If you’re like most high schoolers, you probably think of the PSAT as a practice run for the SAT. But this test actually has some pretty high stakes of its own.
In fact, its full name is the PSAT/NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. If you get a top score on the test, you could qualify for a National Merit Scholarship in the amount of $2,500.
Plus, you could be in the running for college-sponsored, corporate-sponsored, or “special” scholarships.
For now, let’s focus on the National Merit Scholarship of $2,500. Here’s what you need to know about winning this scholarship opportunity.
1. Take the PSAT in 11th grade
Before winning a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to take the PSAT. Fortunately, you probably don’t have to worry about signing up for the test. Most schools across the country administer the PSAT to students in the fall of their junior year.
That being said, you might ask your school counselor if you can take the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10 as a freshman or sophomore. That way, you’ll get a sense of what the test is like and you’ll learn how to perform under testing conditions.
Just keep in mind that only your 11th-grade PSAT scores count toward the National Merit Scholarship. Beyond taking the test as a junior, you also have to meet a few other eligibility requirements set by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).
These include being a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and progressing normally toward graduation. And of course, you have to be one of the top PSAT scorers in the country.
2. Score in the top 1 percent
To stay in the running for a National Merit Scholarship, you have to do extremely well on the PSAT. In fact, you need to score in the top 1 percent of scorers across the country.
So, what is a good PSAT score for the National Merit Scholarship? That all depends on the state you live in, since NMSC compares scores on a state-by-state basis. Plus, it uses its own scoring system called the Selection Index.
To learn your state’s cutoff from previous years, call NMSC at (847) 866-5100. Keep in mind, though, that state cutoffs can change from year to year. A good PSAT score for the National Merit Scholarship in one year might not qualify the next.
Plus, scoring in the top 1 percent doesn’t guarantee you a scholarship. What it does mean is that you could be named a National Merit Semifinalist, a prestigious distinction in its own right. But you’ll have to wait to move from semifinalist to scholarship winner.
3. Wait for a notification letter
If you’ve got your sights set on a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll have to be patient. That’s because you don’t actually find out if you’re a semifinalist until almost a year after you take the PSAT.
Although you’ll take the PSAT in October of your junior year, you won’t hear from NMSC until September of your senior year.
Of the 1.6 million juniors who take the PSAT, 16,000 get a letter saying they became semifinalists. Of this group, 15,000 are invited to apply for the National Merit Scholarship. If you’re one of the invitees, your next step will be to put together a scholarship application.
4. Craft an outstanding application
Your National Merit Scholarship application is similar to a college application. In addition to your PSAT scores, the scholarship committee will look at your:
- Academic transcript
- Extracurricular involvement
- SAT scores
- A letter of recommendation from a school official
- Your response to the National Merit essay prompt
Unlike a college application, your recommendation should come from your high school principal. Spend some time getting to know your principal so you can get a thorough and personal letter of recommendation.
Along similar lines, put effort into your National Merit application essay. According to NMSC, both your recommendation and essay can go a long way toward helping you win the scholarship.
After submitting your materials, you’ll find out in the spring of your senior year whether you won the scholarship. Of the 15,000 students who apply, 2,500 win the $2,500 National Merit Scholarship. Plus, an additional 6,200 students win other types of scholarships.
You could also win college or corporate scholarships
The official National Merit Scholarship isn’t the only prize you could win for your high PSAT scores. There are three other types of scholarship prizes for students who rock the PSAT:
- Corporate-sponsored scholarships: About 230 businesses, including Macy’s, Pfizer, and UPS, partner with NMSC to give out 1,000 scholarships. Each business sets its own criteria and NMSC helps locate students. NMSC might look for children of employees, community residents, or finalists with career plans the company supports.
- College-sponsored scholarships: Your college could give you a scholarship if you designated it as your first choice on your NMSC application. About 4,000 students win college-sponsored scholarships.
- Special scholarships: About 1,200 special scholarships go to students who got high scores on the PSAT but didn’t become finalists. NMSC will notify you about applying to a special scholarship, and you might need to submit a separate entry form to be considered.
For full details on how to apply for each type of scholarship, check out the official NMSC website. Whichever award you’ve got your eye on, you’ll need to ensure you earn a top score on the PSAT.
Don’t put too much pressure on winning the National Merit Scholarship
As you can see, the National Merit Scholarship is extremely selective. Plus, applying for it is a long process that spans a year and a half.
Since there’s no guarantee of winning, make sure you’re applying to other scholarships in the meantime. There are tons of scholarship opportunities across the country that could help you pay for college.
Make the most of scholarship search engines, and apply for opportunities far and wide. Instead of placing all your eggs in the National Merit Scholarship basket, seek out alternate sources of funding.
That way, you’ll reduce the amount you have to pay for college and, hopefully, avoid taking on too much student debt.
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|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.26% – 13.26%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.62% – 11.47%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.38% – 13.38%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.47% – 12.34%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|