How does National Merit Qualifying work?
National Merit Semi-Finalists are the top 1% of PSAT scores of high school juniors from each state. This means that each state has a different qualifying minimum.
For the 2012 testing year the lowest qualifying score was 200 and the highest qualifying score was 221 out of a possible 240 score. States with fewer students, like Wyoming, will have a lower qualifying score, whereas more populated states, like Texas, will have a higher qualifying score. The qualifying score may change from year to year.
If your student makes a high enough PSAT score during their junior year of high school, does that mean they automatically make National Merit Finalist status?
No, it doesn’t. Semi-Finalists will be notified in September of their senior year. Students still have to score high on the SAT as well as fill out the paperwork for the National Merit Corporation. Finalists are announced in the spring of Senior year. Approximately 90% of Semi-Finalists will be Finalists.
Does being a National Merit Finalist/Semi-Finalist/Commended Scholar guarantee great scholarships?
Not exactly. It will open more doors, but while some schools do offer full ride scholarships (tuition, room, board, fees), it is not as many as you might think. You can find a list at collegeconfidential, but always check the college website yourself as offers change from year to year. I have noticed a definite decline in full ride offers in the ten years that I have had students researching and attending colleges.
Keep in mind that ‘full tuition’ does not mean ‘full ride’. Full tuition only covers the cost of tuition, not necessarily fees, and certainly not room, board, and books.
Also, if a school offers what appears to be a full ride, check to see if it covers out-of-state tuition, or gives in-state tuition as part of the scholarship package. One of my sons thought a certain public university was offering a full ride, but we discovered that it did not cover out-of-state tuition, so his offer from a private university was actually a less expensive option.
While financial assistance in the form of scholarships is a major deciding factor when choosing a college, it should not be the only factor. Do visit any school you are considering and make sure it would be a good fit for your student. A full ride is not a good deal if your student is going to be miserable at the chosen school.
Few students will be National Merit Qualifiers, but high SAT and ACT scores will still qualify them for some scholarships.
What advice would you give students trying to maximize their scholarship opportunities?