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.