You just got your PSAT score—what's next? You just got your score, but don't know what it exactly means or what you should do next. There are three strong implications of your PSAT score, and those students that understand them do a lot better in college admissions that those who don't. Read on to find out what those implications are.
Did you just get your PSAT score? (If not, check out the PSAT release schedule here). If so, you may be wondering how to interpret the score. The PSAT serves a number of purposes. It prepares you for the SAT test next year, which is one of the most important pieces in college admissions. It determines a number (but not all) of scholarships. And perhaps most importantly, it's the starting line when students with foresight begin planning for college.
Step 1: What Does Your PSAT Score Mean? Is It Good or Bad?
The PSAT score generally can be mapped to the SAT score divided by 10. So a 2000 on the SAT is similar to 200 on the PSAT. Once you know this, you can see how you did using our guide here.
There are some important differences between the PSAT and SAT, however. For one, you're generally taking the PSAT in 10th grade, so that when you take the SAT next year, you will be one year wiser and smarter. This means that, on average, the PSAT provides a lower bound on your score for the SAT (see this article about how to interpret a 10th grade PSAT / SAT / ACT score). The average student improves around 50 points between the PSAT and SAT (and even more with online prep).
Therefore, if you take your PSAT score, multiply by 10, and add 120 points, you'll get a good prediction of your SAT score. You can use this score to figure out what range of colleges you'll qualify for: simply search for the college's SAT score.
Step 2: Find Out Whether You're in the Running for Merit Scholarships
The PSAT is also known as the test of whether you qualify for the National Merit Scholarships (NMS). NMS awards are generally around $2,500, and the PSAT score needed to qualify varies according to circumstance, but in all cases, you need to get above 200 on the PSAT to be even considered. The actual qualification cutoff is 215 on average, but it's possible to score a bit lower and still qualify, or score a bit higher and still not make it.
If you make the cutoff score, congrats! However, to get the NMS award, you also have to have good recommendations and academic performance at school. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) details what happens after you meet the cutoff. Also, there are important factors affecting which NMS award you get: most are from the standard pool of $2,500 awards, but some companies give slighly more to special groups.
For example, I was qualifying for the NMS, my scholarship was sponsored by my father's employer for a slightly higher amount of $3,000. Finally, certain colleges will give scholarships if you go to that college, but I caution against taking these awards unless that college was your top pick anyway. Whether a college gives you a few thousand dollars is usually a smaller issue than the overall sticker price, or the quality of the education.
If you don't make the cutoff, don't stress! Not all scholarships are administered by the NMS. In fact, I would say from my experience that a vast minority of scholarships are administered by the NMSC. For example, when I was attending college, most of my scholarship came from the college itself, much larger than any other I received. Other institutions provide scholarships through a process that bypasses the NMSC completely. Don't stop your scholarship search just because your PSAT score is under 200!
Step 3: Get Started With PSAT Prep
The PSAT is the kickoff of the college application consideration timeline. Do you need to stress about applications immediately as a sophomore? No. Do you need to read dozens of college entrance guides right this moment? No. But you should definitely take this seriously as the starting point of thinking about colleges. From my experience, my classmates that began to think about college after they got their PSAT scores fared a lot better than those who started thinking about college in the middle of junior year, or God forbid, senior year.
What to Do Next
How to get a perfect SAT score
How to win a National Merit Scholarship
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Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.