For 163 Mississippi high school seniors, the 2024 National Merit Scholarship Competition brought good news: these high-achieving students have earned the celebrated “Semifinalist” designation. In order to do so, they had to score among the top 1% of Mississippi students who took the PSAT/NMSQT in October of 2022. 

As a percentage of the senior class, Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS) took the top honors, with 13% of their high school seniors qualifying. For comparison, the state and national average is just 1%, meaning that MSMS is graduating high-achieving students at 13 times the national average. Central Mississippi stalwart St. Andrew’s Episcopal School came in second with 9% of their graduating class, and Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg came in third with 7%. 

However, academically-inclined Mississippians don’t have to pay for private school tuition or ship their kids off to boarding school—they could also live in the Jackson suburb of Madison, Mississippi. Madison Central High School remains the state’s top, non-boarding public school with 4% of its senior class earning the Semifinalist designation.

To win the coveted “Semifinalist” designation in Mississippi, high school juniors must have scored a 209 or higher (out of 228), which was actually down 1 point from the previous year; Mississippi’s cutoff score has decreased two years in a row. This is roughly equivalent to earning a composite score of 1400 (out of 1600) on the SAT. 

In addition to valuable bragging rights, Semifinalists are eligible for full rides (free tuition and housing) to Ole Miss and Mississippi State (valued at more than $60,000) plus more than 1,000 corporate-sponsored scholarships and 4,000 college-sponsored scholarships.

Click here to go straight to the names of the winners!

About the National Merit Scholarship Competition

Nationally, over 1.3 million students participate in the National Merit Scholarship competition beginning the fall of their junior year. Juniors from more than 20,000 US high schools compete by sitting for what is essentially an abbreviated, practice SAT (PSAT). Current juniors, note that the PSAT is changing to an all-new digital format for October 2023.

However, unlike the ACT which is required in Mississippi and part of the school accountability rating, the PSAT is usually optional and costs students a small out-of-pocket fee.

Approximately 16,000 students earned the designation “Semifinalist.” (An additional 34,000 students earned a “Commended” by scoring above a 207 out of 228). National Merit Semifinalists can qualify for a wide range of both corporate- and college-sponsored scholarships.

Around 90% of Semifinalists will go on to become National Merit Finalists; 2,500 students will eventually gain the title of National Merit Scholar, which comes with a $2,500 scholarship. Read more about the requirements to become a Merit Finalist or Merit Scholar.

Top Mississippi Schools by National Merit Semifinalists

The following are the top schools by Semifinalist count in the class of 2023:

  1. Mississippi School for Math and Science – 13% of seniors
  2. St. Andrew’s Episcopal School – 9%
  3. Presbyterian Christian School – 7%
  4. Jackson Preparatory School and Madison Central High School – 4%

With relatively few hard numbers by which to compare schools, parents and students may be tempted to use the number of National Merit Semifinalists to make a judgment about a school’s quality. However, while these data points can be useful in describing the profile of a single class, it’s difficult to verifiably say that there is a direct causal relationship between these achievements and the overall quality of a school’s education.

Many academically talented students are likely to score in the top 1% on the PSAT regardless of what school they attend. These numbers, therefore, best indicate which schools seem to attract a quorum of academically elite students.

To most accurately assess a school’s academic quality, parents and students should look at a number of factors, including their National Merit Semifinalists and their test scores.

Visit Piqosity’s in-depth analysis of Mississippi high schools’ ACT scores.

Top College Majors for Mississippi’s National Merit Semifinalists

Mississippi’s best and brightest are most interested in careers in engineering, with 17% of Semifinalists indicating as much. A student’s intended college major is designated by the three-digit code in front of their name. Health professions was the second most popular at 10% and closely related Biosciences came in third at 7%.

While still not in the top 3, computer science saw a big jump in interest to 5% of Semifinalists from last year’s 3%, which was already a significant increase from two years ago. Almost no one professed an interest in the humanities including political science and law.

However, more than 60% of Semifinalists said they were undecided or didn’t respond to the question.

Names of 2023-2024 Mississippi Semifinalists by High School

Congratulations to this year’s high scorers!

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Why is Houston-based Piqosity writing an article about Mississippi?

Shelby Joe, Piqosity’s founder, was born and raised in Mississippi and was himself a National Merit Semifinalist.

Click here to download the original press release from National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This article was last updated on September 15, 2023.