National Merit Semifinalist Cutoffs Class of 2021

By January 31, 2020 February 7th, 2020 National Merit, PSAT
National Merit Semifinalists

Since our original class of 2021 National Merit post in December, Compass has done extensive research into how scores behaved on the 2019 PSAT. A full write-up can be found here. This research significantly changes our predictions for Semifinalist cutoffs for the class of 2021. We expect all—or nearly all—state cutoffs to move lower. The Commended cutoff is likely to fall between 208 and 210.

Here is what we know:

  • The number of juniors scoring 1400 or higher dropped 30%, from 71,041 to 49,749.
  • The “harsh scales” students saw in Reading and Writing may be a part of the explanation, but score drops were actually larger on the Math section than on the Reading and Writing sections.
  • Based on sample data we have received from schools, there are fewer students in the typical National Merit ranges. We have observed Selection Indexes running about 2–4 points lower than in previous years.
  • The most popular date, Wednesday, October 16th was impacted by lower scores.
  • The first semiofficial word on National Merit comes when the Commended score leaks in April.

Here is what we don’t know:

  • We don’t have enough data for the October 30th administration or other alternate forms to say how those scales performed.
  • We don’t know the exact amount by which Selection Indexes declined.
  • College Board does not publish data by state, so we can only estimate ranges.

You can find our full analysis below the table of class of 2021 cutoff estimates. If you would like to find out more about the National Merit process such as how to calculate the Selection Index, how notification works, how many students reach each level, and what comes after Semifinalist, we recommend our National Merit FAQ. You can also see a complete history of Semifinalist cutoffs for the last 13 years or view the archive of the class of 2020 results.

StateClass of 2021
(Most Likely)
Class of 2021
(Est. Range)
Class of 2020
Class of 2019
Class of 2018
Class of 2017
Typical # of SemifinalistsSize Category
District of Columbia221219–22322322322322245Small
New Hampshire216214–21821821921721675Small
New Jersey221219–223223223223222530Large
New Mexico212210–21421321521521395Small
New York219217–221221221221219960Large
North Carolina217215–219219220219218490Large
North Dakota209207–21221221221120930Small
Rhode Island216214–21921822021621755Small
South Carolina214212–216215216217215210Medium
South Dakota211209–21421421521520945Small
West Virginia209207–21121221221120975Small
​U.S. Territories209207–211212212211209
​U.S. Abroad221219–223223223223222

Explaining the Table

We have provided a column with our “Most Likely” cutoff estimate because students and parents expect a number, but the more informative column is the “Estimated Range.” Most cutoffs will fall in this range. The edges of the ranges are less likely, but they remain possibilities. In some years, a handful of states fall outside of the estimated ranges. These are generally smaller states. We will not have official cutoffs until late August or early September of 2020.

The Decline in High Scores

A key statistic we look at is the number of students scoring at or above 1400 in Total Score. College Board does not report more granular data or information on Selection Index distribution. But the 1400+ figure is a useful indicator of where the Commended Student cutoff will fall.

Large changes have happened in the past. The jump in 1400+ scorers from the class of 2017 to the class of 2018 was, at least, predictable. The class of 2017 had to contend with the rollout of the new PSAT and a questionable exam. For the class of 2018, the Commended cutoff went up two points, and only Rhode Island saw a lower cutoff.

In the years since, there have been increasing numbers of students achieving 1400+ scores, and Commended cutoffs have inched upward. Things reversed course dramatically on the 2019 PSAT. The class of 2021 has 49,749 students in the 1400–1520 range (as reported in mid-Dec by College Board)—even fewer than the 55,587 in the class of 2017. This points to a 208–210 Commended cutoff.

Why focus on the Commended figure?

The Commended cutoff is the only cutoff that is national. And the 1400+ figure is also national.

What evidence is there of the relationship between national and state changes?

The expected drop in the Commended cutoff does not mean that state cutoffs will all move in lockstep. I expect most states to see declines of between 1 and 4 points. It’s possible that some states will see no change, which is why last year’s cutoff is the upper bound of most of our estimated ranges.

The table below summarizes 12 years of Semifinalist cutoff changes. It shows how cutoffs at the state level have corresponded with the national Commended cutoff. For example, there was 1 year in which the Commended cutoff declined by 2 points. In that year, 17 states had cutoffs that were unchanged. Only 1 state saw a higher cutoff.

The table gives insight into what might happen when nationwide scores decline. In the 6 years in which the Commended level changed by 2 or more points—up or down—there are 300 data points from the 50 states. Only 6 cutoffs (2%) moved in the opposite direction of the Commended change. These 6 have all been states with a low number of Semifinalists. I don’t expect any large state to see an increase this year. I expect the vast majority to see lower cutoffs.

We have also analyzed a sample of anonymized 2018 and 2019 PSAT data from high schools. The school data gives us insight to the very top of the range (220+). The data confirm our hypothesis that even the highest-scoring states will see declines. The dataset is not diverse enough for us to use it to predict specific cutoffs.

As always, we will update this page as more information becomes available. This update has been a long time coming because of the extensive work it took to collect and analyze the data. It has also delayed many answers to specific questions.


Below are excerpts from our original post, with annotations where our new knowledge has reshaped our conclusions.

Why do we emphasize ranges?

The only predictable thing is unpredictability. Over the last 12 years, cutoff changes have shown a roughly normal distribution. The catch is that there is no way of predicting where on the curve an individual state will fall. Compass has also found that there is a wider spread of cutoff changes in smaller states (defined as the 16 states with the lowest number of Semifinalists).

The chart demonstrates two things. First, we can’t be assured that any estimate of a cutoff will be correct. There are always changes in the mix. Second, the best estimate is “no change.” [We now have firm reason to believe that cutoffs will decline this year, so the Most Likely figures have been adjusted downward.ed.]

On average, about 60% of cutoffs hold fast or go down. A given year, though, is rarely average. Below is a chart showing the number of state cutoffs that have gone up, remain unchanged, or gone down in each year. [We now believe that the changes for the class of 2013 will look something like those we saw for the class of 2013. –ed.]

The class of 2018 saw increases in 46 states; the class of 2020 saw an increase in 1 state! Which kind of year do we expect for the class of 2021? [We currently predict that most states will see decreases. This was seen for the class of 2013. It’s the same concept—but in the opposite direction—as seen with the class of 2018. There may be a handful of states in the No Change section, but most cutoffs will go down. –ed.]

Everything we think percentiles tell us about National Merit is wrong.

College Board’s percentile reporting falls somewhere between misleading and wrong. First, the percentiles prominent on students’ PSAT reports are for a “Nationally Representative Sample.” The sample reflects the hypothetical results if every student in a class year took the PSAT. The College Board also reports the PSAT/NMSQT User percentiles (found only on a student’s online report or in Understanding the PSAT/NMSQT) based on students who have actually taken the PSAT. These figures are lower than the Nationally Representative figures, since the PSAT-taking group has a higher proportion of college-bound students. However, the User percentiles are for the class years of 2018, 2019, and 2020 and not for the class of 2021. The percentiles reported by College Board do not reflect the results of a single student who took the October 2019 PSATs. We could also quibble about the fact that percentiles are rounded or that not all test-takers are eligible for National Merit or that no percentiles are provided for the Selection Index, but the fact that percentiles are not shaped in any way by student results from this year’s PSATs immediately disqualifies them from consideration.

Will the harsh scales alter the Semifinalist cutoffs?

Students missing a single question have always scored high enough to be Semifinalists, and that will be true again this year. On some test forms, just two missed questions has been able to take a student below the cutoff in the most competitive states. The table below shows the impact of two incorrect answers on a student’s Selection Index for the 2018 and 2019 PSATs. The PSAT is given on a primary date and an alternate date each year. Anywhere from 80–90% of students test on the primary Wednesday date. 

Comparing the impact of incorrect answers on Selection Index across test forms



 Oct 16, 2019
Oct 30, 2019
 Oct 10, 2018
Oct 24, 2018

In college admission, the difference on the SAT between a 730 ERW and a 740 ERW is trivial. On the all-or-nothing PSAT/NMSQT, however, small changes can prove significant. The Semifinalist cutoff for New Jersey was 223 last year. Even with a perfect Math score, a student would have still needed an ERW score of 740 or better to be named a Semifinalist. The ERW score receives twice the weight of the Math score, so errors can prove costly.

Why do test scales vary?

In theory, a more challenging scale exists only to offset an easier test. The scaling done on the PSAT is different from what a classroom teacher might do to determine that a certain percentage of students will receive As, a certain percentage will receive Bs, and so on. PSAT scaling is designed to take into account the small differences in difficulty between test forms. In recent years, however, we have seen large swings in test difficulty on both the SAT and PSAT. Last year’s alternate date PSAT saw an historically easy Math section and correspondingly harsh scale. While this year’s scales aren’t quite as bad as the October 24, 2018 scale, they are steeper than usual. The steep drop—particularly at the high end of the scale and particularly on the ERW—may end up lowering cutoffs for the class of 2021. As more data becomes available, we expect to better test this thesis. The impact is more likely to be seen on the highest cutoffs. By the time scores reach the expected Commended range, scale fluctuations tend to be less important.

Have things always been this bad?

No. Two trends have created the knife’s edge we saw last year and expect to see again this year. Elite students are stronger testers than they were a decade ago, and changes to the PSAT have made the test easier. On the 2008 PSAT, a California Semifinalist could have missed 8 or 9 questions. On the October 24, 2018 PSAT, a student would have needed to miss no more than a single question. We don’t yet know, of course, how students will fare this year.

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 graduating seniors 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.

What about the Commended cutoff?

The Commended student cutoff is set nationally, so it is the same for all participants.

Where can I learn more?

We regularly update this page and try to answer all questions in the comments. Our National Merit FAQ has the most detailed explanations on the steps in the National Merit Scholarship Program.

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 Ronnie says:

    How do I know if I was a commended scholar or not? I had a selection index of 219 and am in California.

  • Avatar Kori says:

    Hoping you can clarify a few things for me. My daughter got a 225. SAT confirming score is 223. Is this a problem that it is lower? Should she take the SAT again? Also, she’s already been accepted academically (she’s a dance double major so still needs to audition) to a school that offers scholarships. Any insight on that process? It looks like they don’t notify you of school-sponsored scholarships until after the May 1 acceptance day but finances will be a huge consideration in choosing a school.

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      No, the 223 is not a problem. The confirming score level is a national bar and unrelated to a student’s PSAT qualifying score.

      The best advice I can give is to contact the college directly. Those that offer scholarships do it because they want Finalists to attend, so they’re usually happy to help. In some cases, there are limits as to how many scholarships are given. It sounds like your daughter has a big head start.

      The first step is becoming a Finalist. She will be notified in February if she qualifies. You are correct that NMSC doesn’t announce college-sponsored scholarships until May, but that doesn’t mean the college can’t tell you its policy in advance.

  • Avatar Davis says:

    My selection index is a 214 in Texas. But I’m still not on their list. Why is that?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      A 214 is not high enough to be a Semifinalist in Texas, but it is high enough to be a Commended Student. The list of Commended Students comes after the list of Semifinalists, so your school may not have heard yet.

  • Avatar Kristen says:

    For anyone who is still unsure of their status because their school didn’t get the information, just call NMSC! I got a 221 and I’m from Idaho so I knew I made the cutoff but my school said they hadn’t received anything. I called NMSC and they confirmed that I’m a semi finalist. They’re super nice and helpful, and the phone call was only a couple of minutes.

  • Avatar Bala says:

    Is there a complete list for Utah?

  • 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 Yanny says:

            Thanks, Art. I finally found out my son’s name on the press on 9/11, he made it to the semi-finalist. I have been waiting for more info from his school. But until today 9/13, my son still does not get the notification and the package from school. At this point, does school not know my son is semi-finalist or the school still waits for the packet to notify my son? Thanks!

          • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

            Congratulations! Some schools are late in receiving notifications or need a few days to get things organized. If your son doesn’t hear from the school on Monday, I would contact his college counseling department. As I’ve mentioned to others, there is no need to panic. There are still several weeks before applications are due, and he can begin working on his essay.

  • 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 Penny says:

    Thanks so much for all this great information. We live in FL and my twin daughters qualified (222/224). We were pretty sure we made the cutoff when we received their scored in December and I saw your updated cutoffs this morning. Then this afternoon, my girls were called to the principal’s office to make it all official.

  • Avatar Jenn says:

    Are there any scholarship opportunities for Commended Students? What does that “mean”?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      The Commended Student designation is used to recognize students that are among the best in the country — at least as far as PSAT scores. The analogy I would use is being named to the Dean’s List. It signifies a job well done even if it doesn’t come tied to any dollar amount. I don’t track all of the scholarship opportunities because there are just too many colleges, and the changes happen too frequently. In the past, I have seen colleges offer scholarships based on Commended status.

  • 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 Amelia says:

    So if schools say on their website that they provide full tuition, room/board, tech fee, etc. for students that become National Merit Finalists, does that mean that this is done through the college sponsored scholarships within the National Merit competition or is the scholarship listed on their website available to anyone who achieves finalist status, regardless of scholarships received through National Merit Corporation? For example, if someone was named a finalist and did not receive a scholarship through National Merit, would they qualify for the scholarship listed on the school website, or is the listing just acknowledging their college sponsored scholarship that can be won through the competition?

    • Avatar Art Sawyer says:

      Sorry for the really late answer, but since Finalists aren’t determined yet, I figure that the answer might still prove useful. If you are a Finalist and put a sponsoring school as first choice, you will probably receive that award. The only reason I mention “probably” is that some schools limit the number of awards. In most cases you will be fine. Contact the school’s financial aid department for more information. There is usually someone who specializes in National Merit, especially at schools that provide full rides. Not to confuse things further, but the full-ride is not technically an NMSC scholarship. It’s the school using NMSC as a sort of clearinghouse. Students who don’t win a school-sponsored award are considered for a direct NMSC award.

      Bottom line: make Finalist, list school as first choice, likely receive award.

  • 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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