More National Merit Scholars attend U of C

By Stephanie Ye

The class of 2005 has increased the percentage of National Merit Scholars attending the University of Chicago. According to statistics from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), the University has increased from the eighth to fifth most chosen school by awardees. Of the 8,229 Scholars in 2001, 181 chose to attend the University this year, up from the 166 Scholars in the class of 2004, according to Ingrid Austin, Associate Director of the Office for College Aid.

National Merit Scholars are selected for their high scores on the PSAT, or National Merit Scholars Qualifying Test (NMSQT), and academic achievement.

“The National Merit Scholar Program is not strictly based on the PSAT,” said Gloria Ladendorf, NMSC’s public information assistant director. “That’s the first step. We use that score to designate semifinalists.”

In order to become a finalist, semifinalists need a confirming SAT score. Once deemed a finalist, each student must complete an application that includes an essay, a letter of recommendation from the high school, and a high school transcript. The applications are processed by the non-profit NMSC, based in Evanston.

According to the office of College admissions, National Merit Scholars are recognized by the University, and these students automatically receive monetary awards of either $2,000 or $750 per academic year. If the office of financial aid awards a need-based aid package to the student, he or she will receive $2,000 from the University, and this sum is subtracted from the need-based package. If a student does not receive a need-based package, the University awards the student $750 per academic year. Both are renewable all four years.

According to a second-year computer science and math concentrator who was named a National Merit Scholar, he receives $1,000 per year from the University for that distinction. “I watch the checks come in, $333, $334 per quarter,” he said.

The College awards merit-based academic scholarships in addition to National Merit Scholarships. College Honors Scholars receive full tuition awards, while University Scholars receive amounts set each year ($8,500 in 2001). Eligibility for these scholarships is determined upon admission to the U of C. While other universities may publicly list the names of their scholarship winners, the University differs in its philosophy. “They’re not published. We don’t want to set them apart,” said Associate Director of Admissions Sally Ganga.

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation was begun in 1955 with a grant from the Ford Foundation, and the first competition was held in 1956.

“It was probably a response to Sputnik,” Ladendorf said. “It was founded primarily to recognize academically able young men and women and to recognize academic excellence.”

Each year approximately 1.2 million high school juniors take the PSAT, co-sponsored by the College Board. The top 50,000 scorers are selected to be considered for the National Merit competition. Only one-third of those 50,000, or roughly 16,000 students in the nation, will receive semifinalist status. Those 16,000 are cropped once again to roughly 10,000-12,000 finalists, out of which 8,000 are awarded the Merit Scholar designation. According to the NMSC, the student receives his or her award in one of three ways. Depending upon the university attended, the mark of distinction garners either a $2,500 award from the NMSC, a corporately-sponsored Merit Scholarship award, or a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award, such as that awarded by the University of Chicago.