Tag Archives: PSAT

Understanding National Merit Scholarships

The (PSAT/NMSQT) is a program co-sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation, with the goal of “honoring scholastically talented youth and encouraging academic excellence at all levels of education.”  The National Merit Scholarship program recognizes top students based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT, and the test is administered across the country in October every year. Out of the 1.6 million students who sit for the exam, honors are awarded to about 50,000 with the highest combined score on the two sections of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math.

These recognized students are classified into several categories: commended, semifinalists, finalists, and scholarship winners. Of the 50,000 students initially selected, one-third are “semi-finalists,” based on state cut-offs; and two-thirds are deemed “commended,” based on national cut-offs. For the Class of 2019, the highest semi-finalist qualifying score of 223 was for the states of California, DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and 222 served as the semi-finalist qualifying score for Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, and Washington. North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming had the lowest qualifying score, 212. Out of the 16,000 national semifinalists, 15,000 become finalists after meeting additional requirements, including high academic grades and an application essay.

Only about .5% of the original pool of test-takers become scholarship winners. National Merit Scholarships are awarded to 2,500 students and consist of a single payment of $2,500. In addition, about 230 corporations and 180 colleges provide National Merit scholarships.

College-Sponsored Scholarships

Colleges in the Ivy League do not participate in NMS, as they do not offer any merit-based financial aid. However, the following institutions offer generous scholarships through the National Merit program:

  • Boston University: Finalists receive 4-year $20,000 tuition BU Presidential Scholarship
  • Fordham University: Scholarship for Semifinalists is awarded to finalists and semifinalists in NMS who have an A or A- average and are in the top 2-3% of all admitted students
  • Northeastern University: Admitted students who are recognized as National Merit Finalists will receive a competitive merit-based award
  • Texas A&M University: Scholarship package of $42,000 for residents, approximately $100,000 for non-residents due to out-of-state tuition waver
  • USC: Finalists receive 4-year half-tuition (about $27,000) Presidential Scholarship
  • University of Oklahoma: Finalists receive $63,000 cumulative total over 4 years; semi-finalists receive $16,000 total.

The University of Oklahoma is an example of an institution that sees enormous value in attracting National Merit scholars, enrolling about 200 per year. David Ray, Dean of the Honors College, states “Having these kinds of classmates motivates other students, it elevates class discussions, it’s a recruiting tool when we go after new students or faculty.”

Corporate-Sponsored Scholarships

CBS, the Dow Jones Foundation, FedEx, Macy’s Inc., and Pfizer Inc. are a few of the corporations that sponsor scholarships. According to NMSC, “Most corporate-sponsored awards are designated for children of a sponsor’s employees or members. However, some are offered for residents of a community where a company has operations or for students with college major or career plans the sponsor wishes to encourage.”

These awards may be given on a one-time basis or for all four years of college. Currently, there are 1,000 corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship awards for Finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. In addition, every year about 1,100 National Merit participants who are not Finalists receive Special Scholarships provided by businesses.

Navigating merit scholarships and taking advantage of any and all merit aid opportunities can seem daunting! Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are happy to help!

Update: The New SAT

At this week’s annual conference of NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors), Collegiate Gateway had the opportunity to speak directly with the staff of the College Board about plans for the new PSAT and SAT testing, to be implemented in 2015-2016. Upcoming changes were described as “evolutionary, not revolutionary.” Overall, the tests will be more context-based: both vocabulary and math problems will be viewed within a context and not presented in an abstract way.  Here’s the latest on the new PSAT and SAT.


Below is a chart of the launch date for the new PSAT and SAT, as well as when practice tests will be available.  The new PSAT and new SAT will have the same content, except that the SAT will have an optional essay.  In March 2015, the College Board is expected to post an online full-length practice PSAT, written by both Khan and the College Board.




PSAT October 2015 March 2015
SAT Spring 2016 (probably March) May 2015



The College Board identified the following features in their new approach to testing:

  • Relevant words in context: The tests will no longer include obscure words, but rather everyday words with meanings that are influenced by context.
  • Command of evidence. Students will be asked to demonstrate understanding of the evidence the authors of documents used to support his/her claim.
  • Focus on “math that matters most.” Three mathematical areas will be tested: algebra, problem-solving and data analysis, and higher-level math (including trigonometry, pre-calculus and statistics).
  • Problems grounded in real-world contexts. For example, math problems may relate to science applications, such as interpreting a chart on bacteria growth.
  • Analysis in science and social studies. Throughout the math, reading and writing questions, applications to science and social studies will be integrated. While there will not be a separate section for science (as in the ACT) or social studies, there will be a new score called “Insight,” to measure students’ grasp of the social sciences.
  • Founding documents and great global conversation. Every exam will have at least one example of a significant historical document, such as the Constitution. Students will be asked questions that require contextual understanding. For example, in the Gettysburg address, Lincoln uses the word “dedicated” seven times; students could be asked about the different meanings of the word, based on context.
  • Essay analyzing a source: optional section. Colleges continue to consider primarily the Critical Reading and Mathematics sections of the SAT; the Writing section (which includes the essay) has never caught on as an accepted portion of the SAT.  The College Board is now making the essay optional (similar to the ACT), though some colleges will require it. The prompt itself will not change, and will be available on the website www.deliveringopportunity.org.  Instead, the source material (passage) will change, and  students will be asked to identify how the author supports the thesis.  Students’ own opinions will no longer be involved.
  • No penalty for wrong answers.  The SAT has previously had a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers; the new test will not. Correct answers will receive 1 point; incorrect or omitted answers will receive 0 points, similar to the ACT approach to scoring. The goal is lessen the importance of test-taking and guessing strategies..

Though some colleges are becoming test-optional, standardized testing is still considered the third most important factor in college admissions, after grades and rigor of curriculum.  Colleges vary in their testing requirements, as well as what they consider competitive test scores for admission – sorting through it all can get complicated. If you need any help, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.