The PSAT is a standardized test that helps students determine their level of college readiness and prepare for the SAT. By taking the test, students have the opportunity to participate in the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is a competition that distributes scholarships and academic recognition to high-achieving students.

How to Qualify

To qualify for a National Merit Scholarship, students must take the PSAT, usually during the junior year of high school. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation states that students need to take the PSAT in the "specified year of your high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12." You also must be enrolled in high school and on track to graduate; be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident; and be planning to enroll in college full-time in the fall after graduation. Eligibility is first determined by the student’s answers to basic screening questions on the PSAT answer sheet, according to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. If the student meets these requirements, students can qualify for academic recognition and monetary awards, based on their scores.

The Screening Process

Of the approximate 1.5 million students who take the test, about 50,000 with the highest scores in critical reading, mathematics and writing skills, qualify for recognition in the National Merit Scholarship Program. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation then notifies the schools which students have qualified either as a commended student or as a semifinalist. Approximately 34,000 of the 50,000 students qualify as a commended student. The 15,000 remaining students become semifinalists, based on the highest-scoring students in each of the 50 states. From there, approximately 7,600 finalists are chosen to receive scholarships from National Merit Scholarship Corporation, from corporate sponsors or from the colleges where the finalists were accepted , based on their test scores, academic record, school activities, leadership, and a written recommendation from the student’s high school. An additional category of special scholarships exists for about 1,700 outstanding participants who are not finalists, who will receive scholarships from corporations.

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About the Author

Jennifer Brozak earned her state teaching certificate in Secondary English and Communications from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. A former high school English teacher, Jennifer enjoys writing articles about parenting and education and has contributed to Reader's Digest, Mamapedia, Shmoop and more.