Get a National Merit Scholarship using this 1 weird trick

Like Rhodes Scholars, National Merit Scholarship finalists tend to be students with great futures behind them. Moreover, students who actually win the scholarships typically receive a pittance on the order of $2,500—a drop in the proverbial college tuition bucket.

On the plus side, until you get a real job or at least move out of your parents’ basement, it’s a nice perk to be able to call yourself a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

One hugely unfair problem with the whole National Merit Scholarship scheme is that it penalizes kids who live in densely-populated states (and rewards kids who live in sparsely-populated states). This is absolutely by design. All of the 1.5 million students who take the PSAT are theoretically eligible to become finalists. The 16,000 semifinalists are then selected on a state-by-state basis. Each state gets a set number of semifinalists based on its percentage of American high school seniors.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more commonly known as FairTest, has helpfully taken inventory of the cutoff scores in each state.

As FairTest notes, National Merit’s geographic balancing policy means that minimum test score requirements for scholarship eligibility on the qualifying exam’s 60 to 240-point scale vary wildly by state. For the class of 2014, scholarship eligibility minimums range from 224 in Massachusetts to 203 in West Virginia. It’s 219 in Texas. It’s 213 in Missouri.

If obtaining a National Merit Scholarship is your goal in life (for yourself or your kids), it obviously pays to abscond directly to a state where the eligibility minimum is low. With this strategy in mind, The Daily Caller has helpfully compiled the 11 states with the lowest National Merit Scholarship eligibility minimums.

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  • <strong>Wyoming</strong> is an outdoor lover's paradise and the least populous state in the union. At 203, it's tied with substantially more-populated West Virginia for the lowest National Merit qualifying cutoff number. (Photo: Flickr/Manny Moss)
  • Is it any surprise whatsoever that <strong>West Virginia</strong> is tied for the lowest National Merit qualifying cutoff number? It's 203. (Photo: Flickr/Boston Public Library)
  • In <strong>North Dakota</strong>, milk is the official state beverage. The state's National Merit qualifying cutoff is just 204. (Photo: Getty Images)
  • At 205, <strong>Arkansas</strong> is among the states with the lowest qualifying scores for National Merit Scholarships. (Photo: 60 Minutes screenshot)
  • The claims to fame of <strong>South Dakota</strong> are Mount Rushmore and a huge annual motorcycle rally. The National Merit qualifying cutoff number in the state is 206. (Photo: National Park Service/Getty Images)
  • The average square mile of land in <strong>Montana</strong> contains 3.3 deer, 1.4 elk and 1.4 antelope. The state's National Merit qualifying cutoff score is 207. (Photo: Flickr/GlacierNPS)
  • Education has never been the trump card of the state of <strong>Mississippi</strong>. The Magnolia State comes in with a National Merit qualifying cutoff of 207. (Photo: Getty Images/Joe Sohm)
  • <strong>Utah</strong> is the one big, squarish state you might think wouldn't be on this list. But here it is. The National Merit qualifying cutoff number in The Beehive State is 209. (Photo: Getty Images)
  • In <strong>Nebraska</strong>, cattle outnumber people nearly 4 to 1. The state's qualifying scores for National Merit Scholarships is 209. (Photo: public domain/Ammodramus)
  • The U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of <strong>Louisiana</strong> in federal court in New Orleans to prevent low-income students and their families in 34 public school systems from using vouchers to attend private schools next year. With a state qualifying score of 209, it's hard to fathom how the state's defenders of the status quo can be satisfied. (Photo: Getty Images)