Paying for College

Will 201 PSAT Score Keep Me in the Running for a National Merit Scholarship?

Question: I got a 201 on my PSAT. Is that score high enough to qualify me for National Merit Scholarships in Illinois?

As you may know, National Merit cut-offs vary greatly from state-to-state and then even vary somewhat from year-to-year. However, your score of 201, isn't close to the typical Illinois cut-off for scholarship qualification, which is usually about 213/214. So you won't stay in the running to continue in the competition, but with a 201, it's very likely that you will still be a “Commended Student" (which is sort of like National Merit honorable mention).

If you follow this link,, you can see the state-by-state cut-off scores for the past several years. You and your fellow current juniors are in the “2012" group (based on your year of graduation not the year you took the test), which isn't posted yet. If you keep an eye out on College Confidential, you will find that list eventually, but Commended Student letters won't be out until next September, so you have a long wait. However, I promise you that your score will not be above the cut-off that will allow you to continue to Semi-Finalist status. (If you'd lived in Wyoming or Mississippi two years ago, it would've been. :))

If you are aiming for a college or university that offers significant grants to National Merit finalists or if a parent works for a company that does the same (or, similarly, there is a company in your town that funds local Finalists), then this news may be disappointing. But, in general, there is far more “buzz" over National Merit than it deserves. Many of the most selective colleges and universities don't recognize National Merit at all. Doing well in the competition proves that you had high test scores and also earned strong grades and are a good citizen. But this is true for almost all applicants to the most sought-after colleges, and there are many other criteria that go into admission decisions at such institutions. So even though you didn't make the cut to continue in the competition, this certainly isn't a deal-breaker when it comes to your college admissions verdicts down the road.

(posted 12/10/2010)