Northwestern’s class of 2013 number two in National Merit Scholar rankings

Samantha Caiola and Samantha Caiola

Northwestern University’s Class of 2013 included the second highest number of National Merit Scholars of any school in the nation, according to a report by the Almanac of Higher Education released in August and announced by NU last week.

At 246 merit scholars, NU was second only to Harvard University, which has 266. The University of Texas at Austin (245), Yale University (234) and the University of Southern California (229) rounded out the top five.

The National Merit Scholar distinction is awarded to students who score highest on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Approximately 15,000 students are selected each year out of the 1.5 million who take the PSAT nationally.

In 2004, NU was ranked 13th in the almanac with 152 scholars. By 2008, it had risen to fourth, behind Harvard, University of Texas at Austin and University of Southern California. Last year NU was ranked second.

“It is an indication of the strength of the students that are attracted to NU,” University spokesman Al Cubbage said. “We have truly some of the best students that come here, from a variety of fields. It also says that we have been very successful in attracting those students.”

Michael Mills, associate provost, said NU’s growth and progress is more important than surpassing Harvard, or any other school in the rankings.

“The goal is to get the strongest possible freshman class,” he said. “In doing so, we enhance the undergraduate experience. A class of very scholarly kids have to make the classroom experience more enjoyable and engaging.”

High school juniors take the test in October, and in April the 50,000 students with the highest scores are notified that they are either Commended Scholars or National Merit Semifinalists. The semifinalists then file an application for the National Merit Scholarship. From this pool, 15,000 are selected as National Merit finalists and receive a scholarship.

National Merit finalists at NU receive $2,000 toward their freshman year tuition. Finalists are asked to identify their top two choices for schools, but are allowed to change them after admissions decisions.

Of NU’s merit scholarship winners in the Class of 2013, 195 of those scholarships were paid for by NU.To be considered for a National Merit Scholarship sponsored by NU, National Merit Finalists must indicate NU as their first choice school by May 1 of their senior year in high school, according to NU’s undergraduate financial aid website.

“I put Northwestern as my first choice because I was really drawn to Bienen and I knew I would get the best professors here,” said Nina Kiken, a Bienen freshman and National Merit Scholar. “I applied to conservatories, but I wanted to be at a school with all kinds of people, not just musicians.”

Stephanie Feigenbaum, a Bienen sophomore, said that she chose NU on her Merit Scholar Semifinalist application because of its “top-notch” academics.

“Merit scholars are drawn to good academics, so it makes sense that they would pick this school,” Feigenbaum said. “So far, I’ve been challenged academically and I think NU really lives up to its reputation.”

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