Preparing for College

What Do These PSAT Scores Mean?

Question: My son just got his PSAT scores back. He got a 60 Verbal, a 55 in Math, and a 65 in Writing. Does this mean he is competitive for some sort of scholarship? Are these considered good scores?

If you go to this site:

you can read about PSAT score interpretation. Also on that page, you'll find a link to a chart that offers estimates of how junior PSAT scores predict junior SAT scores (You'll find that link in the section titled "Using PSAT/NMSQT Scores To Estimate SAT Scores.")

According to that chart, if your son takes the SAT I this spring, his results should fall in this range:

Verbal: 550-650

Math: 510-610

Writing: 590-730

Are those scores good? That's largely in the eye of the beholder. I would certainly call them "good" but not "great." They are at or above the median range at many fine colleges and universities and below it at others (e.g., the Ivies and their equivalents). By using one of the mega-tome guidebooks on the market or by visiting college Web sites, you can look up median scores at a range of institutions and see where your son fits in. (Keep in mind, though, that these score predictions are very rough estimates. Your son's junior SAT scores may be better--or worse--than the chart claims. They may also go up when he retakes the SAT as a senior.)

Another good way to find median SAT scores is at this site:

Once you get to the home page, type in the name of a college that interests you near the bottom where it says "Name of Institution." Then hit "Search." On the next page, you will see the name of the school you typed in and possibly several others with similar names. Click on the college you want. Then, at the top of the next page, you'll see several menu items. If you click on "Admissions," you'll have access to median SAT scores. If you click on "Enrollment," you'll get gender and racial breakdowns.

Is your son competitive for scholarships? Colleges typically offer two types of aid: Need-based Aid and Merit Aid. The first is awarded strictly according to your family's financial need. Once a college determines that an applicant is admissible, they try to make it possible for him to attend. Merit aid goes to students the college is trying to recruit, regardless of whether or not the family can pay without assistance. Most often, merit-aid candidates are those whose "numbers" (test scores and GPA) are significantly higher than those of the average admitted freshman at that school. So, yes, your son will be eligible for need-based aid if your family requires it and he should also be eligible for merit aid at those college that award it where average test scores are well below his.

If you haven't already done so, also check out This is a no-cost way to access information about private scholarships for which your son may qualify. The online questionnaire takes about 10 minutes to complete. You'll find that the majority of resulting scholarships tend to be in the $500 to $1,000 range, though there are a few "biggies" on the list, too. Needless to say, the greater the award, the more competition your son will face, but you may enjoy reading about what's out there. Keep in mind, however, that in most cases, the best financial aid comes from colleges themselves in the form of need-based or merit-based grants.