Cutoff Scores for Texas National Merit Semifinalists and Commended Scholars
A National Merit Semifinalist (NMSF) is a student who scored in the top 1% of high school juniors on the PSAT in their state (October of 2021 for this year’s winners). The PSAT is essentially a slightly shorter version of the popular SAT college admissions test.
To win the coveted “Semifinalist” designation in Texas for the 2021-2022 competition, students must have earned a “selection index” score of 219 out of 228 (down from 220 for the previous year), which is roughly equivalent to a 1490 out of 1600 SAT composite score.
To earn the less prestigious but still admirable “Commended” designation nationwide, students must have earned a selection index score of 207 or roughly a 1380 on the SAT, which places them approximately in the top 5% of PSAT takers.
The number and percentage of awardees is one of the only statistics that is cross-comparable between private and public high schools. Since the national average is just 1%, any school that boasts more than 1% of their senior class as National Merit Semifinalists is graduating smarter students than average.
Houston’s Top High Schools by National Merit Semifinalists
St. John’s School in River Oaks maintained its enduring reputation as the top Houston-area school–public or private–where the smartest kids choose to go. St. John’s saw a return to their normal standards, with 32 seniors, or nearly 23%, of its senior class qualifying as Semifinalists this year versus 11% in 2021.
Kinkaid School and Strake Jesuit round out the top 3 Houston private schools with approximately 15 (10%) and 17 (7%) of their seniors being named Semifinalists, respectively.
Houston ISD’s (HISD) Carnegie Vanguard High School managed to retain its spot ahead of any other public school in the Houston metro area. Their 12 Semifinalists represent 7% of its class, or 7x the national average.
Rounding out this list and tying for 5th, Debakey High School and Awty International each had approximately 4% of their students achieve National Merit Semifinalist status.
The suburban high schools in Sugarland and Katy remain stalwarts in the Houston metro area.
76 (17%) of the Houston-area total Semifinalists hailed from Katy ISD, of which 28 are at Seven Lakes High School.
69 (15%) of top scoring seniors came from Fort Bend ISD (Sugarland), and more than half of those students came from both Dulle High School and Clements High School.
At the statewide level, public boarding school Texas Academy for Math and Science (TAMS), 40 seniors were National Merit Semifinalists-nearly 20% of the class.
Key Takeaways From the 2022 Semifinalists Announcement
- St. John’s School rebounds and ensures a continued reputation as the smartest school in the city.
- But HISD’s Carnegie Vanguard demonstrates that families don’t have to pay for private school to get high-quality educational opportunities.
- And the suburban school districts in Katy and Sugarland remain fiercely competitive for talent.
Top College Majors for Smart Students
The most popular college majors of interest for Houston’s brightest graduates are computer science, engineering, and bioscience. However, more than 50% of students did not indicate a preference or complete the form.
(A student’s intended major is designated by the three digit code in front of their name in the table below. Click here for the full description of these college majors.)
- Computer Science (code 30x) – 9% of Houston’s Semifinalists
- Engineering (45x) – 8%
- Bioscience (16x) – 7.5%
- Health Professions (6xx) – 7%
- Business Management (2xx) – 4.5%
- Social Sciences (9xx) – 4%
In a paradigm shift in energy and bio-heavy Houston, Computer Science became the most selected intended major among these excellent students as compared to last year. Bioscience remains a consistent choice among Houston area students, with Business and Social Sciences neck-in neck t0 complete this list.
National Merit Scholarships Can Mean Free College
In a typical year, 1.5 million students across more than 20,000 US high schools participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition beginning the fall of their junior year. Juniors compete by sitting for what is essentially an abbreviated, practice SAT (PSAT).
Semi-Finalists, the most important designation, represent the top 1% of the approximate 1.5 million test-takers. National Merit Semi-Finalists generally qualify for scholarships that can range from full tuition at certain public colleges to $5,000 and $10,000 scholarships at prestigious, private universities.
Texas colleges offering full-rides include the University of Houston, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT Tyler, UNT Dallas, Abilene Christian, and Lubbock Christian.
Approximately 15,000 out of 16,000 semi-finalists then go on to be designated finalists. Finalists are typically chosen in accordance with their school grades and ACT or SAT test scores.
Lastly, a little over half of the finalists are designated “Merit-Scholarship” recipients, meaning that they get the fancy title and one-time $2,500 cash payment. Scholarship winners are selected “based on their abilities, skills, and accomplishments.”
These NMSF figures are particularly attractive, versus SAT and ACT scores, because they’re publicly available from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation; conversely, schools do not have to disclose the SAT and ACT scores of their students. And when private schools do disclose SAT/ACT scores, it’s often presented in a way that’s difficult to read and/or compare.
Names of National Merit Semifinalists
This list includes Houston, Bellaire, Humble, Katy, Kingwood, League City, Pearland, Sugarland, The Woodlands, and the Texas Academy for Math and Science at Denton.
Click here for the original press release from National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which contains the names of all winners in the state of Texas.
This article was last updated on September 16, 2022