National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2020

By September 5, 2019 September 12th, 2019 National Merit, PSAT
National Merit Semifinalists

September 11 Update: NMSC has officially release Semifinalist information to the press, and schools are allowed to publicly share the information. Don’t panic if you have not yet heard anything. Some schools have still not received their packets. NMSC does not directly publish names, so you’ll only find lists online if your local paper or website publishes them. If you find complete state lists, please comment below with a link. I will try to aggregate those we have found. The cutoffs below are final. Lists available for: Arkansas, California, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas.

Compass has now confirmed all of the National Merit cutoffs for the class of 2020. They range from the Commended Student cutoff at a PSAT Selection Index of 212 all the way to the 223 Selection Index cutoff in New Jersey and Massachusetts. The cutoffs determine the approximately 16,000 Semifinalists who will move forward in the National Merit Scholarship Program. An additional 35,000 students will receive Commended Student status.

The changes were the narrowest we have seen in more than a decade of tracking National Merit cutoffs. Students hitting last years’ targets were almost universally rewarded with Semifinalist status. Only Idaho’s cutoff moved up this year (from 214 to 215). Exactly half the states saw lower cutoffs this year, and twenty-four cutoffs were unchanged. No cutoff changed by more than 2 points — again, almost unprecedented stability. Below are the actual cutoffs for the class of 2020 compared to those of prior years. For students qualifying as Semifinalists, we recommend our National Merit FAQ to learn more about next steps such as the Finalist essay and confirming SAT and ACT scores.

StateClass of 2020ChgClass of 2019Class of 2018Class of 2017Typical # of
District of Columbia223022322322250
New Hampshire218-121921721675
New Jersey2230223223222520
New Mexico213-221521521390
New York22102212212191,010
North Carolina219-1220219218440
North Dakota212021221120930
Rhode Island218-222021621755
South Carolina215-1216217215200
South Dakota214-121521520945
West Virginia212021221120975
​U.S. Territories2120212211209
​U.S. Abroad2230223223222
Eligible juniors with Selection Indexes at or above the relevant cutoffs will be named as Semifinalists. Students will receive confirmation from their schools.  National Merit Scholarship Corporation asks that students not be publicly named until September 11, 2019, but many schools have been privately notifying students.

Why do states have such different cutoffs?

Cutoffs vary across the country because the 16,000 Semifinalists are allocated proportionally to states based on the total number of 11th graders 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. Boarding school students are a special case and must meet the highest state cutoff in their region.

Did cutoffs align with projections?

All of the Semifinalist cutoffs fell within the “most likely” range projected by Compass, but the number of states moving downward was surprising given continued growth in high PSAT scores (see table below).

The number of students scoring at or above 1400 on the October 2018 PSAT increased over the prior two years. The increase was modest, so we were expecting modest changes in cutoffs. That turned out to be true, but the distribution of the changes was unusual. The most likely explanation is in the distinction between state and national results. While the Commended cutoff is driven by national performance, state cutoffs are independent of one another. A thousand additional California students could score 224 on the PSAT and it would have no impact at all on the cutoff in New Mexico, for example. We may get a better understanding when College Board eventually releases state PSAT data later this year.

The high-water mark remains at 223.

As expected, 223 seems to be an upper limit for Semifinalist cutoffs. For the class of 2020, the only states to hit this mark were New Jersey and Massachusetts. The District of Columbia and U.S. Students Studying Abroad are “selection units” where the cutoff is set to the highest state cutoff, so they also came in at 223. We have yet to see a cutoff hit 224 since the revised PSAT debuted in 2016. For future years, we believe that a 224 cutoff is a remote possibility. New Jersey has the highest probability of an upward shift. A cutoff higher than 224 is not a realistic possibility in any state or selection unit within the foreseeable future.  The cutoffs on the redesigned PSAT reach a natural limit. There are few score combinations that can even produce 225–228 Selection Indexes and not a sufficient number of students hitting those combinations.

Alternate reality

Perhaps the most talked about topic for the 2018 PSAT was the “alternate date” test given on October 24. The questions on this exam were easier than usual, resulting in a bizarrely harsh scale. Missing even two questions took students out of Semifinalist contention in the most competitive states. Only 10% of students took this form code, so we were expecting the national implications to be minor. The implications to individual students missing a couple of questions were far from minor. Once school-by-school data is released on Semifinalists, Compass will take a closer look at the impact of the October 24 PSAT.

What can the class of 2021 expect?

Class of 2021 students can view the current state cutoffs as approximate goals for their own Semifinalist hopes, but they should do so cautiously. Compass has done extensive research on fluctuations in PSAT scores and National Merit cutoffs. Over the last dozen class years, only 30% of cutoffs have remained unchanged from one year to the next. Approximately 38% of cutoffs have increased year-over-year in that period, sometimes by several points.

Changes are not equally distributed across all states. High scoring states tend to have more stable cutoffs than those with cutoffs near the Commended level. States with fewer Semifinalists represent almost all of the largest jumps. Compass does additional research when PSAT scores are released in December and when the Commended cutoff becomes known in April.

I’m a Semifinalist, what comes next?

Our National Merit FAQ has the most detailed explanations on the steps in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Students choosing an ACT path can learn how, for the first time ever, NMSC will be incorporating ACT scores into the Finalist stage. We also have the SAT confirming score level, this year’s essay prompt, and information on how Finalists are selected.

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.


  • Avatar Grace says:

    Fairfax County in Virginia has the list in : https://www.fcps.edu/news/two-hundred-forty-four-students-named-2020-national-merit-semifinalists

    Thanks Art for your support , one year’s waiting period would be hard without you.

  • Avatar Alpha Mom says:

    I found out from my friend that my son made it today (Georgia). Here’s the GA link from the AJC: https://www.ajc.com/news/local/students-fulton-county-move-toward-national-merit-scholarships/

    Now what do we do? 😁

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Congratulations, Alpha! You’ll need to get the letter from your son’s school with login credentials to the Finalist application portal. If your son once to get a jump on it, we’ve got the essay prompt on our FAQ. You have until October 9.

  • Avatar Dana says:

    My daughter still hasn’t gotten her official notice from her school and it’s really driving me bonkers. She asked her counselor yesterday and they just said they don’t have them yet. I find that so hard to believe when other schools are posting pics of their students pictures. I’m stalking everyone to get the Ohio list just so I can see her name in writing. I don’t know why, but I need to see it in writing.

    When is the application due? I’m afraid she isn’t going to have enough time since she has no way to log in.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but this sort of thing is common every year. Sometimes it’s just the post office being the post office, and other times things go into a mail room/principal/counselor void for a few days. Your daughter can get started on the essay (on our FAQ page) and the rest of the application will take her less than an hour if she has already been gathering basics for college apps. If you haven’t had official confirmation, you can call NMSC. They can’t give you login credentials, but they can give you some peace of mind. The due date is October 9.

  • Avatar Concerned Parent says:

    Hi Art. If my son has a 4.0 Unweighted and 4.8 Weighted with a 1480 SAT and 14 AP Classes (9 Completed, 5 Enrolled Currently), but he has repeated 2 classes (four repeated semesters) will he likely move on to finalist? Will the repeated classes hurt his chances? He is currently class rank 1. The grade he received before is not present on his transcript, but it shows that he retook the classes. The classes he repeated were both prior to high school (Algebra 1 and PE). He also has relatively strong extracurriculars (NHS Pres, team captain of both sci oly and sci bowl, lots of volunteering, plays piano). Thank you for any insight!!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I’m speculating, since NMSC does not release specifics on its criteria, but I can’t imagine that the repeated classes would disqualify him. If I am interpreting correctly and these were before high school, then they definitely will not play a role. And since the original grades aren’t on his transcript, it seems unlikely that NMSC would try to guess as to the reason he repeated the classes. Best of luck to your son!

  • Avatar Hema says:

    Thank you so much Mr.Art! Information on this page is very helpful. My son’s name listed on the state published semi finalist list, however the school did not say anything yet. Do you know when is the deadline for the next step which is applying for finalist? Thanks in advance.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Last year the deadline was October 10, so I assume that it will be in the same week this year. [Perhaps one of the Semifinalists can update me on this.] Other than the essay, the application is simple. You can find the essay topic in our National Merit FAQ.

    • Avatar Sam says:

      Thank you Art.
      I have a student in Massachusetts with a selection index of 224, and his name was not included in this morning’s release of National Merit Semifinalists.
      Is there a nuance in the process?

      • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

        No nuance in terms of the numbers, and 224 is high enough everywhere. Several theories:
        1) Some news sources only list area students and may have left off your son or son’s school. Were other students from his school on it?
        2) There may be a mixup on eligibility. Have him login to the College Board PSAT site and take a look at the Selection Index page. It should confirm his class year and eligibility.
        3) A paperwork mixup of some sort.

        The first step is to call NMSC and see if they can confirm that he is a Semifinalist. If not, can they help you understand why not? You’ll also want to consult your son’s counselor, since anything official needs to be done through the school.

  • Avatar Janet says:

    My daughter is home-schooled. We received a letter in April saying she scored among the 50,000 highest scoring participants and would be “recognized” in the fall. When are commended students notified?

  • Avatar TXmom2020 says:

    My son just missed the cutoff for semi finalist in TX. He was notified last February that he was eligible for NHRP recognition and will hopefully receive that notification soon. Will he be officially notified somehow that he is commended? And if so, would it be the school or NMSC that notifies him? Thanks for the great information you provide!

  • Avatar Elizabeth says:

    In South Dakota my daughter has a 216 but last April her principal told her she was a commended student. Could she still be a semi finalist?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      In April, her principal would only have known that she was AT LEAST a Commended Student. Semifinalists and cutoffs are not even determined by April. Based on her SI of 216, she will be a Semifinalist. Check again with you principal or with NMSC. Congratulations!

  • Avatar Angela says:

    My son received a notice that he is a semi finalist. We are in Texas and he got a 225. We are surprised because he is a Canadian citizen and we thought he didn’t qualify based on what we had read. We are not permanent residents but have lived here for 10 years. Did the rules change or is it that he will be recognized but can’t earn the scholarship?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      The rules have not changed. Unfortunately, the NM Scholarship Program is reserved for U.S. citizens and permanent residents intending to become U.S. citizens. This explains the full rules.

      • Avatar Angela says:

        Hi Art, wanted to let you know my son is a National Merit semi finalist. We received the links for finalist application. In the application portal it has the “requirements and instructions for semi finalist” It clearly states that you need to “Attend high school in the United States, District of Columbia, or US Commonwealths and territories; OR meet the citizen requirements for students attending school outside the united states” Just wanted to let you know the rules HAVE changed! He almost didn’t bother to write it because we didn’t think he was eligible. We are excited for him!

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Wow! That’s great news, and I’ll definitely update our FAQ. It sounds like they’ve made a good call to ignore citizenship status for those studying in the U.S. I see that they’ve updated the information in the PSAT/NMSQT Student Guide, too. Thank you, and congratulations to your son!

  • Avatar julie says:

    well, this is not news, but i have been waiting about nine months to make this comment so i’ll make it anyway!

    i called national merit this morning, and my son (texas 225) was confirmed as a semi finalist. this might be helpful to someone else who is attending a school like ours, who apparently, does not receive mail. just yesterday, our school said that they hadn’t heard anything yet. since the press release came out today, i knew that national merit would confirm over the phone. so, i called them, and they did just that. they were very, very nice.

    so, if anyone is out there waiting and waiting…. you can call national merit on the day that the names are released to the press and they will confirm for you over the phone and tell you what to do. thanks art for all your help through the process!

  • Avatar Deborah says:

    My son got a 225 in Kansas! Woohoo! Do you know where it will be published in the Kansas City area? Do universities get SI scores or just names of recipients?

  • Avatar Connor says:


    I am a student in Michigan with a 219 selection index. However, I have not yet been notified of semifinalist standing. Is it certain that 219 is the Michigan cutoff?

    Thank you

  • Avatar noosh says:

    Is the press release guaranteed for tomorrow, September 11th?

  • Avatar Tammy says:

    My son got a 222 in Oklahoma!

  • Avatar AZ-219 says:

    My score exactly matches the cutoff for AZ. Does this mean I qualified or just missed it?

  • Avatar Anne says:

    We are in NC and your confirmed minimum is 219. My son has a 219, however, his school says they have not received a letter from NMSC. What do we do now? Thanks!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Hold on for another day or two. Tomorrow is the “press release” day. Until then, NMSC won’t discuss specifics. If you call them tomorrow or later this week (their phones are likely to be off the hook), they will usually be nice enough to confirm one way or the other. Also, schools without NMSF will still typically receive notice from NMSC. So if your son’s school has received nothing, it may just be a mail delay.

  • Avatar Jennifer says:

    I’m a little unsure about what the commended cutoff means? My son has an index of 218 in NC.

  • Avatar KBCT says:

    Hey! I have my son’s PSAT score, but can’t find these cutoffs anywhere else, and his school hasn’t notified us yet. Where did you find these cutoffs? Or how did you calculate them?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      What I can tell you is that they are official and reliable. NMSC does not publish its cutoffs, so you won’t find confirmation there. Tomorrow is the press release day when NMSC, and many schools wait until that day. If your son does not hear tomorrow, I would either talk to his counselor or call NMSC directly.

      • Avatar Yanny says:

        My son got SI of 216 in Louisiana, but until this point we still do not get any notice from school , and no press publishes anything either today, I wonder if my son make it to commended or semifinalist.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Some schools have still not received their packets. If you are nervous, I would go ahead and call NMSC. They can verify your status, but can’t give you your login credentials for the Finalist application.

  • Avatar CAhopeful says:

    Art – I want to thank you for the updates on this site, this has been tremendously helpful. At 222 in CA we have still not heard anything formally, and so your efforts have been even more help than you can imagine. Wanted to pass along my sincere appreciation.

    CA parent

  • Avatar Em says:

    Our daughter was a freshman and sophomore in CA but took the PSAT in MA due to a move last summer – she earned a 222 score. Looks like the move may have cost her a semi-finalist designation? Would she qualify for commendation status in MA?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Yes, her score qualifies for Commended status. As long as she was a student in MA when she took the PSAT in junior year, then unfortunately she would need to hit the MA cutoff.

  • Avatar Anna says:

    Hello Mr. Sawyer, If my son is a semifinalist, will he be receiving details on how to submit finalist application from school / college board via email. I am unable to locate the application online. Please advise

  • Avatar Kristin says:

    Any advice on how to move from Semi-Finalist to Finalist status? My son’s SI was 225, and his confirming scores are 1590 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT. Do you know if the Finalist selection based more on scores or on extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations? Or is it a combination of everything?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      At the Finalist level, only a few things matter. (1) A confirming SAT/ACT score. (2) “Consistently high” academic performance. (3) The recommendation of your son’s high school. (4) A completed application. Things like extracurriculars, the content of the essay, and even the SAT/ACT above and beyond the confirming level are only considerations at the Scholar stage. While this is the 2019 information sheet, everything still applies except that ACTs can now be used as confirming scores: https://nationalmerit.imodules.com/s/1758/images/gid2/editor_documents/merit_r_i_leaflet.pdf?sessionid=30eb0934-6aa1-46a0-8381-ccf481a4ddb0&cc=1 .

      • Avatar Kristin says:

        Thank you, Art. That information is helpful. If a Finalist student applies ED to a non sponsoring school and is rejected, it seems the student would still have time to name a top choice for a NMSC sponsoring school, correct? Just trying to weigh options.

        • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

          Exactly. As long as students stay on top of it, there is not a problem.

          • Avatar Kristin says:

            Great! Any idea when/where the press releases and official lists will be posted? I’m seeing a few random news articles today (9/11), but no official lists that I can find online.

          • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

            NMSC doesn’t itself put out an “official” list. It’s completely up to news outlets on whether to publish. As you are finding, it’s completely haphazard.

          • Avatar Kristin says:

            Yes, the notification is completely haphazard. I managed to get my hands on the TX press release, so at least I know my son is officially on the list. His school has not notified students yet. I emailed the principal today, and he claimed to have no information. Weird!

  • Avatar Anthony says:

    If i scored a 221 in Texas am I guaranteed to qualify? I’m a bit nervous as my score is right on the cutoff

  • Avatar Vinay says:


    Is this the final cutoff numbers for Arizona. My son has 220. did he made it.

  • Avatar Katie says:

    You say that to receive one of the college-sponsored scholarships, students must list their first choice college on the Finalist application, but they can leave it as Undecided. When do students have to change their Undecided to a named school? And they have until October to complete the application? Thanks.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      The final deadline for a change is May 31, but there are interim deadlines that can be important. Some colleges, for example, want to be listed as First Choice before that data. I believe the earliest deadline is March 1. Keep in mind that Finalists aren’t even notified until February, so there is plenty of time to find out more. NMSC is very helpful on this score. Yes, the application must be completed by early October.

  • Avatar D says:

    Will there be a public listing of SemiFinalists by state? If so, when will that be available? If not on your website, is there another where that information will be posted? Thank you!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      It’s haphazard. NMSC will send list of names to relevant news outlets on 9/11. It’s up to the news outlets as to whether or not they do anything with the information. Some papers or websites will upload the entire states. Many others will just cherry-pick local students. I usually try to post links where whole states are available, but they sometimes don’t pop up until a week after the release.

  • Avatar Umesh says:

    Hi Art,

    Thanks for all your guidance during the last several months. We called our school but they didn’t disclose to use whether my daughters made it and so didn’t report back to you. BTW, my twins were are 224 and 228 (CA) so based on your post today both made it.

    Thanks again.

  • Avatar MO 217 mom says:

    Art, Thanks so much for sharing your tremendous expertise with us. I really appreciate all your efforts!

  • Avatar EML says:

    Art – my daughter (at 225) absolutely refuses to accept that she is a semi-finalist because someone could be reporting scoes as a cruel joke. When you say “confirmed” is there room for that type of misinformation? thanks.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      A) All confirmed. No cruel jokes. B) I will personally guarantee that a 225 will qualify as NMSF from now until at least the next time CB overhauls the exam.

      IRL I’m a skeptic, too, so I can understand her refusal. She’ll be receiving notification soon enough. Congratulations!

  • Avatar Seattle Mom says:

    My daughter heard from her school counselor this morning that she is a national merit finalist with the 221 in WA. Thank you for your wisdom these last few days!

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Great news! Thank you for the kind words.

    • Avatar KB in WA says:

      Thank you Seattle Mom. I’ve been anxiously watching for news from Washington state. I figured our counselors were bogged down with schedule changes since we just started school, so I expected to wait until next week. So grateful for Art’s blog and the parents who are willing to share information.

  • Avatar Bini says:

    Hi Art
    My scored a 214 and is in school in Oklahoma. The state had higher cutoffs past few years. Do we have a confirmed cutoff for Oklahoma?

  • Avatar Bini says:

    Hi Art
    My son scored a 214 and he is in a school in Oklahoma. The last few years the cutoffs have been higher for this state . Are there confirmed cutoffs available fort Oklahoma?

  • Avatar Michelle says:

    A little confused on how this works so if you know….Daughter is semi-finalist and plans to go to Bama. Bama offers a full free ride with finalist standing. Meal-plan is not included. Question is: if daughter qualifies for other outside scholarships can they cover meal plan and what happens if you qualify for more than meal plan covers? Just wondering how hard she should be trying to get outside scholarships. She is over the moon excited about getting semi finalist and don’t want to expect anything but very confused about the 7,500 who get national merit scholarships opposed to just that Bama gives to any nmf.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Your best bet is to talk directly to Alabama. I believe outside awards are stackable rather than offsetting Bama’s NMF award. She does still need to qualify as a Finalist.

      If her first choice is Bama, I wouldn’t worry about the other NM scholarships, although the liaison at Bama should be able to give you guidance there, too. This all falls a bit outside my area of expertise. For curious readers: https://scholarships.ua.edu/freshman/nationalscholars/. Very exciting!

  • Avatar DE Student says:

    I am from DE. 222 made into NMSF selection

  • Avatar MT Dad says:

    My son qualified in MT with a 215.

  • Avatar Wayne says:

    My son will make the cut for MO. Will we start to receive targeted mailings/calls from schools that are interested or will we still be out there hitting university websites and other resources to understand the doors that are opening? Q2 is: are there schools who “quietly”recruit NMF without putting it out there as automatic scholarships?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      I spend my days thinking about testing, so I’m well-versed in that area. The experts on the scholarship side tend to be your fellow parents. The National Merit forum at collegeconfidential.com will always have threads going about the best opportunities. While your son will likely receive mailings, I strongly recommend that you proactively search out opportunities. Yes, NMSF or NMF status can be a plus factor at colleges that do not offer scholarships. One pro tip is not to waste a “First Choice” on a college that does not provide National Merit scholarships. Congratulations, btw!

  • Avatar KevinInOC says:

    Hello Art

    My daughter received a selection index of 222 (760 math, 730 RW). We live in California, but she attends a prep school in Massachusetts. I read somewhere that in this case the state used for the cutoff depends on the number of out of state students that attend the school, with 40% being the magic threshold. Can you confirm (or deny) any of that? I believe at her school 57% of the students are from Massachusetts, and the remaining 43% are out of state/international students.
    Can you tell me if California’s cutoff of 222 or Massachusetts’s cutoff of 223 applies to her? In our case, that 1 point makes a world of difference!


    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      My understanding is that, unfortunately, 223 is going to be your daughter’s cutoff. I hadn’t heard the exact 40% figure; in NMSC literature, they talk about “predominantly out-of-state” The catch is that the location or status of a student’s high school — not residency — determines eligibility. If your daughter’s school is not a boarding school, then she is a MA student with an MA cutoff. If her school IS a boarding school, then her cutoff is the highest state cutoff in the Northeast. That cutoff is MA. I’d like to be wrong on this.

  • Avatar VAStudent says:

    Any word from Virginia? sitting on a 221 and watching a bunch of states drop a point, so its a stressful time.

  • Avatar Mia says:

    Hi Art! Just wanted to know if your source for the MI cutoff was reliable? I’ve just been very anxious since I’m sitting right at a 219 and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much.

  • Avatar Bob says:

    Nothing from MD…

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