For those of you who took the PSAT last month, you may have been surprised to see your score reports on your College Board Accounts earlier this week. I was – they’re usually late, so it’s clear that the long-awaited digital transition of this particular rite of passage is having at least one positive impact.
So now what? Well, since this report has a lot of data and can be a tad confusing, I have some critical advice to help you interpret and appropriately consider the importance of these scores.
First of all, to access scores online, you will need to have your (or your child’s) College Board ID/PW. Once you’re in the account you can find your scores, and if you’re in 11th grade, you’ll want to look for your selection index. This index ranges between 48 – 228 and will determine your potential National Merit Scholar standing. Though the index numbers vary year-to-year and are evaluated on an intra-state basis, a good – as in potentially qualifying score – is around 218 or higher. I’m happy to explain the exact formula to anyone interested, but please reach out personally for that level of detail AND please note that fewer than 1% of test-takers will become National Merit Semi-finalists, so it should only be a concern for a handful of students – see below for more info on that.
Ok, once you’ve accessed and presumably reviewed your (your child’s) report, you may then wonder whether and how your results will affect your college admissions chances.
Here’s my answer. THEY WON’T. Period. Full Stop!
Now, there is one exception to this rule, sort- of. If you’re in 11th grade and you are in a very small, 1% minority of top scorers, you may qualify to become one of the aforementioned National Merit Semifinalists, which allows you to compete for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship award (after completing additional requirements). While this honor is a huge accomplishment, it still has limited, if any, bearing on your admissions prospects. I know National Merit Finalists who did not get accepted to their state’s flagship universities.
So, please put the PSAT in proper perspective. It’s a practice test and nothing more. Colleges will not ask for, nor will they care about, your PSAT score. 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. For real!!
What the scores will be used for by colleges is marketing.
That’s right, marketing… If you (your child) took the PSAT this Fall, schools will now begin treating you as if your college admissions process has officially begun – particularly if you are in 11th grade!
Within a few weeks (if this hasn’t already started), you’ll become inundated with college literature. Emails (or 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 school.
There are nearly 4000 2-year, 4-year and vocational schools out there. In other words, there is a seat for every tush! Please please don’t fall for a school’s marketing until you have first fully explored your academic interests, post-high school plans and your budget. The key to having a meaningful and affordable post high school education is planning for that prior to falling in love with one destination or path.
For now, you should take the posting of the PSAT scores as a signal that it’s time to start to educate yourself on the college admissions and scholarship process. Especially if you’re in 10th and definitely if you’re in 11th grade (or you’re the parents who love a 10th or 11th grader), November marks the beginning of the college journey for college-bound, high school students!
If for years this has been something you’ve looked at as a crossroads in the distant future, let this serve as a reminder that it’s about to get real. You are at the crossroads. The light just turned green and it’s go time!
Families of 10th and 11th graders should be prepared for the reality that life after high school – more specifically college, both applying and PAYING for it – will very soon become a central part of your regular dining table discussion (and kitchen discussion, and carpool discussion, etc.).
Here’s a snapshot of possible future dinner conversations:
CONCERNED PARENT: Have you thought about where you want to apply to college and when you would like to take the SAT or ACT?
FRUSTRTAED STUDENT: Do we have to talk about this now?
CONCERNED PARENT: Well, yes! We need to make plans to visit schools, sign you up for testing, arrange for tutoring, and meet your counselor. So?
FRUSTRATED STUDENT: May I please be excused?
Please know, however, that this does NOT have to become your dinner table. Yes, we know that right now, this entire process can seem daunting, and you’re likely feeling anxious just reading about it. And I recognize that there’s so much misinformation, dates, deadlines, not to mention, unsolicited advice (and needless pressure) from everywhere and everyone that what should be an exciting experience can throw even the most balanced and relaxed family into a minor tizzy.
But it doesn’t have to be like this!
We can help you dial back the pressure. We’re here and able to provide you with the right information for you and your family with personalized coaching and support. We’ve helped thousands of families with all kinds of academic prospects and economic circumstances navigate the process, identify the right path for their child/family, keep their sanity AND their life savings.
The college process is increasingly fueled by a higher ed industry that is creating and perpetuating the mania. We never want to add to this pressure. Our goal – and our program – is intentionally designed to alleviate it.
Getting started with some accurate information can go a long way to keeping the process in perspective. It’s a little cathartic and healthy to recognize and then begin planning and researching. It all starts with the right strategy…choosing colleges that are right for your child to apply to can mean that your child will be choosing among a number of different options (and scholarships) that will make college much more affordable than you may think.
And it’s a very personalized strategy. You see, the right schools for your neighbor’s kid, or your best friend’s kid, or your niece and nephew may not be the right schools for your child, and I’m not just talking about academic qualifications. Perhaps State U was right for your first child, but maybe your second offspring just doesn’t fit into that same round hole. Or vice versa.