fbpx

National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2019

By September 22, 2018National Merit, PSAT
National Merit Semifinalists

MAJOR CHANGE FOR FUTURE SEMIFINALISTS: The big news for juniors taking the PSAT in October 2018 is that they are the first class that will be able to use ACT scores as “confirming scores” in the Finalist round of the competition. This is a long overdue change, as many high-scoring ACT students have had to take the SAT for no reason other than National Merit’s rules. This does not apply to members of the class of 2019, who must still take the SAT if they want to move from Semifinalist to Finalist status. We will be updating our National Merit FAQ as more information becomes available over the next year.

Compass has now confirmed all of the National Merit cutoffs for the class of 2019. They range from the national Commended Student cutoff at a PSAT Selection Index of 212 all the way to the 223 Selection Index cutoff in California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. A full analysis of how and why things changed for the class of 2019 can be found below.

The last few years have been unusual ones for National Merit. With the October 2015 PSAT, College Board introduced an entirely redesigned exam and scale, and the Commended Student cutoff came in at 209. The October 2016 PSAT resulted in even more changes: the Commended Student cutoff moved to 211, and Semifinalist cutoffs increased in forty-six of fifty states. The class of 2019 has also seen scores rise, but in a more limited fashion. [Our National Merit FAQ has more information about the overall process, and we have an in-depth selection of related posts.]

September 22 Update — The 2019 essay prompt for the Finalist application has been confirmed: To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.

The maximum length is based on size rather than word count; your essay will probably need to be no more than 600-650 words. Be sure to do a PDF preview.

September 12 Update
— NMSC releases the names of Semifinalists to the press today. There is no nationwide release, and not all press outlets publish the statewide lists. We will add links as they become available. Some high schools also use this public release date as a time to notify students.

Alabama, ArkansasCalifornia, DelawareDistrict of ColumbiaFlorida, IdahoIllinois, IndianaLouisiana (Jefferson Parish)Maine, Maryland, Michigan (Washtenaw)Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New MexicoNew York, Ohio (Cincinnati area)Oklahoma (Northeast)Oregon (Portland-area only), PennsylvaniaTexas, Virginia (Fairfax, Loudon), Washington, Wisconsin (Madison)

August 30 Update — All 50 states have now been confirmed.  The highest cutoffs ended up at 223 with Massachusetts, Maryland, and California joining New Jersey and DC at that figure.  The actual cutoffs for the class of 2019 can be found in the table below. As expected, there was some upward movement in scores, but nothing like the jump in cutoffs seen last year. Forty-five states were within 1 point of their class of 2018 cutoffs (twenty-one unchanged, sixteen up 1 point, and eight down 1 point).  Three states saw 2-point increases, 2 states had 2-point declines. Rhode Island was the outlier with a 4-point increase to a cutoff of 220. Rhode Island had been the outlier for the class of 2018 by being the only state with a lower cutoff.

The button to view older posts does not function correctly. A reader contributed the following hack: You can put in the page # of the comments like this: https://www.compassprep.com/national-merit-semifinalist-cutoffs/comment-page-29/. Just change the 29 to move forward or backward in comments.

August 29 Update — There is now contradicting information regarding PA, and the cutoff may be at 220. GA is at 220. A student at 221 qualified in IL.

One of the biggest question marks left from Tuesday is where CA’s cutoff will end up. We have a very credible report that 222 did not qualify and another that 224 did qualify. This means the cutoff is at either 223 or 224. I strongly believe that CA will not go to 224, but it is not yet foreclosed. So far we are seeing more upward movement than downward. CT, PA, and TN are confirmed and are up 1 point from last year. TX will stay at 221. OK will be down from last year, and AL, AR, FL, and OH can be no higher than last year. KY and MS will also be up.

August 28 Afternoon Update — We have pinned down 4 states and received reports from 17 states. I’ve moved most of the information forward to the kickoff commentary for the 29th.

August 27 Update — Reports seem to be arriving in some mailboxes today. As states are recorded below, the <=, =, and > signs will be used to indicate what we know about the cutoffs. For example, a homeschooler reported that 221 qualified in TX. That does not yet mean that 220 did not qualify. So we know the cutoff is less than or equal 221.

August 22 Update — Semifinalist announcements mailed to schools: Wednesday is a big day, because announcements will finally go out. Except in the case of home-schooled students, notifications are sent to schools. Students will only be able to find out their official status from counselors or principals. I will be maintaining a list of state cutoffs as they are narrowed down. I do my best to stay on top of all comments and make regular updates to this page. Please note if you would like your comment to remain private. Reporting your results — once you receive notification from your school — will help other students. I am particularly appreciative of reports from students who miss the Semifinalist cutoff. The students reading this page have done well on the PSAT, and that is true whether or not they are named Semifinalists.

Although schools are not obligated to wait, many choose to delay student notifications until the public announcement of Semifinalists on September 12.

April 6 Update — Confirmation of National Merit Commended Student Level at 212: For the class of 2019, the Commended Student cutoff has moved one point above last year’s 211. The 212 Commended Student cutoff was what we expected based on our analysis of PSAT results. We have updated the estimated Semifinalist cutoffs based on this information. Because the 212 Commended cutoff was already expected, most estimated ranges have not changed.   We continue to believe that the majority of states will see no change or one point increases versus class of 2018 Semifinalist cutoffs. Less common will be two point increases or one point declines. Larger changes are likely to occur in only a handful of states. [The table below is now based entirely on the actual cutoffs for the class of 2019.]

February 11 Update: Students eligible for the National Hispanic Recognition Program have been notified. Since initial NHRP qualification is based on PSAT/NMSQT scores, I am often asked how the results impact predictions for National Merit cutoffs.  For the class of 2018, Compass has the qualifying scores for only the South and Southwest regions. For the class of 2019, we have all regions except New England. Optimists will note that the Southwest’s cutoff went down 10 points this year (NHRP uses PSAT Total Scores rather than the Selection Index). Pessimists will note that the South’s cutoff went up 10 points, which would translate to 1-2 SI points. Realists will note that NHRP scores — especially since they are neither state-based nor representative of the entire pool of PSAT-takers — are not good predictors. There is no clear trend, so NMSF cutoff predictions remain unchanged. See Compass’ NHRP post for details.

StateClass of 2019ChangeClass of 2018Class of 2017
Alabama2160216215
Alaska215-2217213
Arizona2200220219
Arkansas214-1215213
California2231222221
Colorado2211220218
Connecticut2221221220
Delaware2221221218
District of Columbia2230223222
Florida2190219217
Georgia2200220219
Hawaii2200220217
Idaho214-2216214
Illinois2210221219
Indiana2190219217
Iowa2160216215
Kansas218-1219217
Kentucky2181217215
Louisiana2171216214
Maine2172215214
Maryland2231222221
Massachusetts2231222222
Michigan2190219216
Minnesota2200220219
Mississippi2152213212
Missouri2170217216
Montana2140214210
Nebraska2161215215
Nevada2181217214
New Hampshire2192217216
New Jersey2230223222
New Mexico2150215213
New York2210221219
North Carolina2201219218
North Dakota2121211209
Ohio2190219217
Oklahoma215-1216213
Oregon2211220219
Pennsylvania2201219218
Rhode Island2204216217
South Carolina216-1217215
South Dakota2150215209
Tennessee2191218218
Texas2210221220
Utah215-1216215
Vermont216-1217215
Virginia2220222221
Washington2220222220
West Virginia2121211209
Wisconsin216-1217215
Wyoming212-1213209
​U.S. Territories2121211209
​U.S. Citizens Studying Abroad2230223222
​​Commended Student2121211209
Will the class of 2019 see still higher cutoffs or will scores settle back to earlier levels?

[Actual results have now been confirmed in the table above.] Compass’ working hypothesis has been that the higher October 2016 scores are more representative of future results. The 2015 PSAT was a rushed effort, and College Board was still refining the SAT scale. After crunching the numbers for the current PSAT, we believe that the hypothesis is correct and that — at least on a national level — there may still be upward pressure on scores. Compass estimates that the Commended level could rise to 212 [this rise has now been confirmed. Ed.].

Did scores on the October 2017 PSAT change significantly from those on the October 2016 PSAT?

The percentiles and average scores shown on the PSAT/NMSQT score report and in the Understanding Scores publication do not actually pertain to the class of 2019. All of the normative data are from previous class years. Instead of using these sources, Compass has turned to the score information made available to schools.

The average score for the class of 2019 declined 4 points from the 1019 total score seen for the class of 2018.

Average scores, though, do not give an excellent indication of what is happening at the high end of the score range where Commended and Semifinalists cutoffs are determined. More relevant are the results for students in the 1400 to 1520 score range.

Both the percentage of test-takers and the absolute number of test-takers in the 1400-1520 score range increased this year. The increase, however, was notably smaller than that seen the previous year. We believe that these results point to a Commended Student cutoff of 211 or 212 for the class of 2019 [now confirmed as 212. Ed.].

National results do not determine the state cutoffs.

While there is a rough correlation between upward movement in the Commended level and upward movement in state cutoffs, it is not a one-to-one relationship. Additional students taking the PSAT in Illinois or more top scorers in New Jersey — as hypothetical examples — have absolutely no effect on the cutoff in California.

New Jersey (and, by extension, DC and U.S. students abroad) will continue to have the highest cutoff.

The high-water mark is likely to remain at 223. We believe that a 224 cutoff is a remote possibility, and a drop back to 222 is not eliminated. A cutoff higher than 224 is, simply, not a possibility in any state or selection unit.  We believe that cutoffs on the redesigned PSAT reach a natural limit. A “lopsided” student has a much harder time of reaching a top SI. On the old PSAT, a strong math student might score a 720 CR, 800 M, and 720 W and reach an SI of 224. A top-notch verbal student could have a mediocre Math score and still reach 224 (800 CR, 640 M, 800 M). On the new PSAT, a perfect scoring EBRW student must now pair that performance with an excellent Math score to reach the same level (760 EBRW and 720 M). While it is possible that a state might eventually hit a 224 Semifinalist cutoff, we think it is unlikely.

The best estimate is still a weak bet.

Compass has repeatedly shown that, in the absence of definitive movement in the Commended level, the best estimate of a state’s future cutoff is the current cutoff. However, even that best estimate is only correct 28% of the time. The chart below reflects historical changes in cutoffs over the last decade (adjusted for the scaling change of the new PSAT).

Changes are not equally distributed across all states. High scoring states, in particular, have more stable cutoffs than those with cutoffs near the Commended level. The standard deviation for the cutoffs in the dozen highest scoring states (which also represent 4 of the 5 largest states) is approximately 1. The standard deviation among the lowest scoring states is approximately 2.

Large states see more stability than small states.

The 9 states that saw 3-point or greater increases for the class of 2018 had a total of about 1,100 Semifinalists. California, in comparison, has almost twice that number. Large numbers bring stability. The largest state seeing a 3-point increase last year was Michigan, which switched from being an ACT state to being an SAT state. Illinois has made a similar transformation, and there may still be some upward movement.

If the Commended level does increase by a point this year, does it mean that all of the estimates go up by a point?

Historically, a one point change shifts the curve slightly so that there is a toss-up — across all states — between no change and a 1 point increase. Since we expect the Commended level to remain the same or increase by a single point, we believe that the most common situation will be “no change.” As seen in previous years, we expect a lower likelihood of change in the highest cutoffs and in the largest states. A few states have “hand-tuned” estimates based on historical patterns. Understanding the inevitable distribution of changes can help students and parents better appreciate why Compass presents estimated ranges and why a “most likely” can be “best” and “weak” at the same time.

Why are score changes so much smaller at the high end?

Even in this “up year,” only New Jersey saw a cutoff of 223 (cutoffs for DC and U.S. students studying abroad are based on the highest scoring state). Several more states were bunched up at 222. These results lend credence to the theory that cutoffs on the redesigned PSAT reach a natural limit. A “lopsided” student has a much harder time of reaching a top SI. On the old PSAT, a strong math student might score a 720 CR, 800 M, and 720 W and reach an SI of 224. A top-notch verbal student could have a mediocre Math score and still reach 224 (800 CR, 640 M, 800 M). On the new PSAT, a perfect scoring EBRW student must now pair that performance with an excellent Math score to reach the same level (760 EBRW and 720 M). While it is possible that a state might eventually hit a 224 Semifinalist cutoff, we think it is unlikely. Unless the test undergoes dramatic changes, we believe that it is impossible for a cutoff to ever reach 225.

Cutoffs increased for the class of 2017 and have now increased again. Will they keep going up? In both cases, the College Board played a larger role than did test-takers in overall score changes. There is not yet evidence that scores are on the rise for future years. In fact, we think it is the least likely case – although not by a large margin – when choosing among “no change,” “lower scores,” and “higher scores.”

Nationally, the ability levels of the top 16,200 students among 1.5 million NMSQT participants is relatively static over any mid-term window. The change for the class of 2017 was as expected as it was dramatic. The PSAT underwent a complete overhaul. The elimination of the guessing penalty and the reduction in multiple-choice answers helped “inflate” most scores. The shift from 200-800 scoring per section to 160-760 per section slightly lowered the top end.

What, then, caused scores to rise for the class of 2018?

There have been a number of theories to explain the increase in PSAT scores for the class of 2018. Test-takers for the 2016 PSAT had the advantage of additional practice materials, improved test preparation, and increased familiarity (many took the redesigned PSAT as sophomores in 2015). While any or all of these factors may have had some impact, Compass’ research points to PSAT scaling imperfections or irregularities as the more likely cause.

College Board’s goal is to make sure that PSAT scores from one year are comparable to PSAT scores in another year. It has not always met that goal. It faced a more difficult task than usual for the October 2015 and 2016 PSATs, because the scales were in flux and several PSAT problems had to be discarded as invalid. The fact that 46 of 50 states saw increased cutoffs and that PSAT scores increased for sophomore and juniors at essentially all ability levels means that student-specific factors such as increased preparation do not adequately explain the changes. The rise in cutoffs does not reflect an inexorable increase in scores. While cutoffs fluctuate from year-to-year, a longer view shows that there has not been a national trend toward higher scores. That claim cannot be made as universally at the state level. In-migration and economic growth help fuel competition for Semifinalist slots, which is why a state such as Texas has seen an upward trend over the last decade. Michigan is an example of where heightened attention to the PSAT can raise scores quickly. Even at the state level, though, it is unwise to focus on year-over-year changes as an indicator of future results.

Why do states have such different cutoffs?

Cutoffs vary across the country because the approximately 16,200 Semifinalists are allocated proportionally to states based on the total number of juniors in a class. The table at the top of the page shows how many Semifinalists from the class of 2016 were recognized in each state. A state’s cutoff is derived by finding the score that will produce, as closely as possible, the targeted number of Semifinalists. Students in any given state are competing only against fellow residents. The test is national, the competition is local.

Is it just my imagination or do PSAT scores bounce around more than SAT scores?

It is not your imagination. While approximately the same number of students take the PSAT each year as take the SAT, there are crucial differences. Every student takes one of two PSAT/NMSQT forms on one of two dates in October (technically, there is a third, “alternate,” form and date). SATs have more dates, more forms, and students take and retake them throughout the year. The relative homogeneity of the PSAT means that it is highly susceptible to shifts, as there is no averaging out of differences. The size and direction of these shifts, though, cannot be predicted in advance. If they could be, College Board would take steps to prevent them.

Semifinalists — or prospective Semifinalists — may want to visit the Compass National Merit FAQ to understand more about the National Merit Scholarship Program and the steps along the way.

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.

3,824 Comments

  • Jill says:

    Thanks for the great information! Here’s a link to a school district that provides a pdf of the Illinois semifinalists.
    http://d211post.org/d211-post-high-school-district-211-announces-national-merit-semifinalists-for-2019/

  • Rose says:

    What does the number next to each students name represent on the state list released today?

  • Doreen says:

    Do you have a link for students living abroad? Thanks.

  • Chris says:

    Art, If a student living in New York State scores 222, the score will be above the cut off line. The score for the same student will not make the cut in New Jersey. Do the two states grade the tests the exact same way?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Chris,
      The tests are graded the same. The key is that New Jersey students are only competing against other New Jersey students, and New York students are only competing against other New York students. The number of Semifinalists is allocated based on the population of high school juniors. The large number of excellent students in New Jersey competing for a fixed number of spots produces the state’s high cutoff.

  • LeAnne says:

    Dear Art,
    Is there a full list for Tennessee or at least a list for West Tennessee?
    Thank you.

  • Leah B says:

    Is the confirming score a straight SAT number, or an index score? I have seen comments suggesting both. How will students know that number? Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Leah,
      It is an index, calculated in the same way as the National Merit Selection Index. It’s a bit of a mystery number that NMSC doesn’t come out and proclaim. At some point they will likely answer a direct question about it. In my time monitoring things, the confirming SI has never been above the Commended level. I tell students that they are safe if their SAT Selection Index is 214 or better just to provide some extra buffer.

  • Melanie says:

    Just out of curiosity: is there a reason why NMSC does not release the names publicly on their website? Still waiting for an announcement here in CT. Our school holds a recognition event but it is not scheduled right away.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Melanie,
      While NMSC does not explicitly say why they do not do a full release, I think it revolves around the second part of your comment. It likes the information to be distributed locally. A national database might take away some of the power of a recognition event, for example. It also depends on counselors being a distributed team of gatekeepers for question answering and data gathering. I think there is a real opportunity for NMSC to capitalize on the Instagram world in which we live. Colleges have certainly moved on from the “fat envelope.”

  • ParentNoid says:

    Hi Art,

    Thank you for providing this information during a very nerve-wracking process! Here’s a question I have not seen: my child was left out of “the book”, which caused some confusion at school. Her name was on the press release. Does this mean colleges will not be able to verify her status?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      ParentNoid,
      I’m glad to hear that your student did qualify. Congratulations! I can only assume that the book sent to high schools has an earlier printing deadline than the press release. For college-sponsored scholarships, everything is handled directly by NMSC, and names of students with first-choice colleges don’t get sent along until March 1. If you mean verified during the regular admission process, I’ve never heard of colleges doing this. You might try contacting NMSC, but I really think you have nothing to worry about. Well, the only thing I’d worry about is making sure that your student does receive the necessary login information for the Finalist application. Based on the “confusion,” I’m not sure if the school already passed that along.

  • Robert says:

    Art:

    This note is on a little bit of a different subject. A few years ago, NMSC discontinued the National Achievement Scholar Program. I haven’t been able to find out any information online anywhere as to why that happened. Do you happen to know? Was it a financial cutback or a cutback due to a lack of sponsors?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Robert,
      Interesting that you should bring this up, because it is something I recently studied — I happen to have a nice collection of NMSC Annual Reports and experience in reading income statements and balance sheets. The bottom line — and I doubt NMSC would ever say this directly — is that the National Achievement Program for Black American high school students was not thriving, and it ended for the reasons you mention. To give some historical context, the funding of National Merit Scholarships and the assets for National Merit grew about sevenfold over the last 45 years, which kept pace with inflation. On the other hand, National Achievement saw only a doubling of assets and scholarships. In real dollar terms, awards were only one-third of what they once were, despite an increasing number of African American students attending college. The sources of funding for the two programs have always been inverted. Most National Merit Scholarships are funded by sponsors, with NMSC providing a portion from its own income. National Achievement Scholarships, on the other hand, came primarily from NMSC income and assets — both of which are separate from National Merit accounts. In 2012, sponsor funds for National Merit were 80x those for National Achievement. In the last few years of the program, outflows were significantly higher than inflows. My opinion is that a reckoning was on the horizon. Rather than scale the program back dramatically, NMSC decided that working with UNCF would be a better solution. Renewable scholarships were paid out for existing recipients, but the remaining assets of NAP were transferred to UNCF to help fund scholarships for college students going to graduate school. The NAP came to an end.

  • AT says:

    Hi Art,
    Thank you for all you do.
    Just to let you know, all the semifinalists in NJ are now listed as a PDF in this article (originally, only those in Central NJ were listed, but the PDF was added yesterday):

    https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/education/2018/09/12/national-merit-scholarship-program-semifinalists-2019/1266273002/

  • Wendy says:

    Hi Art,

    I saw my son’s name on the list that was posted above(California). But we have not heard anything from school yet. How long usually does it take to get school notified by NMSC?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Wendy,
      Schools would have received notices by now, but they can work on their own schedules. Your school may be planning an announcement on a particular date. If you are nervous — and I wouldn’t be — you can always ask nicely. I don’t know how nice this is: “I saw my son’s name on the list of Semifinalists. He is thrilled, and he would like to get started on his Finalist application essay. Have you received the materials from National Merit yet?… No? Would you mind checking with the principal? I believe that they were mailed out 3 weeks ago.” The paperwork comes through the school, so if something is missing, they are the ones that will need to contact NMSC. Congratulations to your son!

  • xyz says:

    Your examples state a score of 800 in math, but on the PSAT the top score is 760. Correct?

  • Liz says:

    When do schools get notified on the commended letter students?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Liz,
      I believe that Commended letters are mailed right after the public release of Semifinalist names, so they presumably went out late this week. Unless there is an issue with a student’s eligibility, Commended status is cut-and-dried and the cutoff is known at 212 (at or above).

      • ann says:

        Our school still has not notified students above 212 of commended status. Should they know by now?

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Yes, they should. Either things got lost in the mail or misplaced internally. If you can convince the school to reach out to NMSC, that would be best. Otherwise, I’d recommend that you try contacting National Merit to see if there is any way that they can help.

  • Daniel says:

    Hi Art,

    Are you aware of any reason a NMSF could not / should not use their common app essay for the NMF essay? My son’’s common app essay fits perfectly with one of the NMF prompts and any time saved for AP classes and other essays is helpful!

    thanks for what you do!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Daniel,
      There is no reason why your son should not use his Common App essay. I encourage students to consider it for exactly the reasons you cite. Congratulations to your son for NMSF and for having his Common App essay finished!

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey Art,

    Any idea how difficult it is to receive the finalist status? Like how much of a qualifying score I’ll need and what the quality of my essay should be?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      A bit over 90% of Semifinalists become Finalists. NMSC doesn’t release data on what holds back that 10%. My guess would be grades, confirming score, and recommendation from school all gum up the works more than the essay. Then again, if you are applying to college, you’ll want to put together some quality essays. 😉 You’ll want to have an SAT Selection Index of 214 or above to guarantee that you have a confirming score. The cutoff may turn out to be slightly lower.

  • Becky says:

    Hi Art,
    Looking for help again! We are receiving conflicting advice on how to list NMSF on college applications. Do you advise students to list it as a state level or national level award?

    Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Becky,
      This isn’t a topic that I’ve dealt with before. I think more people would consider it a national award. Also, it’s a well-known award, so it’s not going to confuse an admission officer in either location.

  • Andi says:

    Hi Art<

    Here is the link to the list of Maryland students:
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/k-12/bs-md-national-merit-scholarship-20180917-story.htm
    Thanks so much for all of your helpful information! My son was very excited to see his name on the list 🙂

    Andi

  • AJ says:

    Hey Art,
    First off, just wanted to say thanks for writing this article and keeping it up to date! There’s barely any information out there, and I was worried that I would miss something.
    Turns out, I did qualify according to the press release, but have received nothing from my school. I talked to my guidance counselor today and she hasn’t seen anything, but is going to look for me and get back to me ASAP. If my school doesn’t find it this week, should I contact the College Board directly?
    Sorry to annoy, but I read somewhere else that applications to become a Finalist are due in early October…? I don’t want to blow this opportunity, so if you have any idea when the application is due, please let me know.
    Also, is there anything I should do to increase my chances of making the final cut from Finalist to National Merit Scholar? Just curious.
    Thank you for taking the time to update this article and keep us informed! Means a lot.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      AJ, it’s not annoying at all. I understand your concern. Schools submit the applications on Oct 10. Here is a link to Instructions and Requirements. What you need to get from your school is the letter with your login information. I would contact NMSC and explain the situation. They will likely need your counselor to contact them, but if you call first you can give exact instructions to your counselor. Sometimes information gets stuck in a folder in the principal’s inbox.

      The application itself — not including the essay — might take 30-60 minutes to complete if you have things organized. I have not confirmed the essay for this year, but it rarely changes. Perhaps another Semifinalist here can confirm. It is general enough to allow for lots of possibilities. Last year (and for years before that): “To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.” In short, you’ve still got plenty of time if you stay on top of things!

      You can think of the Finalist -> NMS competition as analogous to college admissions. The NM committee will look at your application, you essay, your grades, information from your school, and your test scores in order to compare you to other candidates. The pieces most under your control at this point are the essay and your SAT scores. Best of luck!

      • Mom2Boys says:

        2019 Essay Prompt:
        Student Essay
        To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you. Use your own words and limit your response to the space provided.
        (as far as we can tell it should fit approx 600-650 words so similar to the common app – just be sure you hit ‘preview’ to make sure it fits as if it isn’t on the PDF preview they won’t read it!)

        • Art Sawyer says:

          Mom2Boys,
          Excellent! Looks like they’ve kept the prompt the same, as expected. Thank you for the tip regarding length and preview, too! I’m going to put this in the post so that students see it.

  • GF says:

    Art, I cant find the national merit semifinalist 2019 list for washignton DC.
    Do you have it?

  • Fayleon says:

    Hi Art,

    Last time, you told me that Puerto Rico’s cutoff is the one for US territory which is 212. Since my score was 217, I should’ve passed… However, I haven’t heard a thing from my school yet. So, should I email the people from National Merit Program? If so, which email?

    In addition, even if for some reason I didn’t make the cut, I should be “Commended Student”. Do they send that info in the same letter as Semifinalists or on a different one?
    Another thing is that we took the PSAT on the alternate testing date. Would that have to do with this?

    Thanks,

    Fayleon

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Fayleon,
      In the past, NMSC has been willing to confirm the status of a student who asks nicely. I would recommend calling them: (847) 866-5100. You will need to get your credentials via the school. The responsibility for notifying students sometimes falls through the cracks. I would check with your counselor.

      Commended Student letters were mailed to schools last week. It’s a separate mailing than the Semifinalist notifications. The alternate test date should not have mattered.

  • Tracey says:

    Is there a list for GA’s Semifinalist?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I haven’t found a state list. Several of the large counties are available — so Google tells me. You might try emailing the reporters who posted those. NMSC sends out the entire state to the press, but many news organizations choose to publish only local names.

  • R says:

    Can someone please comment the list of semi-finalists (2019) for Oklahoma? I found the list for northeast but I need the list for southwest!

  • Stve says:

    Art,

    Wondering if you could help me understand the difference between national merit scholar and national merit finalist.
    What is the criteria to become scholar and what percentage of students will awarded scholars.
    Really appreciate your help
    Thanks
    Steve

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Steve,
      National Merit Scholars are just Finalists who have received scholarships. About half of Finalists will receive some sort of award. NMSC sponsors 2,500 awards that are open to all Finalists. Corporations sponsor about 1,000 scholarships, some of which are limited to particular groups. Colleges award about 4,000 scholarships each year. Those go only to students who choose a sponsoring institution as their first choice college. There are another 1,100 awards from corporations known as Special Scholarships. Because those are open to Commended Students, Semifinalists, and Finalists, recipients are not considered National Merit Scholars. The checks still clear.

  • Alex H says:

    Art – thanks for the amazing work here. Can you comment on the situation for Boarding schools? Our son is in a New Mexico boarding school with wide national enrollment. With a 220 score he did not qualify as semi-finalist even though the NM cutoff is at 215. We understand this is due to boarding schools having different cutoffs?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Alex,
      National Merit is tough on boarding school students because the cutoffs are set as the highest state cutoff in a region. I am not familiar with all of the region breakdowns, but presumably New Mexico gets swept up into either a Southwest or West region and the cutoff is being driven by TX or CA. Those cutoffs (either 221 or 223) would have put Semifinalist status just out of reach for your son.

  • Fred says:

    Hi,

    My son is waiting to hear if he is a commended scholar. He scored a 215. Is the commended cutoff the same for the whole country?

  • Sofia says:

    Hi,
    Do you know where I can find the New Hampshire National merit semi finalist student list? I think my son may have made it. Thanks for your feedback.

    Thanks
    Sofia

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sofia,
      I have not been able to find a complete list. I recommend googling national merit semifinalists new hampshire “son’s last name”. Putting your son’s name in quotes means google will only return results that include his name. This will find him if he is in any of the partial lists. Give NMSC a call on Monday to try to confirm his eligibility.

  • Shelby says:

    Hi,

    Do you know if the list for National Merit Semi-Finalists for Kentucky have been released?

  • LC says:

    Hello Art, we are looking for Missouri semifinalist list from this yer, but not getting it anywhere. Specifically for Clayton High School. Any thoughts?
    Thanks,

    • Art Sawyer says:

      LC,
      I have not seen anything for the state. Sometimes we get lucky with a late release, but generally if the list is not up yet, it’s unlikely to be publicly posted. Your best bet is to call NMSC directly.

  • fbs says:

    How are National Merit Scholars that receive the one-time scholarships(not college affiliated) chosen? Do you know the range of their SAT scores?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      fbs,
      I usually make the analogy to college admissions, since the process is quite similar. A committee evaluates all of your application material — PSAT and SAT scores [not ACT], grades, activities, essay, and recommendations — and compares you to other candidates. I believe that there is an attempt at geographic representation, so the competition can vary from one state to another. NMSC publishes a bar chart of Scholar SAT scores that puts the average at around 1500. That’s not all that helpful without knowing how that compares to other Finalists or how it might vary by region.

  • Leo says:

    Hello,
    Is the notification process the same for U.S. students living abroad in that my high school will be informed if I qualify? Or will a letter come to my home address? I took the test at a regional test center since it was not offered at my school. Thanks for the help.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Leo,
      Yes, NMSC still sends notifications to schools. If you are having problems finding out your status, I would recommend calling NMSC. The fact that you took the test at a regional center should not matter.

  • Sara says:

    Hi Mr. Sawyer,
    My daughter scored 213 which supposedly would qualify her as Commended Scholar. However, her school counselor told us she’s not on the list. Would National Merit allow us to check for error? Or should I ask the school? Thanks!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Sara,
      Your score is definitely high enough. Is it possible that your counselor was only looking at the Semifinalist list? Commended information is sent later in a separate package. You might try calling NMSC to see if they can provide any guidance. Also, check if your PSAT report correctly reflects citizenship or permanent residence status and class year for NMSP eligibility. If you are eligible and got a 213, there should be no doubt.

  • PDS says:

    Hi Art,
    Very nice and great work, Amazing information.
    My son got 214 and he qualified for Commended Scholars and he also got his ACT score 35.
    Just wondering if has to compete for National Semifinalist or finalist even though our state is IL and cut off is 221.
    Any other way he can apply to qualified or compete for further?

    Thank you!

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Thank you, PDS.

      Competition in the National Merit Scholarship Program is dependent on the PSAT score only. There are a few Special Scholarships that can go to Commended Students. Your son will be tapped on the shoulder if these apply to his case. Congratulations to your son on his great ACT score!

  • Lola says:

    HI Art —

    I don’t understand how the cutoff score translates to the score received on the PSAT. Where do I find my son’s equivalent cutoff score?
    Thanks,
    Lola

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Lola,
      On your son’s online score report, there should be a tab for National Merit. His Selection Index is listed there. The SI is calculated from his ERW and Math scores, with the ERW having twice the weight. Double the ERW, add the Math, and drop a zero. If he scored 720 ERW and 730 M, then his Selection Index is 72×2 + 73 = 217. [I dropped the zeros at the start.]

  • Amy says:

    Is a 1550 on the SAT an acceptable confirming score for National Merit semifinalists?

  • Amy says:

    There is a number before each student’s name on the list of semifinalists. What does that number mean?

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Amy,
      That’s simply a code for the field of study students choose in their registration materials. You’ll notice a lot of 999s for Undecided. It is not used in issuing awards.

  • Anusha says:

    Hi Art,
    I got a 215 NMSC Selection index, but I have still not received a letter of commendation. Does this mean that I am not a commended student?
    Thanks,
    Senior

    • Art Sawyer says:

      Anusha,
      No, i wouldn’t make that assumption. Your score is high enough. I just now replied to another student in the same situation, so I’ll quote myself. “The two most likely explanations are (1) the notifications just fell through the cracks at the school and (2) there is some reason that NMSC considered your daughter ineligible. The latter can be determined by looking for the eligibility asterisk on her score report.” Keep in mind that students do not receive letters directly, only via the school.

  • m says:

    Have a 214 NHRP scholar who has not been notified of Commended status?? (We are in a high semi-finalist cutoff state, but the commended cutoff is supposedly national.)

    • Art Sawyer says:

      m,
      The commended cutoff is national and 214 definitely qualifies for Commended status. The two most likely explanations are (1) the notifications just fell through the cracks at the school and (2) there is some reason that NMSC considered your daughter ineligible. The latter can be determined by looking for the eligibility asterisk on her score report.

  • PSM says:

    Art, I applaud you for your extraordinary dedication and work.
    My daughter is a current semifinal. She submitted her National Merit Scholarship Application last week.
    She is worried that the she missed couple off edits in her essay that was submitted and wondering if she could make the edits
    and re-submit it?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      PSM,
      Thank you for the kind words. Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer. The guidelines state that “final transmission’ of applications are made by the school on October 10. The “final” leads me to believe that the answer is that a re-submission would not be valid.

Leave a Reply