Crossing the Line: Improve Academic Standing for Financial Aid
Good grades and test scores typically mean more scholarship opportunities. Did you also know that a small margin can sometimes push you over the line for eligibility, or even for higher awards? Here’s a look at how small improvements matter.
The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). If you take the PSAT as a junior, you’re automatically screened for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The top scorers in each state receive special recognition.
- About two-thirds receive Letters of Commendation and become eligible for special scholarships sponsored by corporations and businesses.
- About one-third become Semifinalists, and most of those complete several steps to become Finalists. Finalists are eligible for:
- Merit Scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, corporations and colleges.
- Special scholarships up to and beyond full tuition from certain colleges.
The difference between a Commended student’s score and a Semifinalist’s score could be a single point in a metric called the “Selection Index,” which is based on your PSAT scores.
How to Cross the Line
Preparation is key for the PSAT.
- Take the PSAT 10 as a sophomore to become familiar with the test format and see where your strengths and weaknesses lie to better prepare yourself for the PSAT as a junior.
- Use practice tests to review the test concepts and learn which answers are considered correct or incorrect and why.
- Be sure to practice in timed test-taking situations.
ACT and SAT
Most colleges require you to attain a specific minimum score on either the ACT or SAT before admittance. Once you have narrowed down your college choices, review their scholarships pages. Many academic scholarships are based either entirely or partly on those test scores, and one or two more points may push you into a category for a more substantial award.
How to Cross the Line
Many of the same techniques above for the PSAT apply when taking other standardized tests like the SAT and ACT. Keep these additional pointers in mind:
- While the PSAT and SAT are both offered by College Board and have many similarities, the ACT comes from another provider and the format and content areas may be quite different. Use specific practice tests for the SAT or the ACT, depending on which test you plan to take.
- Check to see if the colleges you’re applying to require or recommend that you take the optional essay portion.
- You may retake either the SAT or ACT to try to improve your score.
- Concentrate on preparing for the areas in which you want to improve, but continue to practice all parts of the test so your other section scores don’t fall.
- Consider your options for sharing your scores with colleges. You may want to wait to see your new score before you submit it to a college, but an additional fee could be required.
- If your score improves in some parts of the test, but you have a lower composite score because of lower scores in other sections, see whether your college will superscore, or consider your best score for each section of the test separately.
High School Grades
While you’re checking the test score requirements for scholarships, pay attention to the required high school GPA as well. Will bumping up your overall GPA a fraction of a point move you into another scholarship category and make you eligible for hundreds or thousands of additional dollars?
Increasing your GPA may also make you eligible for increased money from outside scholarship sponsors. When you search for scholarships, try a search with an additional 0.1 or 0.15 added to your actual GPA to see if you get more results. (Don’t lie on scholarship applications; improve your GPA before you apply.)
How to Cross the Line
Increasing your GPA may take some extra effort, but if it nets you additional cash for college, it’s worth the work.
- Don’t wait. Take steps to improve a specific grade early in the semester or year. Later, you’ll have fewer opportunities to earn points, and a perfect final test can only offset so many earlier mistakes.
- Take advantage of every extra credit opportunity.
- Ask your teachers how you can improve your grade. Some may be willing to provide credit for an extra project or paper if you explain why you need the grade boost. (This is most effective if you’re an engaged student who generally completes all work on time, even if you don’t always get an A.)
- Improve your study habits. See these tips for studying smarter.