College Corner: Does the PSAT Actually Matter?

Kate Stuzin, Managing Editor

This past January, high school juniors gathered in classrooms across the country to take the  Preliminary SAT/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Although this abbreviated version of the SAT does not play a role in college admissions, students should take it because it can help them prepare for future standardized tests and qualify for scholarships.

First Look at Real Test Scores

The PSAT provides students with the opportunity to take a test similar to the SAT or ACT under official, timed conditions. PSAT scores indicate how a student might score on the SAT with no preparation. 

Having a baseline score aids students in choosing whether to take the SAT or ACT in their junior year; thus, it is recommended that students begin taking the PSAT their sophomore year. That way, they know early on which test they should study for; taking the PLAN, the pre-ACT equivalent, can also aid this process.

National Merit Scholarships

Now, the main reason students should take the PSAT: to attempt to qualify as a National Merit Scholarship Semifinalist or Finalist. The score to qualify varies depending on the year and state, but students should attempt to score at least above 1400 to qualify. Those who qualify receive a one-time award of $2,500. This may seem trivial in comparison to the cost of college tuition, but finalists can receive upwards of $2,000 annually from many colleges, and some companies even offer $10,000 annually.

Additionally, less competitive universities often offer National Merit Finalists, and sometimes Semifinalists, extensive scholarships and even free admission. Some of the opportunities for finalists include: Boston University offers $25,000 a year, the University of Florida covers the cost of attendance and Florida State University covers the cost of attendance and guarantees admission into their honors program.

If one could not take the PSAT due to test center closures and COVID-19, students can fill out an alternate entry form to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. To do so, students must fill out an online application, take the SAT (using a previous score works too) and send it to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. 

Qualifying this year may be easier than in years past, as students do not need to present an excuse to fill out the alternate entry form this year. As per the current NMSC rules, alternate entries do not squeeze out PSAT qualifiers. Since more students than ever will use alternate entry to qualify, the number of students that qualify will significantly increase. 

Final Verdict

There is plenty to stress about in one’s junior year, so one should only consider taking the PSAT if they believe they can achieve a score that qualifies them for a National Merit Scholarship.