Schools Enrolling Most 2020 National Merit Scholars

The 2019-2020 National Merit Annual Report is finally out. Here’s the colleges who enrolled the most Class of 2020 National Merit Scholars — number of 2019 scholars in parentheses:

  1. University of Florida – 342 (270)
  2. University of Southern California – 316 (265)
  3. University of Chicago – 241 (233)
  4. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa – 223 (258)
  5. Northwestern University – 216 (244)
  6. Vanderbilt University – 214 (222)
  7. University of Texas at Dallas – 197 (200)
  8. Texas A&M University – 195 (188)
  9. Harvard University – 183 (207)
  10. Stanford University – 172 (124)
  11. Yale University – 164 (140)
  12. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – 159 (134)
  13. University of Pennsylvania – 142 (126)
  14. Northeastern University – 130 (155)
  15. Purdue University – 127 (116)
  16. Duke University – 121 (119)
  17. University of Minnesota Twin Cities – 112 (107)
  18. Princeton University – 108 (114)
  19. Arizona State University – 99 (136)
  20. University of California, Berkeley – 96 (132)
  21. Georgia Institute of Technology – 95 (88)
  22. University of Oklahoma – 91 (87)
  23. University of Central Florida – 83 (91)
  24. University of Texas at Austin – 79 (85)
    University of California, Los Angeles – 79 (79)
    Emory University – 79 (67)
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Biggest gains, 2019 to 2020:

  1. University of Florida – 72 (270 to 342)
  2. University of Southern California – 51 (265 to 316)
  3. Stanford University – 48 (124 to 172)
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – 25 (134 to 159)
  5. Tufts University – 25 (38 to 63)
  6. Yale University – 24 (140 to 164)
  7. Florida State University – 22 (20 to 42)
  8. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville – 19 (39 to 58)
  9. Mississippi State University – 18 (31 to 49)
  10. University of Pennsylvania – 16 (126 to 142)

Biggest losses, 2019 to 2020:

  1. Arizona State University – 37 (136 to 99)
  2. University of California, Berkeley – 36 (132 to 96)
  3. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa – 35 (258 to 223)
  4. Baylor University – 31 (38 to 7)
  5. Northwestern University – 28 (244 to 216)
  6. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey – 26 (55 to 29)
  7. Northeastern University – 25 (155 to 130)
  8. Harvard University – 24 (207 to 183)
  9. Fordham University – 24 (63 to 39)
  10. University of Maryland, College Park – 18 (87 to 69)

Biggest gains, 2015 to 2020:

  1. University of Florida – 196 (146 to 342)
  2. University of Texas at Dallas – 96 (101 to 197)
  3. University of Southern California – 90 (226 to 316)
  4. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa – 75 (148 to 223)
  5. Texas A&M University – 53 (142 to 195)
  6. Northeastern University – 45 (85 to 130)
  7. Boston University – 37 (35 to 72)
  8. Georgia Institute of Technology – 36 (59 to 95)
  9. University of California, Los Angeles – 36 (43 to 79)
  10. Purdue University – 33 (94 to 127)

Biggest losses, 2015 to 2020:

  1. University of Oklahoma – 197 (288 to 91)
  2. Baylor University – 68 (75 to 7)
  3. University of Chicago – 53 (294 to 241)
  4. University of Kentucky – 46 (111 to 65)
  5. Princeton University – 38 (146 to 108)
  6. University of Minnesota Twin Cities – 35 (147 to 112)
  7. Auburn University – 34 (64 to 30)
  8. University of California, Berkeley – 33 (129 to 96)
  9. University of Tulsa – 27 (35 to 8)
  10. Harvard University – 26 (209 to 183)

My master spreadsheet, if anyone wants to dive more into the numbers: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10mEvJutJsMyQC0V5MfMvwSuLD7bodTDcAWDPSNslvsA/edit?usp=sharing

Is National Merit scholarship really indicative of anything? Isn’t it just a certain psat score? However thank you for this, I’m sure it took awhile.

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The numbers are interesting to me mostly as a cause/effect on how much the colleges offer to NMF (see Oklahoma/Baylor the past five years). And, as a parent of a kid who’s almost certainly a NMSF next year, it’s useful to see where other kids in his situation are attending (three years removed, but still).

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@mdpmdp thanks for all of the stats! Very interesting to see the trends.

Definitely shows which schools are prioritizing academics (for those non-elite schools) and trying to recruit NMS.

Univ of Central Florida’s current numbers supposedly are 340 NMS enrolled.

UCF is ranked among the top 25 colleges in the nation – 9th among public universities – and second in Florida for its number of enrolled National Merit Scholars.

Ah! Per year stats, sorry - that’s what happens when I skim.

UCF did dramatically change their packages for OOS, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens for them. Florida’s funding forced them to adjust.

Since you mentioned it…largest four-year NMS enrollments from 2017-2020:

  1. University of Southern California (1114)
  2. University of Florida (1045)
  3. University of Chicago (982)
  4. Vanderbilt University (837)
  5. Northwestern University (832)
  6. Harvard University (804)
  7. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa (800)
  8. University of Texas at Dallas (732)
  9. Texas A&M University (709)
  10. University of Oklahoma (651)
  11. Stanford University (621)
  12. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (596)
  13. Yale University (584)
  14. Northeastern University (556)
  15. Purdue University (517)
  16. University of Minnesota Twin Cities (515)
  17. Arizona State University (512)
  18. University of Pennsylvania (491)
  19. University of California, Berkeley (488)
  20. Duke University (444)
  21. Princeton University (435)
  22. Georgia Institute of Technology (353)
  23. University of Central Florida (346)
  24. University of Texas at Austin (344)
  25. University of Maryland, College Park (310)
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The list is useful if one wants to know how many other NMF are in a school that sponsors NMS and for trend development.

Here is where the list falls a bit short. It combines colleges that sponsor NMS and those that do.

A NMF that attends schools that sponsor NMS, such as USC, UF, Vanderbilt, UA, UTD, Texas A&M, UMN, etc, will automatically become a NMS (as long as they list the college as their first choice) and as such will be included in the list.

A NMF that attends Harvard or MIT will be listed only if they receive NMSC or corporate sponsorship. That leaves quite a few NMFs who aren’t included in the list.

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All true…although doing comparisons of the same school for different years can be interesting for the non-merit colleges. There is information you can take away from e.g. the fact that Harvard was in the 300s/400s every year from 1989-2014, but now is only 183. (I have a couple theories.) Or just oddities: How did Virginia Tech, UConn, UMass, Cal Poly-SLO, UC-Davis, and UC-Irvine have fewer than 10 NMS last year — combined? (I don’t have an answer for that one.)

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Tell us the theory. Don’t leave us hanging.

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Parents of students enrolled in high-performing high schools take a lot of flak for being too focused on elite colleges. But for me, these numbers hint at why. I do the calculations and except for a few of the schools highest on this list (UChicago etc.) the % of National Merit students is lower than at my kid’s high school. Obviously a lot of factors go into the rigor of any college, but I think that quality of peers is one of the biggest factors. At my kid’s public hs, nearly 5% of students are National Merit, and many more are National Merit commended, or just below that. Yes, I know that standardized test scores are only one way, and an imperfect way at that, to measure students but still I do worry college is going to be a step down in rigor due to lower performing peers on average.

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In short: There are relatively many students today getting the very tippy-top ACT/SAT scores (there were <100 perfect ACTs/year 25 years ago; now it’s multiple thousands). (a) That makes it a worse differentiator if you’re trying to find students at the far, far end of the bell curve, so likely Harvard puts less emphasis on it than it did in say 2000, other than as a first cut. (b) The PSAT cutoffs have been raised as well, and with it being a low-ceiling test, it’s very easy for a top testing student to having a “bad day” by missing a few English questions and miss the cutoff. (I know two kids with 36 ACTs who were not NMSFs.) Because of that, it has become more of a random award — among the top few percent of test-takers, mind — than it used to be.

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Yep. About 95% of NMSFs become NMFs. But only about half of NMFs become NMSs, because many of these high-testing students attend schools that do not give scholarships for National Merit status (and they did not happen to win corporate or NMSC scholarships.) A much more interesting list would be the number of NMFs (or NMSFs) at each school.

Actually it means a lot more than that. Real $$ for those that are smart enough to know how important PSAT11 is. Most do not. The average kid (and parent) takes it as practice. Parents seeking merit $$ start prepping their kids as freshmen.
Unhooked kids rarely get into elite schools and even when they do, expect to pay at least your EFC or more. Smart parents use NMSQT for free college at excellent schools.
There are 15K NMSQT finalists. There are 25K HS in the US alone with valedictorians. You do the math.

Ha, that reminds me: When had our son take the SAT in June of 2021 (before his Junior year), we called it his Practice Practice SAT. We felt a little crazy using having him use an actual SAT to prepare for the PSAT…but not that crazy, since my wife and I were both NMF with full-ride merit scholarships back in the day. And since he got a 223 SI on the real PSAT, can’t argue with the results!