PSAT scores should be arriving at your local high school any day now.  Soon thereafter, the 11th and 10th grade students who took this exam back in October will receive their scores.  And once that happens, if you’re one of these students (or their parent), your college admissions process will have officially begun!

Within a few weeks (if it hasn’t already started), you’ll become inundated with college literature.  Brochures with bright, shining pictures of bucolic landscapes and beautiful, happy students of every race and creed will entice you to fall in love with their alma mater.  Before you do so, you need to educate yourself about how the college process works today.

As a start, I thought I’d provide you with a few insights about your PSAT scores:

  •     First, other than National Merit, the PSAT doesn’t count towards college admissions.  Period.  It’s a practice test and nothing more.  Colleges will not ask for, nor will they care about, your student’s PSAT score.  (They will be used by the colleges for marketing purposes; hence the flood of literature referenced above).
  •     The PSAT merely serves as an early indicator of test performance. Parents and students should view PSAT results as the minimum possible SAT score, since results will improve with time, maturity, and practice.  And more practice.
  •     That said, if you do excel on the test (11th graders with scores above 220 out of 240), you can expect to qualfiy as National Merit Semifinalists. About 15,000 students are semifinalists each year and are notified in September.  About half of these students will earn a prestigious National Merit Scholarship after completing additional requirements.
  •     Finally, the PSAT marks the beginning of the college testing period, which will last for about a year for many students (some 12th graders just took the SAT last Saturday for the last time; the final ACT for many seniors is tomorrow, December 8).

I’m not a big fan of standardized tests like the SAT or ACT (and don’t get me started on the FCAT!).  I think they’re biased, they are an unreliable indicator of college performance, and students who are relatively well-off are able to hire expensive tutors or enroll in expensive test-prep programs to improve their scores.

(For an inexpensive test-prep offer, check out my online option).

Nevertheless, most colleges still examine test scores, specifically the SAT or ACT, to determine your student’s qualification for admission.   And so, whether you are ready or not,  once you have your PSAT score, your college admissions process has begun.  As further proof:  In just three weeks, the calendar will turn to January.  If you’re the parent of an 11th grader, you will enter your first base income year —  as it relates to your finances and any qualification for financial aid, you are on-the-clock on January 1.  10th grade parents still enjoy a small window of opportunity, which should be used to your advantage. But you have to take action.

I know that between Admissions and Funding, the college admissions process can seem intimidating.  Rather than feeling overwhelmed, here’s something you can do now to demystify the process:

I’m holding my last College Funding workshop of the year next Tuesday in Weston.  If you are the parent of a high school student then it is your responsibility to get educated on how the business of college works.  And make no mistake, college is a business.  When you buy a car, you research the prices, models, and safety ratings of the cars in a particular class.  When you buy a home, you research the market, the area schools, and the neighborhoods.  When looking for colleges, you need to look at not only the academic offerings, but also the financial components that make up what you will actually pay.  You must look beyond the sticker prices, as two-thirds of all students receive a significant discount.

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