Why take the PSAT, and what are National Merit Scholarships?
I will be taking the PSAT in the middle of October. What is the PSAT? Why do I have to take it?
The PSAT is a test that assesses your math, reading, and grammar capabilities. High school sophomores and juniors typically take the test in October at their school. This test offers students a preview of the SAT and is valuable as a low-stakes introduction to standardized testing. It also gives students a starting score to then help decide whether they will pursue the SAT or ACT. For high scoring students, the PSAT is linked to the National Merit Scholarship.
What is the National Merit Scholarship, you ask?
The National Merit Scholarship seeks to identify the top-performing high school students in the United States, based largely upon students’ junior year PSAT scores. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) recognizes students at a number of levels: Commended, Semifinalist, and Finalist. Scholars (Finalists) are awarded a $2,500.00 scholarship from the NMSC. Students at all levels are eligible to receive corporate or college scholarships.
What is the difference between Commended, Semifinalist, and Finalist students?
Commended students must have a Selection Index Score that exceeds the NMSC’s determined cut-off. This cut-off can change from year-to-year. For the class of 2019, the cut-off was 212. Approximately 34,000 students receive recognition at this level each year.
Semifinalists must achieve a Selection Index Score that exceeds a cut-off determined by each state. For the class of 2019, the cut-off scores for Maryland, DC, and Virginia were 223, 223, and 222, respectively. The number of Semifinalists recognized by each state is proportionate to its percentage of US high school graduates produced each year. In September, approximately 16,000 students across the United States receive Semifinalist recognition.
Approximately 15,000 students are named Finalists, and, of those Finalists, 8,000 students receive an NMSC scholarship.
I’ve been named a Semifinalist! What do I do now?
In order to become a Finalist, a Semifinalist must fulfill a number of requirements. These requirements include an endorsement by one’s school official, a consistently high academic record throughout 9th-12th grades, a completed application, and a confirmation test score.
Have you heard about the change to the Finalist qualifications?
In the past, semifinalists have been required to take the SAT in order to confirm their PSAT performance. Starting with the class of 2020, Semifinalists will have the option of taking either the SAT or the ACT. This can be important for those students who prefer the ACT, even though they did very well on the PSAT!