National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) has announced the Semifinalists in their 64th National Merit Scholarship Program. Semifinalists are current high school seniors who took the PSAT in October of 2017 and scored among the top 1% in their respective states.

St. John’s School maintained its perennial lead with 39 Semifinalists or approximately 30%* of the class; to put that another way, 30% of current seniors at St. John’s are in the top 1% of SAT scorers or thirty times (30x) the national average.

Kinkaid School saw a 56% jump from 9 to 14 this year, meaning that approximately 10% of its senior class scored in the top 1%.

In constrast to the stability at St. John’s, Houston ISD’s (HISD) Bellaire High School suffered a huge 67% decline, going from 36 Semifinalists last year to just 12 this year or about 1.5% of its class, which is still 50% more than the national average. Carnegie Vanguard was also down 5 designees, but DeBakey was up 3; the percentage of the class at both top tier HISD schools scoring in the top 1% was about 8% or 8x the national average and only behind St. John’s and Kinkaid percentage-wise.

The Houston suburbs are hot beds for smart kids, with Clements (5% of the class) and Dulles (3%) in Sugarland , Glenda Dawson (3%) in Pearland, College Park (4%) in the Woodlands, Seven Lakes (3%) in Katy, and Clear Lake High School (4%) all showing consistently strong results. The performance of these suburban high schools is particularly good considering that anyone living in their neighborhood zone can attend; there is no application preventing lesser gifted students from enrolling like at HISD’s Carnegie, Debakey, and HSPVA.

To win the coveted “Semifinalist” designation in Texas, students must have earned a “selection index” score of 221 out of 228 (unchanged versus last year), which is equivalent to a 1480 out of 1600 SAT composite score. To put this rare achievement into perspective, Texas juniors could have missed no more than 3 out of 47 questions in Reading, 2 out of 44 questions in Writing and Language, and 4 out of 48 questions across both Math sections.

Semifinalists are eligible for more than 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarships and 4,000 college-sponsored scholarships and can even get full rides to some Texas schools like University of Houston, Baylor, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT Tyler, UNT Dallas, Abilene Christian, and Lubbock Christian.

Out of 1.6 million juniors entering the competition by taking the PSAT, approximately 16,000 students score in the top 1% to earn the designation “Semifinalist,” and about 90% of these will go on to become “National Merit Finalists.” Only 2500 students will earn a $2,500 scholarship and the title National Merit Scholar.

The number of Semifinalists at a school does not necessarily correlate to the quality of that institution’s education. Arguably, many of these brilliant students could have scored very well on the SAT at whatever school they did or did not attend; note that there were six homeschool students who aced the test too.

However, the numbers do provide some light on where parents of talented kids like to send their children.

Names of Semifinalists Designees

This list includes Houston, Clear Lake, Humble, Katy, Kingwood, League City, Pearland, Sugarland, and The Woodlands. The list is first by city, then school, then student. If you’re looking for a particular student, try using your browser’s “find” tool like ctrl+f or apple+f. If you still can’t find your student, try looking on the official press release.

The three digit number before a student’s name is their self-selected “College Major Career Code.” 999 means undecided; click here to download the explanation to all codes.

Click here to download the original press release form National Merit Scholarship Corporation.

*The percentage of class numbers presented are estimates based off of data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

​This article was last updated 9/18/2018


  • Stephen Hayes

    Stephen Hayes is General Academic's Vice President. Stephen created the curriculum for our ISEE, SAT, PSAT, and ACT services, and he is always happy to talk shop about any of your academic needs. Stephen loves to travel abroad, especially if it’s to Iceland! He graduated from Houston Baptist University with a BA in English in 2010, and he has been a Texan since age 4.

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