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.





Truman Scholars 2013: LSU Students Win Two, N. Carolina and UT Austin Roll On

This year’s Truman Scholars have been announced, and LSU leads all public universities with two Truman awards in 2013. Only 62 awards were granted this year, out of more than 629 applicants, so winning even one award is a high achievement.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leads all public universities in the total number of Truman Scholarships. The University of Texas at Austin is next. Students from each of these institutions won a Truman scholarships in 2013.

The scholarship provides up to $30,000 to students pursuing graduate degrees, as well as leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, special internship opportunities and priority admission at many graduate institutions.

Well-known winners of the award include ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and The New Republic senior editor Noam Scheiber.

Iowa, Maryland, Montana, Rutgers, and Vermont have each had a Truman scholar in both 2012 and 2013. The University of Washington had two Truman scholars in 2012.

Other public universities with Truman scholarship winners in 2013 are as follows: Auburn, Arkansas, Delaware, New College of Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, Southern Mississippi, Montana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Angelo State, UC Berkeley, and Utah State.

Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, and Minnesota also have an especially notable history of winning Truman awards.

University Leaders in National Science Foundation Grants

With the national interest so focused on developing talent in the STEM disciplines and the “hard” social sciences (e.g., economics, behavioral sciences), we have been tracking the number of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Grants awarded to universities during the last three years.

NSF graduate research grants are among the most prestigious and valuable awards given to outstanding students.  They also indicate the quality of faculty and facilities and the degree of attention and mentoring that may be available to high-achieving undergraduate researchers.

“Fellows share in the prestige and opportunities that become available when they are selected.  Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $30,000 along with a $10,500 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development, and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

“NSF Fellows are anticipated to become knowledge experts who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering. These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.”

From our review, definite university leaders have emerged among both public and private institutions, foremost among them the University of California Berkeley, the overall leader by a large margin in the number of NSF grants during the past three years among all universities in the nation.  Other public university leaders are UT Austin, Washington, Michigan, Georgia Tech, and Wisconsin.

Below is a listing of all universities, public and private, with at least 40 NSF research grant winners the past three years:

UC Berkeley–229



UT Austin–108





Georgia Tech–83










UC Davis–60


UC San Diego–59


Johns Hopkins–54

Arizona State–53





Ohio State–45


North Carolina State–43

Carnegie Mellon–42

North Carolina–41


UC Santa Barbara–40

Arizona, Montana State and Minnesota Lead in 2013 Udall, Goldwater Awards Combined

Each year we recognize public universities that have the most winners of the two most prestigious undergraduate awards: Goldwater and Udall Scholarships.  The former is valued at $7,500 and goes to STEM students in their sophomore and junior years, and the later, valued at $5,000, is primarily for undergrad environmental research.

We consider the awards to be especially noteworthy because they are indicators of undergraduate research opportunities and mentoring, so important for postgraduate awards and careers.

In 2013, the University of Arizona, Montana State University, and the University of Minnesota each had five students who won either Goldwater or Udall awards.

North Carolina State, Pitt, and Wisconsin each had four students who earned one of the awards.  North Carolina State has been especially strong in this area for two years running.

Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon State, South Carolina, UT Austin, and Washington State all had students who earned three prestigious awards.  Georgia, like North Carolina State, is building a strong record of achievement in this area.

Udall Scholars 2013: Univ of New Mexico Leads, Arizona and Georgia Best Last Two Years

The year 2013 yielded a smaller list of Udall Scholars than in the past, only 50 nationwide, versus 80 awarded in previous years.  The University of New Mexico led all universities, public and private, by winning three scholarships this year.

Udall scholarships valued at up to $5,000  are awarded to sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers related to the environment, tribal public policy, or Native American health care. Many of the awards are for environmental research.

The universities of Arizona, California Berkeley, Georgia, and Minnesota each had two student Udall winners in 2013.

During the past two years, the University of Arizona and the University of Georgia have seen five students earn Udall awards, leading all public universities.

Below is a list of public universities with two or more total Udall winners in the last two years:

Georgia–2013 (2); 2012 (3)

Arizona–2013 (2); 2012 (3)

New Mexico–2013 (3)

Arizona State–2013 (1); 2013 (2)

Minnesota–2013 (2); 2012 (1)

North Carolina State–2013 (1); 2012 (2)

Illinois–2013 (1); 2012 (1)

Arkansas–2013 (1); 2012 (1)

Pitt–2013 (1); 2012 (1)





Goldwater Scholarships 2013: Public University Leaders

The most prestigious undergraduate scholarship is awarded annually by the Barry M. Goldwater Foundation to outstanding students majoring in mathematics, science, engineering, or computer science, and this year eight of the major universities we follow on this site won three awards each.

Public universities with three Goldwater scholars for 2013 are Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Oregon State, Pitt, UT Austin, Washington State, and Wisconsin.  The leader among all public universities is Montana State University, with the maximum number of scholarships allowed–four.  North Carolina State is the overall leader the past two years, with a total of seven Goldwater scholars.

The Goldwater awards are important indicators of the value of undergraduate research and the attention young scholars receive.  Out of 271 of the $7,500 scholarships awarded in 2013, a total of 159 went to science majors; 71 to engineering majors; 27 to math majors; and 14 to computer science majors.

Goldwater scholars are also highly represented among winners of graduate awards such as Rhodes, Marshall, and Churchill scholarships.  In recent years, 80 Goldwater winners have also won Rhodes scholarships; 118 have earned Marshall scholarships; and an extremely high number of 110 Goldwater scholars have gone on to win Churchill scholarships.

Below is a list of the universities we follow that have at least four Goldwater awards in the last two years.

North Carolina State: 2013 (3); 2012 (4)

Kansas: 2013 (2); 2012 (4)

Minnesota: 2013 (3); 2012 (3)

Nebraska: 2013 (2); 2012 (4)

Pitt: 2013 (3); 2012 (3)

UT Austin: 2013 (3); 2012 (3)

Colorado: 2013 (3); 2012 (2)

Oregon State: 2013 (3); 2012 (2)

Michigan: 2013 (3); 2012 (2)

Wisconsin: 2013 (3); 2012 (2)

Alabama: 2013 (2); 2012 (3)

Washington State: 2013 (2); 2012 (3)

Georgia: 2013 (1); 2012 (4)

Maryland: 2013 (3); 2012 (2)

South Carolina: 2013 (2); 2012 (3)

Clemson: 2013 (2); 2012 (2)

Illinois: 2013 (2); 2012 (2)

UMass Amherst: 2013 (1); 2012 (3)

Michigan State: 2013 (2); 2012 (2)

Ohio State: 2013 (1); 2012 (3)

Rutgers: 2013 (2); 2012 (2)

UC San Diego: 2013 (2); 2012 (2)