FairTest Press Release: National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Scores Vary Greatly State-By State

for further information:

                                                                                                            Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773

                                                                                                                            cell  (239) 699-0468


for immediate release, Monday, September 9, 2013






     The list of high school seniors eligible for National Merit Scholarships, scheduled for release on Wednesday, September 11, will be heavily skewed toward families that least need financial aid by a test-based selection system, according to data made public today. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) posted National Merit’s previously secret cut-off scores, which vary greatly from state to state.

    “National Merit says it uses different state qualifying scores to assure geographic fairness but has made no effort to address other major biases in its selection process,” explained FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. “The competition improperly relies on Preliminary SAT scores, which strongly correlate with income and race, as the sole factor to determine initial scholarship eligibility.”

     Due to National Merit’s geographic balancing policy, minimum test score requirements for scholarship eligibility differ widely across the country. For the class of 2014, scholarship eligibility minimums range from 224 in Massachusetts and New Jersey to 203 in West Virginia and Wyoming on the qualifying exam’s 60 to 240-point scale. 

     “The improper minimum test score requirement eliminates nearly 99% of scholarship seekers, no matter how strong their other credentials.” Schaeffer continued. “National Merit’s arbitrary rules guarantee that the bulk of awards go to children who least need college scholarship aid.”

     Backed by many education, civil rights, and women’s organizations, FairTest has led a national campaign to overhaul the competition’s eligibility rules. A FairTest gender bias complaint forced revisions in the scholarship-qualifying exam that somewhat increased the percentage of female winners. National Merit has not addressed other concerns.

    “The lion’s share of test-based awards still goes to white and Asian American males,” Schaeffer concluded. “Low-income, African American and Latino students are greatly disadvantaged by National Merit’s biased selection system. That is especially true since their parents generally cannot afford high-priced test-prep courses to boost PSAT scores.” 

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The state-by-state list of National Merit Scholarship qualifying scores for students graduating in the high school class of 2014 is below. Also for a print formatted PDF of this release and chart click here.

NMSQT/PSAT Qualifying Scores for High School
Class of 2014 National Merit Semifinalists
  Alabama   211   Nevada   212  
  Alaska                      212   New Hampshire   214  
  Arizona   214   New Jersey   224  
  Arkansas   205   New Mexico   210  
  California   223   New York   219  
  Colorado   215   North Carolina   215  
  Connecticut   221   North Dakota   204  
  Delaware   218   Ohio   215  
  Dist. of Columbia   224   Oklahoma   210  
  Florida   214   Oregon   218  
  Georgia   217   Pennsylvania   217  
  Hawaii   215   Rhode Island   216  
  Idaho   211   South Carolina   210  
  Illinois   216   South Dakota   206  
  Indiana   215   Tennessee   212  
  Iowa   210   Texas   219  
  Kansas   216   Utah   208  
  Kentucky   211   Vermont   217  
  Louisiana   209              Virginia   222  
  Maine   215   Washington   220  
  Maryland   223   West Virginia   203  
  Massachusetts   224   Wisconsin   210  
  Michigan   210   Wyoming   203  
  Minnesota   215          
  Mississippi   207   U.S. Territories   203  
  Missouri   213   Outside U.S.   224  
  Montana   207   Boarding Schools   217-224  
  Nebraska   209     (depending on region)      

Nat-Merit-Semifinalist-Class-2014-Cutoff-Release.pdf20.34 KB