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The art of waiting to name a First Choice School

baywoodbaywood 43 replies24 threads Junior Member
edited January 2012 in National Merit Scholarships
I've seen references on CC about the art and science of waiting to choose a first choice school for National Merit Finalists, while waiting for acceptances and scholarship offers to arrive in the Spring, but I haven't seen where the advice is spelled out simply and understandably. What should the NM folks be told at the moment, how long can one remain undecided, is there a time problem with notifying NM while still evaluating offers the end of April? Can someone(s) either provide a link, or start the advice anew? Thanks so much. - John
edited January 2012
15 replies
Post edited by baywood on
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Replies to: The art of waiting to name a First Choice School

  • Wolverine86Wolverine86 2150 replies46 threads Senior Member
    John...I think part of the reason why there's not really one "straightforward" strategy for naming a first-choice school is that so much depends on which schools the student is really considering. FWIW...here's my two cents. Fully expect that some others will have different advice. It just depends on your perspective.

    1. If you're primarily looking at schools that DO NOT offer high $$ NMF scholarships (HYPSM, most LACs, etc.) ...there's probably no need to list a first choice school until you're nearing the NMSC deadline (usually around April 1). In this instance, you're probably only interested in the one-time $2500 scholarship or perhaps a corporate scholarship if your family qualifies. Which school you eventually list as first choice will probably not affect the award of either scholarship in this case.

    2. If you're planning to attend a school that DOES offer high $$ NMF scholarships...now it depends. If there is one school that is head and shoulders above all others because of their scholarship (Alabama for instance) and you'll definitely attend there, the choice is easy...list it now. If there are several that you're considering, you're probably best off leaving it as "Undecided" until you see what the overall packages offered by the schools are. Most of the NMF scholarship schools only require the student to APPLY by their priority scholarship deadline and "eventually" list them as a first choice, but read the university's scholarship info closely. IF one of them wants you to list them as a first choice by an earlier deadline in order to be considered for their NMF money, my personal opinion would be to do so. Listing College A as a first choice early (if they require it) usually WILL NOT affect whether or not you get offered a scholarship by College B. If none of them want you to make an early first choice...leave it as "Undecided" and wait to compare packages.

    3. (or maybe 2a). If one of the schools you're considering offers good NMF money but has a limited number of scholarships to offer...you may want to consider listing them as a first choice now to improve your chances of getting one of those limited numbers. You can only be AWARDED one official NMSC scholarship, but you can be OFFERED NMF money by any number of schools. The scholarship is not considered AWARDED until NMSC sends you notification in the late spring, so if you can improve your chances of being OFFERED scholarships by listing a first choice now do so...and change the designation to your final choice school before the official deadline.

    Regarding the $2500 one-time awards...no one really knows exactly how these awards are distributed. It's possible that having a non-NMF school listed as your first choice kicks you into the pool for consideration, but no one knows. If you're hoping to get one of those awards, it truly seems to be a crap shoot. No particular rhyme or reason to who gets them as far as we can tell (i.e. no particular PSAT/SAT score, GPA level, etc.). Good Luck to you as you narrow down the field!!
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  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids Forum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama 84326 replies1049 threads Forum Champion
    The only real concern AT THIS POINT in time is IF any of your desired schools requires it to be named as first choice by an early date in order to be considered for one of their limited NMF scholarships.

    So, if School A requires it to be named as First choice by Feb 1st for scholarship consideration, then go ahead and name them. If you decide in April that you now want to go to School B, then submit a change in your FIRST CHOICE school. You can change your first choice school several times. The form is on the NMCorp website and you fax it in.

    However, if your schools don't have an early date req't, then you don't have to name a school until May 1st (but I wouldn't wait til THAT date - do it as soon as you decide your school.)
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  • mathmomvtmathmomvt 4295 replies246 threads Senior Member
    I was confused about one point last year when my son was a NMF. Is there a risk in naming school A, that wants to be named by an early date, that they would "award" the student the money and thus take them out of the running for the awards at all their other schools? Wolverine makes a distinction between being "offered" and "awarded" a scholarship, but I was never clear if this was actually under the student's control.

    We were lucky that all of my son's schools had a late April date to decide by, so he was able to decide where he was going before naming his first choice school. But my friend's son had one school that insisted on an earlier deadline, and he decided to let that one go rather than risk being "locked in" by being awarded a scholarship by a school that might not end up being his first choice.
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  • Wolverine86Wolverine86 2150 replies46 threads Senior Member
    mathmom...Based on our experience, there is a distinction between the two. Unless the school requires a first choice selection to make their offer, you can list College A to facilitate their offer without it affecting offers from College B, C, etc.

    D1 had her first choice college listed early on in the process yet still received scholarship packages listing NMF money from all the schools she applied to which offered NMF money. Her first choice school didn't REQUIRE early selection for the scholarship consideration, but she listed them and informed them to demonstrate her interest level in the school.

    I haven't seen it listed anywhere exactly when/how in the NMF process NMSC communicates with a student's first choice school to let them know about the selection. I'd be curious to know whether NMSC notifies the school, or if the school says "We're ready to send out an offer to Student X...let's see if they listed us as first choice with NMSC?"

    It seems like many schools send out estimated packages (which include NMF scholarships ASSUMING the student will list them as first choice) and then finalize the package later on in the spring (once acceptance fees are paid, first choices are finalized, etc.) In D1's case, her first choice school sent an estimate by snail mail and then the official scholarship package came via E-FAN (electronic financial aid notification).

    Again, this is based on our experience...but there were several anecdotal posts in various NM threads which supported it as well. I imagine every school would like to have a student list them as a first choice as early as possible, but most seem to be fairly understanding of the student's desire to weigh all their options.
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  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids Forum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama 84326 replies1049 threads Forum Champion
    I was confused about one point last year when my son was a NMF. Is there a risk in naming school A, that wants to be named by an early date, that they would "award" the student the money and thus take them out of the running for the awards at all their other schools? Wolverine makes a distinction between being "offered" and "awarded" a scholarship, but I was never clear if this was actually under the student's control.



    Are you talking about "other schools" that also require early "naming" dates or schools that award to all NMFs that attend and name by May 1st?

    If none of your schools require that you name them by a certain date, then you can be "undecided" til May 1st.
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  • mathmomvtmathmomvt 4295 replies246 threads Senior Member
    The question I had was about the case where a student is undecided between schools A, B, and C. Only A has an early "naming" date. If the student names A early, could A award the scholarship early, making it impossible for B and C to give the student a scholarship?

    I did learn that this isn't as critical as it sounds. If B and C are giving out major scholarships (full tuition, 15K/year, etc.) those are not "official" NMF scholarships. There will be an official part of about 1K/year, and an "extra" part the the school awards beyond the official part. Usually you could get all but the "official" part even if you somehow mess up the selection and get disqualified from the official part by getting awarded something else (that you maybe can't use) as your official NMF scholarship.

    Our experience was different than Wolverine's. Our S sent a copy of his NMF notification letter to all his schools that offered NM scholarships as soon as he got it. However, NONE of them sent him a scholarship offer that included a NM scholarship "assuming" that he would name them as his first choice. (In all cases he got a different (lower) scholarship offer based on his stats or other factors without NMF.) In each case we had to contact the school and confirm exactly what he would be awarded (and what it would replace from the offer he had been sent) IF he named them his top choice and attended.

    My understanding is that NMF sends out the "first choices" in batches on several dates throughout the winter and spring. A school that lists an early "naming" date is forcing the students to be in an early batch.

    Even if they sent out your name in an early batch, you can still change your choice. I don't know the exact mechanics of that if they've already sent your name to another school, but I'm pretty sure that does not prevent you from changing.
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  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids Forum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama 84326 replies1049 threads Forum Champion
    If the student names A early, could A award the scholarship early, making it impossible for B and C to give the student a scholarship?



    I think it's a semantics thing. I don't think an "offered" scholarship is an "awarded" scholarship. I don't think a scholarship is actually awarded until the student accepts admission at the school.

    And, as you've mentioned, the huge NMF scholarship isn't the "official" part. Usually the "official" part is about $1k per year or so.
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  • SchokoladeSchokolade 1075 replies36 threads Senior Member
    OP--Here is the link to a thread that I started last year on this topic, when my D was considering which college to name. There are good additional comments beyond the first post, so you should probably read the entire thread. http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/national-merit-scholarships/1103731-how-choose-your-first-choice-college-national-merit-purposes.html

    I am a great admirer of mom2collegekids for all the time that she spends helping others on CC! I agree with just about everything written by mom2collegekids that I've ever read, except this one little thing. The NM materials state that a student can be "offered" only one official NM scholarship, so it is important to keep this in mind when submitting one's first choice, and not mere semantics. She is correct, of course, in noting that this does not apply to the huge unofficial scholarships some colleges offer.

    Below is the basis for my point that it is indeed important that a student not be offered an official NM scholarship from one source if he believes he would probably be offered a larger official NM scholarship from another source, from this official NM publication: http://www.nationalmerit.org/Merit_R&I_Leaflet.pdf
    REPORT OF A SPONSOR COLLEGE AS FIRST CHOICE
    Consideration for a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award is limited to Semifinalists who qualify as Finalists and who also
    1. report to NMSC that a sponsor college is their first choice (see the list of college sponsors included in the “Competition Instructions” section of the National Merit Scholarship Application);
    2. have applied for admission to the sponsor college; and
    3. have not been offered any other National Merit Scholarship (corporate-sponsored, National, or another college-sponsored award). No student will receive more than one scholarship offer from NMSC.
    NOTE: If NMSC receives notification of a change in college choice from a Finalist after mailing a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship offer to that student, the Finalist cannot be offered another college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award. This applies even if the new choice of college is one that also sponsors Merit Scholarship awards. Therefore, a Finalist who has previously reported a sponsor college as first choice but is uncertain about it may choose to notify NMSC that he/she is now “undecided”; such notification must be received at NMSC, via mail or by fax to (847) 866-5113, before April 25. The Finalist can subse- quently report a firm college choice that NMSC receives by May 31.
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  • mathmomvtmathmomvt 4295 replies246 threads Senior Member
    Thanks, Schokolade, that confirms my impression from last year that it could be a problem to be offered the "wrong" scholarship early.
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  • mathmomvtmathmomvt 4295 replies246 threads Senior Member
    Our experience was different than Wolverine's. Our S sent a copy of his NMF notification letter to all his schools that offered NM scholarships as soon as he got it. However, NONE of them sent him a scholarship offer that included a NM scholarship "assuming" that he would name them as his first choice. (In all cases he got a different (lower) scholarship offer based on his stats or other factors without NMF.) In each case we had to contact the school and confirm exactly what he would be awarded (and what it would replace from the offer he had been sent) IF he named them his top choice and attended.

    Also just clarifying our experience, none of his schools mentioned his NMF status in their initial offers, or volunteered the information about what his scholarship would be if he named them as his first choice. We had to contact each school to clarify that (find out if anything he had already been offered would "stack" with the NMF scholarship, for example.)
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  • MD MomMD Mom 6644 replies84 threads Senior Member
    I agree with Wolverine's observations. I would add that my daughter listed her first choice school early in hopes that if the school was notified, it would help her chances for the school's other merit money. I would add that the strategy did not appear to have worked.
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  • Wolverine86Wolverine86 2150 replies46 threads Senior Member
    That's why it's so tough to come up with a coherent strategy for naming a first-choice school when you're considering many that offer the $1K-$2K per year "official" NMSC scholarship. Depending on which schools an individual is considering, your mileage may vary. In any case, it seems like folks "should" be safe until the early April time frame, since even NMSC's own info that Schokolade quotes states that if a change is received "after MAILING a college-sponsored award...". I believe the mailings for the college sponsored awards occured in late April last year, although we knew well in advance of that D1 would get those additional funds. Can't say as I miss the "fun" of the waiting game. In our case at least it was a little easier since the bigger $$ "unofficial" scholarships were much more of a deciding factor for us than the one-time $2500 or the $1K-$2K per year were. Hang in there OP...it's a good dilemma to have!!
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  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids Forum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama 84326 replies1049 threads Forum Champion
    Thank you for your kind words. :)


    The NM materials state that a student can be "offered" only one official NM scholarship, so it is important to keep this in mind when submitting one's first choice, and not mere semantics. She is correct, of course, in noting that this does not apply to the huge unofficial scholarships some colleges offer.




    Unless I'm wrong on this issue.....I still think the word "offered" means accepted/awarded. My son was offered NUMEROUS NMF scholarships with "official NMF merit"...he only accepted ONE and only ONE was awarded.

    Students can't help it if a bunch of schools offer them a NMF scholarship...even the ones with "official" parts. If you apply to several schools that then offer NMF scholarships, you're not "tied" to the one who happened to send out the offer first.

    NMCorp is VERY GOOD about working with you with this whole thing. NMCorp called our home to figure out which offer would benefit my son the best. My son was also offered an official NMF corporate scholarship....so, in the end, he was offered several official school NMF scholarships and one official corporate one. But, he only accepted the corporate one.


    What NMCorp means by that statement is that you can't accept more than one official NMF scholarship. My son accepted the "unoffical part" of Bama's NMF scholarship (so Bama took away the $1k part that was official), and accepted the OFFICIAL corporate one....because that gave him the most money. NMCorp told us to do it that way on the phone....they called us.


    Frankly, I think the schools who offer official NMF merit (with or without non-official) scholarships know the dance. They send out letters offering these NMF scholarships, but the offer isn't really formal until the student accepts it.


    I think if this were a problem, we'd have kids posting that they weren't being allowed to change their schools after an offer was made.

    I know for a fact that Bama got an Oklahoma-bound NMF shortly before the May 1st deadline. The student had been offered the UO NMF merit (which includes an official part) and was intending on going to OU.

    In April, she heard about Bama's NMF merit, visited Bama, and changed her mind and got Bama's NMF scholarship....including the official part.
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  • mathmomvtmathmomvt 4295 replies246 threads Senior Member
    Unless I'm wrong on this issue.....I still think the word "offered" means accepted/awarded. My son was offered NUMEROUS NMF scholarships with "official NMF merit"...he only accepted ONE and only ONE was awarded.

    I think the difference is between being told "if you name us your first choice we'll give you $X scholarship", and HAVING already named the school your first choice and getting mailed an official scholarship offer by NMSC. NMSC is quite clear that if the latter happens, the student can't later change their first choice and be awarded another official school-based NM scholarship for a different school.
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  • SchokoladeSchokolade 1075 replies36 threads Senior Member
    I think the confusion arises because the term "offered" can be interpreted two ways: an offer from a college directly to a student, and an offer from NM for a specific scholarship (whether a corporate scholarship, $2500 scholarship or college-sponsored official, usually about $1000, scholarship).

    At the same time, the examples given by mom2collegekids seem to indicate there is some flexibility on the part of NM, despite the language to the contrary in its publication that I quoted earlier. She brings up a good point: the NM people can be very helpful. I don't think NM is trying to trick anyone. I learned a lot when I called NM on behalf of my daughter at this time last year, and would recommend doing so to anyone who has a question about the process.
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