All About Scholarships
Your PSAT/NMSQT scores are sent to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, the National Hispanic Recognition Program, the National Scholarship Service, and the Telluride Seminar Scholarships. In addition, College Board partners with groups such as the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, the Cobell Scholarship (awarded by Indigenous Education, Inc.), and The Jackie Robinson Foundation to connect test takers with scholarships based on their test scores. For more on these programs, visit College Board’s website.
The most well-known scholarship associated with the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship. This scholarship, which is offered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, provides almost 10,000 scholarships to students based on their outstanding abilities, skills, and accomplishments. Each year, the top 50,000 scorers on the PSAT get commendation letters from the National Merit program, and 16,000 of those students qualify as Semifinalists based on their performance compared to others in their state. There are three main types of National Merit Scholarships: National Merit $2500 Scholarships, corporate-sponsored scholarships, and college-sponsored Merit Scholarships.
Most parents and students have the same question about the PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship: what score will earn me a spot as a semifinalist? There isn’t one set score that will guarantee you make the cutoff. Each state has a preset number of Semifinalists, so the exact Selection Index used by your state will be whatever score more closely matches this preset number. Once the state has established its cutoff score, the students from that state who have earned that score or higher will become Semifinalists. In addition to varying by state, this number can vary by year. Regardless of the exact cutoff for your state, all of the students who qualify earn high scores.
All Semifinalists will be provided with scholarship application materials explaining the requirements and next steps for being awarded a National Merit Scholarship. In addition to the requirements relating to taking the test and enrolling in college following high school, Finalists must:
- complete the National Merit Scholarship Application, which includes writing an essay;
- have a record of very high academic performance in all of grades 9 through 12 and in any college course work taken;
- be fully endorsed for Finalist standing and recommended for a National Merit Scholarship by their high school principal;
- take the SAT and earn scores comparable to their semifinalist PSAT score; and
- provide any other documentation and information that the National Merit Scholarship Corporation requests.
Corporate sponsors can offer Special Scholarships in addition to National Merit Scholarships, and the same screening process is used for Special Scholarship recipients. In addition to meeting all of the requirements involved in becoming a Finalist, corporate sponsors often have an additional requirement that the Finalist must be a child of an employee (unless the number of eligible Finalists is smaller than the number of available scholarships). College-sponsored Merit Scholarships are offered to Finalists who plan to attend a sponsor’s school.
Explanation of Methodology
Standardized tests are a useful way to determine a student’s ability, relative to that of his or her peers, because the tests are designed such that there will always be an equal ratio of high scores to medium scores to low scores. This allows us to assign each score a percentile — a figure that represents where a score sits on a distribution curve.
For example, obtaining a perfect score on the old SAT (2400) puts you in the 99th percentile, meaning you scored higher than 99% of all other test takers. An 800, the lowest possible score on the 2400 scale, would be in the 1st percentile, meaning you scored higher than 1% of the other test takers.
In order to make our score and percentile conversion chart, we worked under the assumption that the College Board is aiming to keep the old SAT distribution similar to the new one (with a few at the top, lots in the middle, and few at the bottom).
It’s difficult to compare scores on the old SAT and the redesigned version. Once comprised of two sections (Critical Reading and Writing, that amounted to 1600 total points) has now been compressed into one section (English), amounting to 800 total points. To create the percentile conversions, we took a blended average of the Critical Reading and Writing percentiles (adjusted for the relative frequency of Critical Reading and Writing questions on the new version).
Because the scoring scale of the Mathematics section has not been altered, we used the same percentile distribution as the old SAT.
To convert score percentiles on the 2400 scale to those on the 1600 scale, we assumed the distribution of scores on both tests would be the same and compressed the 2400 values to a 1600 scale.