Mississippi School for Math & Science

15% of Mississippi’s National Merit Semifinalists attend the Mississippi School for Mathematics & Science

For 142 Mississippi high school seniors, the 2021 National Merit Scholarship Competition brought good news: these super-smart students have earned the celebrated “Semifinalist” designation. In order to do so, they had to score among the top 1% of students who took the PSAT/NMSQT in October of 2019. The number and percentage of awardees is one of the only statistics that is cross-comparable between private and public high schools.

This article is about a previous year’s competition. Click here for the names of the 2021-2022 Semifinalists announced in September of 2021.

As a percentage of the senior class, the Mississippi School for Math and Science (MSMS) took top honors at roughly 10%, followed by St. Andrew’s Episcopal School at 8%, and Jackson Preparatory School at 7%. This statistic means that MSMS enrolls 10 times (10x) the number of brilliant students as the average American high school; the average is just 1%.

To win the coveted “Semifinalist” designation in Mississippi, students must have scored at a 211 or higher (out of 228). This is roughly equivalent to earning a composite score of 1400 (out of 1600) on the SAT.

Semifinalists are eligible for full rides 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.

About the National Merit Scholarship Competition

NMS Process Chart

A visual explanation of the National Merit Scholarship process (Compass Prep)

Nationally, over 1.5 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).

Of these, approximately 16,000 students earned the designation “Semifinalist.” (an additional 34,000 students earned a “Commended” by scoring above a 209 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 here.

Top Mississippi Schools by National Merit Semifinalists

The schools on this list had three or more Semifinalists in the 2020 competition:

  1. Mississippi School for Math and Science – 21
  2. Madison Central High School – 12
  3. Jackson Preparatory School – 10
  4. Lewisburg High School – 8
  5. Oxford High School – 7
  6. St. Andrew’s Episcopal School – 7
  7. DeSoto Central High School – 6
  8. Northwest Rankin High School – 5
  9. Oak Grove High School – 5
  10. Center Hill High School – 4
  11. Germantown High School – 4
  12. Ocean Springs High School – 4
  13. Clinton High School – 3
  14. Gulfport High School – 3
  15. Jackson Academy – 3
  16. Long Beach High School – 3
  17. Northpoint Christian School – 3

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. In Mississippi’s Class of 2021, one of the semifinalists was even homeschooled. Instead, what these numbers best indicate is which schools seem to have attracted a quorum of academically elite students.

To best 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. (Click here to read Piqosity’s in-depth analysis of Mississippi high schools’ ACT scores.)

Top 10 College Majors for Smart Students

Top Majors for Mississippi NM Scholars

A plurality of Mississippi’s top students are hoping to pursue careers in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), with 20% of Semifinalists planning to major in some kind of engineering.

Of the sciences, Biology and related fields are the most popular, with 11% of students indicating an intended major in Biosciences. (In analyzing this data, students who declared an intended major in Bioengineering were counted for both Engineering and Biosciences.)

The humanities, in contrast, are clearly not favored: 4% of Semifinalists plan to pursue a major in the Social Sciences. Only 3% of students plan to major in a creative field—music, drama, or creative writing.

Interestingly, Business—typically a popular major—did not rank highly for Mississippi’s seniors. A mere 2% of students plan to pursue Business-related majors. Only a single student indicated “Pre-Law” as their intended major; not one Semifinalist declared a plan to major in History, another popular degree for future lawyers.

However, 32% of semifinalists were either undecided or did not declare an intention. It’s possible that some of these students will turn out to be brilliant performing artists, businesspeople, or lawyers!

(A student’s intended major is designated by the three-digit code in front of their name in the original press release. Click here for the full description of these college majors.)

How to Improve your SAT and PSAT Scores

The best way to improve your SAT and PSAT scores is to focus on your grades in schools. Strong performance in your core academic classes is the single biggest indicator of success on these college admissions tests. The next best way is to take practice tests, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and make improvements. Taking practice SAT tests will not only serve as a diagnostic, but these tests will also help you get comfortable with the exam format and structure.

Piqosity offers 10 full-length practice tests for the SAT plus 60+ tutorial lessons and videos. Sign up for free.

Access to Piqosity’s SAT and ACT courses is entirely free during the pandemic.

Names of 2020-2021 Mississippi Semifinalists by High School

Congratulations to this year’s high scorers!

How to Read This Sortable Table

  • The default sort is alphabetically by city and high school; to change the sorting order, click on the header by which you want to sort.
  • “College Major” indicates a student’s declared preference on the PSAT. A mark of “Undecided” means the student declared their lack of preference; an “Undeclared” means the student did not respond to the question.

Mississippi National Merit Scholars 2020-2021

wdt_ID City School Student (Last, First) College Major
1 Bay St. Louis St. Stanislaus College St Paul, Wallace W. Electrical Engineering
2 Bay St. Louis St. Stanislaus College Toepfer, Nicholas R. Undeclared
3 Biloxi Biloxi High School Johnson, Lauren K. Music
4 Biloxi Biloxi High School Smith, Sallie I. Undecided
5 Biloxi D'Iberville High School Cooper, Jonas A. Mechanical Engineering
6 Biloxi St. Patrick Catholic High School Tran, Anna Undecided
7 Brandon Brandon High School Bailey, Joseph D. Communication/Journalism
8 Brandon Brandon High School Patrick, Lindsey E. Chemical Engineering
9 Brooklyn Forrest County Agricultural High School Pennell, Robert Pre-Law
10 Clinton Clinton High School May, Taylor L. Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering
City School Student (Last, First) College Major

Click here for the original press release from National Merit Scholarship Corporation.