Danielle DeLancey

Harvard University
PSAT expert

Danielle is a high scorer on the PSAT, National Merit Scholarship finalist and "Teach for America" corps member. She has masters in Education from Harvard University.

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PSAT Test Taking Strategies


National Merit Scholarship Program

Danielle DeLancey
Danielle DeLancey

Harvard University
PSAT expert

Danielle is a high scorer on the PSAT, National Merit Scholarship finalist and "Teach for America" corps member. She has masters in Education from Harvard University.


As I mentioned before, one of the main reasons to take the PSAT is that it automatically enters you into something called the National Merit Scholarship Program. Now what is this program? In short, it’s an academic competition for High school students that’s it. You’re entering into this program through taking the PSAT. It’s the only way that you can be entered into this program.

Now what are the benefits of this program? Basically, it’s twofold. One, is that it provided academic recognition to colleges that you choose to enter your scores into. The second is that if you do really well, you actually earn money towards your college tuition. For all of the details, I’d highly recommend checking out their website, www.nationalmerit.org. It will give you all of the information you need about the program.

As I mentioned before, students in all grades take the PSAT. But in order to be entered into the National Merit Scholarship competition, you have a couple of criteria that you have to meet. First is that only the scores from your Junior year, enter you into this competition. So say for example you take the test when you’re in 8th grade, you take the test again when you’re in 10th grade, those scores won’t count. If you did great wonderful it’s great practice for your Junior year in order to be entered into the competition. But only the scores that you take your junior year enter you in. That’s a good thing.

The second, is that you must be enrolled as a full time student. What if you’re a home-scholar? What if you go to alternative school? That’s okay, but what you need to do is you need to go to the National Merit Scholarship Board website and check out what those program requirements are. You may need to submit a special application.

The third is that you will need to actually be a citizen of the United States in order to be eligible for this competition. Now I know there are a lot of special circumstances. Maybe you don’t go to a full-time school, maybe you’re not quite sure if you’re a citizen, for all of these questions and all of the details, like I said make sure to go to www.nationalmerit.org and that’ll answer all of your questions.

Like I said before, taking the PSAT is really important, because you get practice for the SAT and you get personalized reports. What happens if you do really, really well? Let’s take a look at the different levels of recognitions and what you can earn and win if you do great on the PSAT.

Of the 1.5 million students that are entered in the National Merit Scholarship Program every year, 50,000 of them are actually officially recognized. Well, what does that mean? What the National Merit Scholarship Program does, is they take the 50,000 highest scores and they give them recognition. Now do they just get a letter in the mail saying, congratulations! You’re recognized? Well, sort of. They get that in addition to the fact that the National Merit Scholarship Program actually officially commends and recommends these students to two colleges of their choice.

Say for example that you’re interested in applying to UC Berkeley and Harvard, and you’re a recommended student. What the National Merit Scholarship Program will actually do, is they’ll send letters of recommendation to those colleges. That will hopefully give you a leg up on the admissions.

Now what happens if you do really, really well? Of the 50,000 approximately two-thirds advance on to the next level, which is commended students. The top 36,000 are really just taken by the score. They don’t take into account any of your GPA or your extracurricular activities. It’s based solely on score. But in order to be a little bit fair, what the National Merit Scholarship Program does, is they take indices compiled from previous year's data and they apply it nationwide to all 50 states. So that way they’re guaranteed to get a balance from state to state.

What happens if you do really, really well? Well you advance into the next level which is the semifinalists round. Approximately one-third of the original 50,000 recognized students, advance onto this round. Again it's based solely on score. If you do really, really well you move onto the finalists. Now as you can see there’s only a difference of 15,000 and just 16,000. Where do those 1,000 students go? It’s not like the top 15,000 scores versus the top 16,000 scores. Remember I said that you had to actually qualify, which meant you had to be a full time student, or that you had to be a student going to your junior year. Some of those students that were recognized initially in the 16,000, might not necessarily meet the program requirements which is why this level drops from 16,000 to 15,000.

Remember, we got from 1.5 million students to 15,000 students by just taking a look at the scores. What the National Merit Scholarship Program does now, is they actually take all those other things into account like you GPA, your extra curricular activities and from there they award 8,200 National Merit Scholarship Corporation awards.

There are three types of awards. The first is a financial scholarship of $2,500 to the college of your choice and approximately 250 students from that. The other two-thirds of the awards are sponsored by either a corporations or by colleges. Those awards can range anywhere from $500 to $10,000. It just depends on whether you’re eligible, whether your family works for a corporation or the college that you’re applying to and what kind of money they have set aside for this program.

The fact of the matter is, is that it’s really important to research it and to look and see if you do get to these level, what types of corporations and what sorts of colleges you can actually earn financial incentives through.

Now I know this is a lot of information and there are a couple of resources to help you out. Like I said www.nationalmerit.org is a great resource. Another great resource is your college counsellor. Not only do they work really closely with the National Merit Scholarship Program, they’ve also coached hundreds of students on this process, and can probably answer most of the questions that you have.

So the bottle line is that, you can’t lose when you take the PSAT. At the very least you’ll get valuable practice for taking the SAT. At best, not only will you get recognition for the college of your choice, you’ll also get money to help you attend it.

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