UC & The National Merit Scholarship

  • University of California
    The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) is an independent not-for-profit organization that operates without government assistance.  NMSC conducts two privately financed annual competitions for recognition and college undergraduate scholarships — the National Merit® Scholarship Program and the National Achievements Scholarship Program.  Through the National Merit Program, NMSC also conducts competitions for Special Scholarships sponsored by corporate and business organizations. High school students who meet published entry/participation requirements enter these competitions by taking the Preliminary SAT as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (e.g. NMSQT ® ), as juniors. Each year"s test is the entry vehicle to a specific annual competition. As co-sponsor of the test, NMSC receives the scores of all students who take the PSAT/NMSQT.  Selection Index scores (verbal + math + writing skills scores) of students who meet NMSC program entry requirements are used to designate high scorers to receive recognition.  In both the Merit Scholarship® and Achievement Scholarship® competitions, students who qualify as Semifinalists, and then meet academic and other standards to advance to the Finalist level, are considered for scholarships.  NMSC identifies candidates and sends scholarship applications to them through their high schools. For more information about the PSAT/NMSQT and NMSC scholarship programs click on the links above, or go to the national merit at the following hyperlink:  www.nationalmerit.org 
    UC & The National Merit Scholarship
    Effective with the fall 2006 class the six University of California campuses that provided funding for National Merit Scholarships began redirecting that funding to other merit-based scholarships. The decision only affects National Merit Scholarships funded directly by the University; scholarships funded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation or by corporate sponsors will not be affected. In addition, the change will only apply prospectively, meaning that UC will continue to honor all National Merit Scholarships awarded to date, including those awarded to students entering the University in fall 2005.

    The decision was reached collectively by the chancellors of the UC campuses following a recommendation by the Academic Council, the executive body of the UC faculty. The chancellors determined that the University should continue to reward and recognize academic merit, but that the specific definition of merit employed by the National Merit Scholarship Program is inconsistent with UC"s undergraduate admissions policies.

    In particular, the chancellors agreed with the Academic Council"s concern that using the PSAT exam alone to eliminate the vast majority of test takers from National Merit Scholarship consideration is inconsistent with the principles that standardized tests should be used in conjunction with other factors in measuring merit and that major decisions should not be made on the basis of small differences in test scores. In undergraduate admissions, UC uses a broad mix of indicators, including but not limited to test scores, to assess student achievement.

    As a result, the six campuses who previously did so will no longer use University resources to fund National Merit Scholarships, and instead will shift those resources to fund other merit-based scholarships, such as the UC Regents Scholarship Program and the campus-based Chancellor"s Scholarship Programs. The affected campuses are UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz. UC Berkeley, UC Merced, and UC Riverside did not previously sponsor National Merit Scholarships.

    "We honor and respect academic achievement, and we are very proud that many National Merit Scholars apply to the University of California and are successful here," said M.R.C. Greenwood, UC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "This decision of the chancellors is not meant to diminish those students or their accomplishments in any way. This is an issue of ensuring that when the University uses its own resources to fund merit-based scholarships, it does so in a manner that is consistent with our own policies and principles with respect to undergraduate admissions." None of UC"s public comparison institutions (University of Virginia, University of Michigan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, State University of New York at Buffalo) or private comparison institutions (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale) currently sponsors National Merit Scholarships.

    Students who are National Merit Scholars will still be able to compete for approximately $62 million in UC scholarships currently awarded to 16,700 UC undergraduates.

    In 2003-04, UC awarded a total of $11 million in Regents Scholarships to more than 2,100 students. In addition, 870 students received Chancellor"s Scholarships in excess of $5.8 million. Recipients of these scholarships are selected based on merit, while the amount of funding they receive is based on financial need. In 2003-04, UC also awarded $187.5 million in grants based solely on financial need.

    The issue of UC"s sponsorship of National Merit Scholarships was first addressed by the UC Academic Senate"s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, which expressed concerns about the incongruity between the National Merit Scholarship Program"s definition of merit and the University"s definition; about the lack of a study validating use of the PSAT for selecting meritorious students; and about the program appearing to have an educationally unwarranted negative impact on disadvantaged and underrepresented students. The Academic Council"s resolution on the issue can be viewed on the following UC position papers:

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Last Modified on August 7, 2016