There seems to be a lot of confusion about notifying National Merit of your first choice college. As I’ve spent several hours researching this already, I decided to summarize what I’ve learned in case it will help others. I welcome comments, particularly (nice) corrections of any mistakes I’ve made! For readability, I’ve included sources at the end and designated them with lower-case letters in parentheses. If you have a correction, please provide your source.
Thank you to mazewanderer who explained the timing of the awards and the idea of NMSC and non-NMSC components (also called Extra Goodies) in this thread: If I report a first choice school...
. The whole thread is worth reading. My post here is an attempt to put all the factors in one place for easy reading and to include examples from specific colleges. If you have a true first choice:
If you have a true first choice college, you should submit your first choice to NM as soon as possible if:
1. Your first choice college places great importance on demonstrated interest and admission to that college is more important to you than maximizing your potential NM scholarship money,
2. You already know which college you’ll be attending, for such reasons as having been admitted Early Decision, having committed to play your sport for a particular college, or having decided to accept a scholarship to one of the colleges offering generous scholarships to all NM Finalists, such as the University of Alabama. If neither condition applies:
If neither of these conditions applies to you, then you should consider the following factors:
1. NM requires you to report your first choice college before you can receive any NM scholarship (even a NM $2500 scholarship or a corporate-sponsored scholarship) because NM scholarships can be used only for accredited colleges. (a) My experience is that the NMSC will send you a letter and/or call you if you are being considered for a $2500 NM scholarship or a corporate-sponsored NM scholarship but have not yet provided NM with a first choice college. I also found the NMSC representative to whom I spoke to be knowledgeable and friendly.
2. If you are offered a NM scholarship of any type, you cannot be offered another official NM scholarship. (a)
3. As a result, if you are offered a college-sponsored NM scholarship and choose to attend a different college, you cannot receive any official NM scholarship. (a)
4. You don’t need to worry that getting a $2500 NM scholarship or a corporate-sponsored NM scholarship will preclude you from receiving the half-tuition scholarship or full-ride your first choice college offers to NM Finalists. There is a difference between an official NM scholarship (offered through the NM Scholarship Corporation) and a college’s larger scholarship that is automatically available to all NM Finalists who are admitted and list the college as their first choice. One difference is that the official college-sponsored NM scholarship is limited to $2,000 per year. (b) Therefore, being offered a $2500 NM scholarship or a corporate-sponsored NM scholarship can preclude you from receiving at most $2,000/year, or $8,000, from a college-sponsored scholarship.
For example, the University of Alabama offers NMFs a $1,000/year University NM Scholarship (the NMSC component), but in addition offers NMFs Extra Goodies (thanks, mazewanderer) such as the value of tuition, housing, a $2,000 summer allowance and other benefits. (c) While receiving a $2500 NM scholarship, for example, could preclude you from receiving that $1,000/year at Alabama, that is all it could preclude you from receiving. As a result, being offered an official NM scholarship does not preclude you from receiving other, separate, non-official-NMSC benefits that you qualified for by virtue of your NMF status, such as free tuition, housing or a laptop. Of course, with this much money at stake, you should confirm this yourself with your first-choice college.
5. Different colleges treat your receipt of an official $2500 NM scholarship or corporate-sponsored NM scholarship differently. My research has turned up four options, described below. As with item 4, above, you should search the websites of the colleges to which you’ve applied or contact their financial aid offices to determine their policies.
i) Being offered an official $2500 NM scholarship or corporate-sponsored NM scholarship precludes you from receiving a college-sponsored NM scholarship, but you could still receive a scholarship with a different title because of your NMF status. For example, at the University of Richmond, you wouldn’t be eligible for a NM Scholarship in these circumstances, but you may receive a UR Honors Scholarship ranging from $750 to $2,000 per year. (d)
Students who are selected for a National Merit Scholarship from another sponsor may not receive a National Merit Scholarship from Richmond. However, such students may still receive a UR Honors Scholarship from Richmond. These scholarships range from $750 to $2,000 per year and are renewable for up to eight consecutive semesters of full-time undergraduate study.
ii) Being offered an official $2500 NM scholarship or corporate-sponsored NM scholarship precludes you from receiving any other college-sponsored scholarship based on your NMF status. For example, Harvey Mudd’s website (e) says:
HMC National Merit Scholarships are awarded to National Merit finalists who name HMC as their first-choice school and who do not receive either a corporate-sponsored or a one-time National Merit Scholarship Corporation scholarship.
Similarly, Georgia Tech's website (f) says:
The National Merit Scholarship Program supports four-year scholarships which are awarded to National Merit finalists who identify Georgia Tech as their first-choice college and who are not chosen for another National Merit/Achievement award.
iii) A combination of the two: You can receive a $2500 NM scholarship your first year instead of the $1000 the college would offer you that year; then the college will give you $1000 for the subsequent three years. However, receiving a corporate-sponsored NM scholarship would mean that you would not be eligible for any additional scholarships relating to your NM status. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill's website (g) says:
College-Sponsored National Merit Awards are annual awards of $1,000 (or $2,000 in the case of substantial financial need) to National Merit finalists who have not been offered another type of National Merit award and have notified the National Merit Scholarship Corporation that UNC-Chapel Hill is their first college choice. Recipients of National Merit’s one-time $2,500 Merit Scholarship will be eligible to receive the annual $1,000 college-sponsored award after their freshman year.
iv) A college gives no awards based on National Merit status anyway, so receiving an official $2500 NM scholarship or corporate-sponsored NM scholarship has no effect on what you would receive from the college. Examples are Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Yale and the University of Virginia. While it is hard to prove a negative, you can look for confirmation on the NM student guide, pages 18 and 19, where you will not see these colleges included on the list of colleges that sponsor NM Scholarships. (b)
6. All National Merit $2500 Scholarships and almost all corporate-sponsored awards are transferable from one regionally accredited U.S. institution to another, but college-sponsored awards are not. (a)
7. NMSC mails corporate-sponsored NM scholarship offers before $2500 NM scholarship offers, which are in turn mailed before college-sponsored NM scholarship offers. (a) This year, corporate-sponsored NM scholarships offers were mailed beginning March 9, $2500 NM scholarship offers will be mailed beginning March 24, and college-sponsored NM scholarship offers will be mailed beginning April 27. (a) As I interpret this, it would be impossible to receive a college-sponsored offer that would preclude you from receiving a corporate-sponsored NM scholarship or a $2500 NM scholarship.
8. It is possible to register your college choice as “undecided.” (a) However, consider item 1 in this list if you choose to do so. Conclusion and Application
You should consider the factors described above when determining which college to report as your first choice. I researched the NM policies of all my D’s potential colleges before she submitted her choice. Because she likes many of her potential colleges equally, has not heard from all the colleges to which she applied and wants to maximize the transferability of any scholarship she might receive, she chose a college that she’d love to attend if admitted and that gives no awards based on NM status anyway. As a result, it would not be possible for her to receive a college-sponsored NM scholarship offer that she could not use if she didn’t get admitted or if she ultimately chooses a different college when all the results are in.
I greatly appreciate the contributions of so many people on College Confidential, and hope this will be helpful to others!
Sources: (a) http://www.nationalmerit.org/Merit_R&I_Leaflet.pdf
(2010; I couldn’t find the 2009 guide online; the date on the front relates to the year one takes the qualifying PSAT).
(c) Top Scholars Program - The University of Alabama
(e)HMC Merit-Based Awards
(f) Georgia Institute of Technology :: Financial Aid :: Scholarships :: National Merit
(g) The Office of Scholarships & Student Aid at UNC-Chapel Hill