Is my PSAT score good enough to qualify for National Merit scholarship? What score is needed to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship? That information isn’t easy to find, even on the internet. All the PSAT scores should all be out by now (schools receive the scores and decide when to distribute them) and a lot of students are asking that question. Even if it’s not their Junior year, some kids (or their parents) are looking at their freshman or sophomore scores and wondering if they have a shot at National Merit their Junior year.
Before we get too far into this discussion, let me first emphasize that not making the National Merit cut-off by no way means that you aren’t smart. Besides the fact that you can probably find some research on the subject, I’ve got some personal experience that relates.
My husband and I took the PSAT the same year.
I’m a National Merit Scholar.
My husband isn’t.
I’m a little bit worried that he might be smarter than me.
(Probably only super-competitive kids worrying about their National Merit qualification would understand that statement.)
I have never, for one minute, considered that I might be smarter than him on the basis of our PSAT and SAT scores. Too much evidence points to the contrary. 🙂
In addition, National Merit won’t guarantee you admission into every university. I know National Merit Scholars who’ve been turned down by Ivy Leagues and the “Ivy” of Texas, Rice University.
I’ve known kids with lower PSAT scores who were admitted to Stanford.
So, now that we’ve established what National Merit Scholar doesn’t mean…
Depending on the college or university, National Merit can mean quite a bit of money in scholarships.
So, is your score good enough to be a National Merit Scholar? It varies according to the year, the difficulty of the test, and the range of scores in your state. We won’t know all of the scores for sure until the College Board sends out letters sometime around September, but you can get a pretty good idea by looking at the historical PSAT National Merit qualifying scores for your state. Qualifying scores aren’t officially released, but scores collected independently can still give you a pretty good idea of what’s expected. In addition to looking at last years National Merit Qualifying score for your state, it’s good to look at the past few years. Note the range of past high scores and the amount that it has changed from year to year. You can find a listing of the qualifying scores from different years here: College Planning Simplified National Merit Scholarship Program Cut off Scores and here: PSAT- National Merit Scholarships and Semifinalist State Cutoff Scores
I’ll illustrate by using my son’s own score as an example. I hesitate a little as I type this, because putting your score out there is a little like saying how much money you make. But, you can only get so far thinking about things in terms of vague numbers and ranges. When some close friends were kind enough to share their own kids’ real numbers, it really helped us to have realistic expectations and to decide how to prepare our son for the test his junior year. (I shared some of how he studied for the PSAT, which is like studying for the SAT, in my post The 6 Best Tools to Improve your SAT Scores.)
This year, his junior year, my son scored a 220 on the PSAT. His strongest subject is math, and he had a perfect math score. Is that score good enough to qualify for National Merit Scholar?
The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (run by the College Board, the administrator of SATs) doesn’t publish and official score qualifying list, but you can find some floating around the internet, as I noted above. Last year the lowest qualifying score for Texas, for 2015 graduation, appears to be 218. The year before, it was 219. And the years before it was 216, 219, and 215. So it looks like he has a pretty good chance of qualifying for National Merit Scholar based on his PSAT score. Since his top choice university offers full tuition for National Merit, we are pretty excited and proud of him! But we won’t know for sure until September. (If you haven’t looked at the list of state scores yet, the score required if you live in Texas is one of the highest in the country.)
In addition to utilizing study guides and tools, I think that mindset and attitude during the test were also important. That in itself would could be another full post.
Some of you might be wondering, based on freshman or junior scores, it’s worth studying for the PSAT? This question is even harder to find the answer to. I spent a lot of time reading forums, and then got some very helpful information from friends before we made the decision to encourage our son to spend some extra time studying. It really helps to know how some real scores changed from year to year. My son’s freshman PSAT score was a 169. He took Geometry his freshman year, and his sophomore PSAT score was a 199. (His strongest subject was math. Lots of students how take Geometry their 8th grade year, and those students might not see the same increase in score from the freshman to sophomore year.) Based on what I had found, we decided he was close enough to put in some work. Was it worth it? That’s not an easy question.
I’ve seen forums where kids post that they’ve been studying 40 hours a week for the PSAT. My kid didn’t study that much. But when he became frustrated and disheartened by a score wall he wasn’t able to break through, he did have a parent determined or obsessive enough that they were on the same forums as the kids who did. 🙂 Yes, it’s possible that if he wasn’t researching that himself I should have just dropped it. I could have had him do more searching himself. And yes, it’s possible that meant I was too involved. But I also didn’t want him on those same forums I was reading, because I think spending lots of time looking for the information and involved in those forums would have increased the importance of National Merit in his own eyes and would have added to his stress level. That was something I was trying to avoid as much as possible. Because even from the beginning, I knew it was never a sure thing. (But I didn’t understand until his last weekend of studying just how much more luck and timing is involved than it used to be.)
Of course, if he ends up qualifying for a National Merit Scholarship, in hindsight that time studying will definitely be worth it!
But even though it looks like it may pay off in this instance, now that I know more about the scores and how they vary, I’m not sure how much time our encourage our younger kids to spend studying. In addition, lots will change with the new test format next year.
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