National Merit Scholarship First Choice School

I saw a graph on the NMSC website that indicates within 15,000 finalists, only around 7,600 gets one of the three types of scholarships out there. After seeing the cutoff for my class (2021), I scored above the cutoff point for my state and I have confirming SAT as well as ACT scores so its pretty safe for me to assume that I will be named a finalist.
Many colleges say that they will offer scholarship to NMF who designate their school as FIRST CHOICE ranging from 10k-full ride. My question is, does all the 15,000 finalists get a chance to put down a school as their first choice or only part of the 7,600 merit scholarship winners who wins the college sponsored merit scholarship (4,600 according to NMSC) get to do that?

Sorry if it sounds confusing, I am not very familiar with the processes and term.
The source I used is

If you are accepted to a school which offers a college sponsored scholarship, and you choose that school as your first choice by whatever deadline the college designates, you will get that scholarship. The deadline is usually May 1, but can be earlier depending on the college. The reason that not all of the finalists make it to scholar status is because 1) they do not get either a corporate or the NM $2500 scholarship and 2) they do not attend a sponsor college. For example, if a student chooses Harvard, and doesn’t get either a corporate or NM sponsor scholarship, he/she does not become a scholar bc Harvard is not a college sponsor.

So all finalists get a chance to choose first choice college but only some end up going to where scholarships are offered to them is what your saying?

Yes, that is what @amsunshine is saying. To recap:

There are 3 NM scholarships that make you a National Merit SCHOLAR from a National Merit FINALIST:

1/2: NM $2500 scholarship or NM Corporate Scholarship-These can be used at any school (“portable” scholarships.)

3: College-sponsored scholarship: If you don’t receive any of the other two scholarships AND go to a school that offers NM scholarships (such as the Florida schools,) you will receive a NM College-sponsored scholarship to designate you as a NMS. To have this happen, you’ll need to designate this college as your first-choice with NMSC by the college’s own deadline (typically May 31st, although BU is a notable example of an earlier deadline.)

At this point, it’s safer to either indicate a college that doesn’t offer a NM scholarship at all (such as an Ivy, if you’re applying ED anywhere,) or “UNDECIDED,” as once NMSC processes your first-choice college choice (typically in the Spring,) you cannot receive a different NM college scholarship even if you decide to go to a different NM school.
This is why most students wait until they are 110% certain of the school they’re going to, and the deadline to select your first choice school (for most colleges) is May 31st.

Theoretically, all 15,000 of the NMFs could become NMS, merely by attending a college that offers NM scholarships. However, many NM attend schools that don’t offer NM scholarships, and if they don’t receive one of the portable scholarships, they do not become a NMS and stay a NMF: this accounts for the ~50% of students that don’t become a NMS.

Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions, as I became a NMS this year.

This answers it, thank you so much.

I thought you could change colleges anytime you want up until around May 1. If that’s the case, why couldn’t you list a college sponsor as your 1st choice as you can change before May 1? Are you saying that NM would give your name to your 1st choice college on Mar 1, and that 1st choice college could turn around and ‘claim’ you with a college sponsored NM scholarship right away (before May 1 and possibly even before you knew if you got a regular NM $2,500 scholarship) to bind you to their school?
Does it matter if your other college choices are not sponsors?

I think once the list is sent to the current first choice college, it cannot be changed anymore regardless whether/what school decides to offer. When in doubt about which sponsor college to join, it is best to wait till that decision is made, keeping in mind the deadline the college(s) may have. I was told by the NMSQT you would be offered the NM $2500 first because it is not binding on any institution which the finalist may accept or decline. Depending upon this choice, he/she will continue to be in reckoning for the college or corporate awards.

I am not 100% sure about the point Pichachu Rocks makes. When I went through this 3 years ago, the discussion at the time was that you could indeed change at any time. The big “but” is that if you change schools after the initial list (each NMF’s preference) is sent out, you may get a delayed answer from the ‘new’ first choice.

Say you select USC as your first choice in February. The list of preferences is sent out in March (I think). In April, you find out you were not accepted to USC. Now, you change to UT Dallas. Why should a student get punished for selecting early? I don’t think they do. For one of my DS, he selected a UC first choice (they don’t even participate). He was rejected there. ASU said for them to offer him the scholarship, he needed to select them as #1. He did so that day and two days later we got the offer letter.

At the end of the day, stay in contact with your top choices and get advice from the admissions recruiters.