You have until May 31 of your senior year to make final choices about your National Merit first choice college, so you can either put down "Undecided" now or choose a first-choice college and submit a change in the spring, if you wish.
You do not increase your scholarship potential based on the school you select right now. However, in order to qualify for National Merit money from the college you attend, you may have to eventually indicate that this college is your first choice.
But, if you wish, you can wait to see where you are admitted before making a final selection. UNC Chapel Hill offers a non-binding Early Notification program. If you apply by November 1, you will have your verdict by January 31st, but you don't have to commit to UNC until May 1. So you can indicate that UNC is your top choice and then make a change if you aren't accepted.
OR ... you can write "Undecided" for now and then select UNC after Jan. 31, if you do get in.
Keep in mind, however, that the amount of scholarship aid that participating colleges and universities offer to enrolling NMS winners varies dramatically. Some schools give full scholarships while others -including UNC -offer only $1000 (or somewhat more for students with high need).
So if financial aid is important to you and you think you have a good shot at being a NMS winner, you might want to consider one of the institutions that gives a hefty scholarship to NMS enrollees. A list of such places was posted on the College Confidential National Merit discussion forum by one of our thoughtful community, so--like other info from Cyberspace--I can't vouch for it's accuracy, but it should give you a general idea of where to find big payoffs for National Merit winners.
In addition, the Carleton College website has some helpful information on how to pursue a National Merit scholarship.
Hope that helps. Good luck with your scholarship hopes and your college verdicts.
A version of this article first appeared in 2007
The following information is directly quoted from the official 2021 Requirement and Instructions for National Merit Semifinalists from the National Merit website.
A Finalist who has reported a sponsor college as first choice before March 1 will be included in the first group referred to that institution for scholarship consideration. Only the sponsoring college you have listed as your first choice will be notified.
Periodically NMSC will notify sponsors of additional Finalists who have reported (by May 31) the college or university as their first choice. Only the sponsoring college you list as your first choice will be notified.
NMSC will begin mailing college-sponsored Merit Scholarship offers.
Deadline date for NMSC to receive reports of a sponsor college as first choice. Because it is necessary to treat all Finalists consistently and conclude the annual competition in a timely manner, only college choice reports that NMSC receives by May 31, 2021, will be used to identify the final group of candidates to a college or university that sponsors awards.
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