A National Merit Semi-Finalists (NMSF) is a high school student who scored in the top 1% of Texans on the PSAT their junior year.​ The number and percentage of awardees is one of the only statistics that is cross-comparable between private and public high schools.

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.

Approximately 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.

Approximately 15,000 out of 16,000 semi-finalists then go on to be designated finalists. Texas colleges offering full-rides include the University of Houston, Baylor, UT Arlington, UT Dallas, UT Tyler, UNT Dallas, Abilene Christian, and Lubbock Christian.

​Lastly, a little over half of the finalists are designed “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.”

Top Houston-Area Schools by National Merit Semifinalists as Percent of Class

Click here for the names of the individual awardees.

This chart looks at the greater Houston-area schools (plus TAMS) who had over 2% of their senior class qualify as Semifinalists. 2% is 2x the national average of 1%. We included the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS) in Denton, because any Texas student can apply to attend to this state-wide public boarding school, and because those kids are really smart.

Key Takeaways

  1. TAMS has the smartest students in Texas.
  2. St. John’s consistently graduates the highest percentage of Semifinalists.
  3. Kinkaid consistently comes in behind St. John’s and in line with top HISD schools.
  4. At nearly 10x the national average, Carnegie and DeBakey stand out not just for HISD but nationwide.
  5. The suburbs (Katy, Woodlands, Sugarland, Pearland, League City) attract many smart students.

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