Best Major Universities for Merit Scholarships–Part Two

Note: This post has now been updated on April 11, 2018, to include the expansion of full-ride scholarships in Florida–but merit scholarships are fewer than ever, and the awards are generally smaller, though many are still generous.

Many of the scholarships offered by the public and private institutions listed below are NOT restricted to National Merit Scholars. We include them to show “full ride” and other high-value options. If you find an error below, please notify editor@publicuniversityhonors.com.

The world of merit awards has been changing rapidly in the last decade. Many colleges that continue to provide generous merit scholarships and that used to require or prefer National Merit Finalist status for the most valuable scholarships no longer affiliate with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The reasons vary. Often these awards now go to students who are National Merit Finalists but who can be selected for other reasons.

The colleges below in bold are those that still specify National Merit status for at least some of their major awards. These offer National Merit aid of $2,000 a year or more. Many of the universities not in bold do sponsor National Merit Scholarships of $2,000 a year or less. Although automatic scholarships specifically tied to National Merit status are in decline, National Merit Finalists will almost always be among the top candidates for merit awards.

Many colleges offer few or no merit awards of any kind now, because they believe that they need to allocate their funds only on the basis of financial need.

In a separate post, Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Funding, we use the official annual reports of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to list the universities that sponsor some form of NMS scholarships, even though the individual award amounts are frequently small.

Another post on this site lists the colleges that offer the prestigious Stamps Scholarships.

These range from tuition to full ride, and in some cases (e.g., Chicago), these are the only merit scholarships offered by the college.

And here is a list published by U.S. News that shows colleges with highest percentage of merit aid, based on enrollment. This map does not assess actual net remaining costs after merit aid, however.

In this post, we will provide a table that shows more than 115 universities, public and private, which provide full or partial tuition, tuition “plus”, or full ride, and full ride merit scholarships. In most cases, the tuition is at least at the in-state level. Tuition “plus” means that the extra award can include stipends or one or more years of housing. Full ride is tuition, room, board, and often additional funds for study abroad, conferences, and other activities.

The more prestigious the university, the more likely it is that the test score and GPA requirements will at least match stats for National Merit Finalists, even if the scholarship is not tied directly to National Merit awards. It is noteworthy that universities previously known for “full rides” have lowered the merit offerings, often to a level below that of a true full ride, especially for National Merit Scholars. Among these schools are Oklahoma, Alabama, and Texas A&M, although some form of scholarship “stacking” might yield a few more full rides than indicated by the list.

Note: Merit scholarships are constantly changing; the list below is at best a snapshot for 2017-2018.

It is important to know that some of the universities listed offer VERY FEW scholarships of the type listed. For example, the Jefferson Scholarships at the University of Virginia are valued at $150,000 (in-state) and $280,000 (OOS), but only 36 extremely fortunate students are selected from more than 2,000 candidates. These students must be nominated by participating high schools in different regions of the nation.

Again, colleges that continue to offer National Merit-specific scholarships that are greater than $2,000 per year are in bold.

University Award Type In State/OOS
Alabama 8 academic elite ~full ride Both
Appalachian St full ride Wilson Schols Both
Arizona full ride Both
Arizona State tuition plus Both
Arkansas full ride close Both
Auburn tuition plus Both
Baylor full ride Both
Boston College tuition Gabelli Schols Both
Boston University tuition Trustee Schols Both
Case Western tuition Both
Centre full ride Brown schol Both
Chicago Stamps full ride very few Both
Cincinnati full ride In State
Clark full ride, few LEEP Both
Clemson full ride 8 National Schols Both
Colorado College 10k year Both
Connecticut Stamps full ride In State
Cooper Union half tuition Both
Davidson full ride Both
Delaware dupont schols ~full ride Both
Denison tuition Both
Drake 16-21k/year Both
Drexel tuition Both
Duke full ride, tuition, limited Both
Emory woodruff schols full ride Both
Florida full ride Both
Florida St full ride Both
Fordham presidential tuition+room Both
Furman full ride Both
Georgia foundation fellows, full Both
Georgia State 22k/yr in st; 31k/yr OOS Both
Georgia Tech presidential full ride Both
Harvey Mudd tuition presidential schols Both
Holy Cross tuition, few Bptj
Houston Tier One, tuition + 2yrs rm/bd Both
Idaho full ride Both
Illinois Full ride/tuition In State
Indiana wells scholars ~full ride Both
Iowa  74k to 80k total Both
Iowa State full tuition In State
Kansas 10k year In State
Kent St tuition Both
Kentucky full ride Singletary Both
Kenyon tuition Both
Lehigh tuition Both
Louisville full ride Brown schol Both?
Loyala Chicago 17k-22k/yr Both
LSU 32k/yr in st; 49k/yr OOS full Both
Maine up to full ride Both
Maryland full ride Banneker Key Both
Massachusetts partial tuition Mostly OOS
Miami Univ tuition Both
Michigan St tuition and full ride Both
Michigan Tech 10-13k/yr Both
Minnesota 10k year Both
Minnesota Morris  tuition Both
Mississippi full ride Both
Mississippi St full ride presidential Both
Nebraska tuition plus Both
Nevada Las Vegas full ride Both
Nevada Reno 16k/yr Both
New Hampshire 5k-10k Both
New Mexico 19 k Both
New Mexico St tuition plus Both
NJIT tuition plus Both
North Carolina full ride few Both
NC Charlotte Levine full ride Both
North Carolina St full ride few In Region
Northeastern tuition Univ Scholars Both
Notre Dame tuition few Both
Ohio St 50k to full ride Eminence Both
Ohio Univ 20k in st; 30 k OOS Both
Oklahoma St tuition plus Both
Oklahoma 117 k OOS Both
Oregon Stamps, few; In st 9k/yr Both
Oregon St 32k total Both
Pitt full ride Both
Purdue 12-16k OOS; 10k/yr in st Both
Rhodes 22k to full tuition Both
Rice 25-27k per year Both
Richmond 5k to full ride Both
Rochester 2k to full tuition Both
Rutgers 3.5k to 27.4k/year Both
Santa Clara up to full ride Johnson schols Both
SMU tuition presidential Both
South Carolina full ride, McNair; 10k/yr NMS Both
Southern Illinois full ride Both
Southern Miss full ride Both
Stevens Inst Tech tuition Neupauer Both
St. Louis Univ 3k to 20k/ year Both
Swarthmore tuition+ McCabe Schols Both
Syracuse Coronat tuition Plus Both
TCU tuition Chancellors Both
Temple up to full tuition Both
Texas A&M $46k total value Both
Texas St 10 k/year NMS Both
Texas Tech full ride Both
Trinity San Antonio tuition, Murchison Both
Truman St up to 10k/year Both
Tulane tuition plus Both
Tulsa full ride Both
UCF full ride Both
USF full cost of attendance Both
UCLA Stamps, few Both
Univ at Buffalo tuition, with some stacking Both
Univ of Miami 5k to full ride Both
Univ of North Texas 118k in state; 170k OOS Both
USC tuition plus Both
UT Arlington 20 k per year Both
UT Austin  14-15 full, 40 Acres Schols Mostly TX
UT Dallas full ride McDermott Both
UT Tyler full ride Both
Utah 35k total value Mostly UT
Va Commonwealth 98k total In State
Vanderbilt tuition plus, multiple Both
Vermont 62k in st; 15-18k/yr OOS Both
Villanova full ride presidential Both
Virginia full ride-Jefferson Schols Both
Wake Forest full ride Both
Washington St tuition plus Both
West Virginia 21k/yr OOS; full ride in Both
William and Mary in-state full ride equiv Both
Wofford full ride Both
WPI tuition Foisie Both
WUSTL tuition danforth, others Both
Wyoming up to 150% res tuition Both
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Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Funding

Editor’s note: This list is now updated effective June 28, 2017, to include data for 2016 compared to 2015.  This is the most recent data available.

Below we list enrolled merit scholars, by university, for both years so that readers can gauge any trends in university support for the scholarships. Please know that “sponsorship” by a university of one or more National Merit Scholarships often means that the actual funding is $2,000 or less, although there remain a few universities that tie very generous awards to National Merit Finalist status.

For more specific information about more than 100 generous merit scholarships, please see this separate post Best Major Universities for National Merit Scholarship Sponsorship–Part Two.  As you will see in that post, many generous merit awards are not linked directly to National Merit status.

Nowadays, winners of merit scholarships whose families fall into that broad range of being moderately well off but not comfortably well to do need to know which universities still place a premium on National Merit Scholars. The universities that continue to recruit NM scholars typically do so because (1) they want to compete with the Ivies for the best students and/or (2) they want to raise the profile of their undergrads so that national rankings will show a higher degree of selectivity.

Most of the highly-ranked private universities that continue their relationship with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation fall into category (1) above. Foremost among these in 2016 are the University of Chicago with 277 merit scholars (185 of them with university sponsorship); USC with 230 merit scholars (189 with USC support);Vanderbilt with 220 scholars (166 with university support); and Northwestern with 168 scholars (125 with school support).

It is noteworthy that some of the above private elites have reduced the total number of NMS scholars enrolled and the number of scholars receiving university sponsorship. Indeed, Washington University in St. Louis had 212 merit scholars enrolled in 2014, 159 with university sponsorship. In 2016, this number fell to 33 scholars enrolled, none with university sponsorship.

This is also a trend for most, but not all, public universities listed below. Of the 23 public universities listed, only 8 have increased their sponsorship of national merit scholars year over year. One can sense a university’s receptiveness and willingness to buck the trend against awarding merit scholarships by view the year over year list below.

A longer list of public universities appears below.

The excellent private universities still awarding merit aid are willing to take the heat for sponsoring non- need-based students based on merit alone at a time when the inequities of scholarship funding have led to a greater emphasis on allocating funds mostly or entirely on a need-based scale.

Again, for many families, that trend is a good one; but for families with incomes in the mid six figures, for example, the ability to qualify for need-based aid may be negligible while the pinch on the family budget is still significant.

Many public elites have joined the Ivies in not providing their own funds to match or pay entirely for merit scholarships.  Among these schools are all the UC campuses, Virginia, Michigan, UT Austin, Washington, and more recently North Carolina, Ohio State, Illinois, and Georgia Tech.  At these universities, merit scholars may still receive non-need-based assistance, but it will not be in the form of university-sponsored merit funds.  These and other universities may also have some scholarships for valedictorians and other highly qualified scholars.

Of these leading public universities that do not sponsor merit scholars, UC Berkeley had the most enrolled merit scholars, 161, followed by UT Austin with 74. Among private universities, Harvard enrolled 233 merit scholars, Stanford 179, MIT 154, Yale 147, and Princeton 117.

The University of Wisconsin only sponsored 5 merit scholars in 2016, out of 17 enrolled at the university.

The University of Oklahoma returned in 2016 to the number 1 position in enrollment of national merit scholars among all universities public or private (279) and the number receiving university sponsorship (236).

Below is a list of public universities that still match or fund National Merit Scholars, regardless of need, and that had 25 or more university-sponsored merit scholars in 2016. We will list the university, followed by the total number of merit scholars in the 2015 report, followed again by the number of those scholars that also received school support based on the merit scholarship. Then we do the same for merit scholars in the same universities in 2016.

As a general rule, the higher the number of school-supported merit scholars, the greater the recruitment is for merit scholars. Colleges with a year over year increase in sponsored scholarships are in bold. All colleges are listed in order of their total merit scholar enrollment in 2016. A total of 16 of the 23 universities are in the South or Southwest.

Oklahoma (2015): 288 total, 240 with university sponsorship, (2016): 279 total, 236 with university sponsorship (still most in the nation).

Alabama (2015): 148 total, 120 with university sponsorship; (2016): 155 total, 135 with university sponsorship.

Florida (2015): 146 total, 113 with university sponsorship; (2016): 158 total, 119 with university sponsorship.

Minnesota (2015): 147 total, 115 with university sponsorship; (2016): 150 total, 113 with university sponsorship.

Purdue (2015): 94 total, 68 with university sponsorship; (2016): 125 total, 98 with university sponsorship.

Texas A&M (2015): 142 total, and 120 with university sponsorship; (2016): 122 total, 90 with university sponsorship.

UT Dallas (2015): 101 total, 78 with university sponsorship; (2016): 119 total, 94 with university sponsorship.

Arizona State (2015): 112 total, 94 with university sponsorship; (2016): 109 total, and 89 with university sponsorship.

Kentucky (2015): 111 total, 93 with university sponsorship; (2016): 99 total, 88 with university sponsorship.

Univ of Central Florida (2015): 69 total, 59 with university sponsorship; (2016): 77 total, 68 with university sponsorship.

Auburn (2015): 64 total, 51 with university sponsorship; (2016): 60 total, 52 with university sponsorship.

Maryland (2015): 61 total, 48 with university sponsorship; (2016): 52 total, 42 with university sponsorship.

Indiana (2015): 68 total, 50 with university sponsorship; (2016): 52 total, 38 with university sponsorship.

Cincinnati (2015): 44 total, 38 with university sponsorship; (2016): 50 total, 36 with university sponsorship.

Arkansas (2015): 37 total, 31 with university sponsorship; 2016: 45 total, 38 with university sponsorship.

Arizona (2015): 65 total, 57 with university sponsorship; (2016): 43 total, 37 with university sponsorship.

Clemson (2015): 55 total, 41 with university sponsorship; (2016): 43 total, 36 with university sponsorship.

Ole Miss (2015): 40 total, 34 with university sponsorship; (2016): 43 total, 30 with university sponsorship.

Georgia (2015): 42 total, 28 with university sponsorship; (2016): 39 total, 31 with university sponsorship.

Mississippi St (2015): 37 total, 33 with university sponsorship; (2016): 37 total, 29 with university sponsorship.

Nebraska (2015): 47 total, 41 with university sponsorship; (2016): 36 total, 31 with university sponsorship.

South Carolina (2015): 46 total, 33 with university sponsorship; (2016): 36 total, 31 with university sponsorship.

Michigan State (2015): 43 total, 36 with university sponsorship; (2016): 34 total, 30 with university sponsorship.