Preparing for College

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Question: My son had a near-perfect PSAT score in 10th grade, but when he took the test again as a junior--the year that counts for National Merit--he was ill, and he only made Commended status. Now, as a senior, he has SAT's of 2370, top grades, and 5's on many AP exams. Should he put his "Commended" Status on his applications? Should his counselor discuss his 10th grade PSAT's in the recommendation? He is applying to the most competitive colleges. Given that my son's credentials are generally better than most of his peers who have achieved semi-finalist status, will he be at a disadvantage with respect to them at the schools to which they are all applying?

National Merit results are a bigger deal for students and, especially, for parents than they are for the lion's share of colleges that most National Merit winners hope to attend. You may have already noticed that, while some colleges give big bucks to NM finalists, many of the hyper-competitive ones don't even participate.


It's certainly understandable that your son was disappointed that his sophomore PSAT's bested his junior scores due to his illness. Lousy timing! And, unfortunately, this will keep him out of the running for scholarship money at some schools that he might otherwise tack onto his list. But, I suspect that, at many of his target colleges, it won't make a lick of difference. The omission of NM status on your son's application is a non-issue. My advice would be to not even mention it, although it certainly won't be a liability if he were to include his "Commended" status under "Honors and Awards" or if his counselor should happen to comment on his higher 10th grade PSAT result in the recommendation.

But, trust me, the elite colleges will not be looking for your son's NM status on his application, and if he is turned away from any of his top-choice colleges, it won't be because of this.