the Alabama award is that it isn't an undergraduate award; it's a university award, good for 10 tuition-free semesters of both undergraduate and graduate school.
Given that most Finalists will arrive at college with almost two-year's worth of credits through AP and dual enrollment, the inclusion of graduate school is big. Really big.
Alabama doesn't give the dollar amount of its scholarship, so I've tried to ferret it out as best I could. In valuing the Alabama scholarship I based my numbers on two years of undergraduate school and three years of graduate, law, or medical school.
Tuition and fees at Alabama are $4,975 per semester for residents and $11,850 for non residents. Annual tuition for the law school is $10,660 per semester for residents and $18,000 for non-residents. For medical school it's $12,745 residents; $30,466.80 for non-residents.
So let's assume we have a typical National Merit Finalists who arrives at Alabama with two-year's worth of credits, and that he then wants to go to law school. For that student the Alabama scholarship package is $7,000 NM Award, plus $82,360 in undergraduate and law tuition, ($155,400 non-residents), plus $8,800 in housing, plus a one-time $2,000 award, plus an iPad worth say $300, for a grand total of $100,460 for Alabama residents and $173,500 for non-residents.
Oh, and just for fun, let's go ahead and calculate the value of the Alabama scholarship for someone going to medical school. Just subtract the non-resident law school tuition of $108,000 and add in the cost of non-resident medical school tuition of $182,800 and you pretty much max out the scholarship at $248,300.
I haven't detailed the University of Oklahoma Finalist package, but it is similar to that of Alabama; the two schools are competing ferociously for Finalists. Oklahoma provides a special office just to assist Finalists with any problems they might have and also offers Finalist-only housing. In my opinion such benefits are quite valuable, but I don't know how to put a price-tag on them.
In recent years the honors college concept has taken firm hold at public universities. These elite colleges within a college offer an outstanding education value.
Values are relative and in the eye of the beholder. An out-of-state tuition waiver is worthless to a student not wishing to attend school out of state. The same goes for graduate school if one doesn't wish to attend (but how many Finalists don't?). But these scholarships are automatic and clearly valuable; under the right circumstances they can be worth a quarter of a million dollars.
Sadly, many very bright high school students are completely unaware of the value of National Merit Finalist status and as a result won't put any real effort into winning the free quarter-million dollars. That's sad indeed!
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