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.
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