An opportunity for excellence

The PSAT was administered Wednesday, and the majority of the sophomore class, as well as some freshmen and juniors, took the exam. Many people think that the PSAT is simply a test to prepare students for the SAT, and while that is true, the PSAT has another purpose as well – it is the qualifying test for National Merit Scholarships.

National Merit Scholarships are available to juniors in high school, awarded based on their PSAT scores. There are many different levels of National Merit recognition, starting with Commended Students. Approximately 1.6 million juniors take the PSAT each year, and around 34,000 students with top marks will receive the title of Commended Students. 16,000 students with even higher scores will be considered for the title of National Merit Finalist, and 15,000 of these students will be awarded this title. These winners are narrowed down by their PSAT scores first and foremost, as well as academic excellence and recommendations from their high school principal.

Finalists are eligible for scholarship money as well. Approximately 7,500 Finalists will receive either a $2,500 National Merit scholarship, a corporate-sponsored scholarship, or a college-sponsored scholarship. Special scholarships are awarded as well, including around 1,000 scholarships for students who receive high scores but aren’t quite Finalists.

In short, becoming a National Merit Scholar is difficult, but very rewarding. It requires a lot of preparation, considering that a very low percentage (less than 1%) of students will achieve Finalist status. Junior Sydney Byun acknowledged this, saying, “I think being awarded a National Merit Finalist would be a huge deal, and it would help a lot in terms of standing out on college applications.The SAT and PSAT are obviously not the most fun, but they do open up a lot of opportunities.” While it may be extremely difficult, it is possible. So PSA to all sophomores: start studying now!