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Articles / Preparing for College / Will a 208 Qualify Me for a National Merit Scholarship?

Sept. 3, 2021

Will a 208 Qualify Me for a National Merit Scholarship?

Will a PSAT scores of 208 Qualify For National Merit Semifinalist?

Question: I got a 208 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 estimated to be around 219 in 2021, or at least somewhere in the range of 217 - 222)213/214. So you won't stay in the running to continue in the scholarship competition.

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 there's some good news: a score of 208 is very likely to qualify you to be a Commended Student this year. The cut-off for Commended Students appears to be 207 in 2021, down significantly from 209 in 2020 and 212 in 2019.

But, in general, National Merit gets far more “buzz" 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.

A version of this Ask the Dean was originally posted December 2010. It was updated by CC Senior Editor in September 2021.

Visit the CC NMS Forums the see which scores qualified other members of the Class of 2022 to be National Merit Semifinalists.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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