The PSAT is so much more than a practice test.

Hey friends! I'm Sophia, college freshman, survivor of The College Application Process. I get to go to an awesome school (where you c...

Hey friends!

I'm Sophia, college freshman, survivor of The College Application Process. I get to go to an awesome school (where you can wear shorts and study outside in January!!) where I'm studying Finance, Econ, and Arabic in an accelerated business program called Business Fellows.

So, there are oh so many things I would have done differently in my college application process, but one thing that I'm incredibly grateful that I did was study for my PSAT & SAT. While many students see the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, usually taken junior year of high school) as simply a practice test, just plain torture that the College Board invented, but I found that studying for these tests opened doors for me that are few and far between otherwise.

I’d like to think that my college acceptance and the ensuing scholarships were because of my stellar grades, impressive extracurriculars, and a whole host of other things that went into my college applications, but no. The reason I received the scholarship I did (full tuition+) was based solely on my PSAT (a standardized test taken the fall of your junior year) and SAT scores, which culminated into National Merit Finalist status. Seriously. The only criteria for my scholarship was my test scores. Nothing else.

If you're uncertain that investing time and money for these tests is actually worth it, let’s do a little bit of math. (You’ll need the practice for the PSAT anyway.) According to the College Board’s 2016 Trends in College Prices, the average cost of a private four-year college—tuition, fees, room, and board— is over $45,000 per year. That comes out to nearly $200,000 after four years, so unless your parents own half of New York City or you’ve recently won the lottery, college application season comes will come with researching loan options. Don’t worry- this is expected: according to Debt.org, the average student debt is nearly $40,000.
News flash. We're talking about a lot of money.

So high school freshmen and sophomores (and you awesome parents) with college aspirations- please, please, please think long and hard about why you're not preparing for the PSAT, which is the only way to qualify for the National Merit Scholarships. If the 53+ schools that offer full tuition scholarships for National Merit Finalists (or more- UT Dallas gives a $9,500 stipend per year on top of that plus up to $6,000 to study abroad) don’t convince you, at the very least think about my story.

It was an October morning and I had to give a speech that afternoon. It was raining and I believe I was fighting a cold. I had no idea that the test I took in a freezing cold gym had just saved me over $100,000. No seriously- I had prepped for the PSAT like a good type-A firstborn, but I had no idea about the scholarships and opportunities on the line as I took the test.

My ability to fill in multiple-choice bubbles one Wednesday as a junior landed me a full tuition+ scholarship to a great university as a National Merit Finalist. Just think about that for a hot minute.

Is it fair that so much is at stake in one test? Probably not. Is it fair to the juniors who—like me—probably don’t have a clue what they want to do with their life have to take extra time in an already stressful year to prepare for said test? Probably not.

But here’s the thing, I’ve met countless people who didn’t have the knowledge or motivation or teachers or advisors or parents (or random blog posts lol) telling them to study for the PSAT and they missed the National Merit Scholarship cutoff by only a few points. Do you really want to risk it? Or fail to at least try? So buy the test prep book, take some time during the summer, take the test prep class if you need.

Sophomores and freshmen, you’re in luck, because you have plenty of time to prepare. It may seem ridiculously early and maybe a little cruel to have to think about college (and debt! and scholarships! and what you’re going to do with your life!!) but trust me, it’s worth it. Even if you don’t become a National Merit Finalist, the PSAT is a great first step to preparing for the SAT, where thousands of dollars of scholarships can come from increasing your score by getting just a few more questions right.

Argue all you’d like about how only “second rate” universities offer these scholarships for National Merit Finalists, and a year ago, I probably would have agreed, with my Ivy League aspirations. But let’s be real: the Ivies have amazing opportunities and impressive prestige for your resume, but at the end of the day, hard work and interpersonal skills and connections will take you far, Harvard or not.

In fact, none of the CEOs of the 10 most successful US companies went to an Ivy League for their undergraduate education. Of course, there’s Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and all around uber-successful businessman, who started at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania but then transferred to the University of Nebraska Lincoln where he found the education “considerably superior.” And the University of Nebraska Lincoln happens to be one of the schools where National Merit Finalists are considered for a full tuition scholarship plus a $2000 stipend.

-Sophia Fulton

ps. I'll be leading a PSAT & SAT prep courses this summer! Find out more: prepsuccessmn.com.

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