Jan 26, 2010

Which States Have the Highest Qualifying Scores?

At the request of J. Kevin Fee, Esquire, of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, representing the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, I am editing this post to remove compilations of NMSC data and links to NMSC web pages. The information that the NMSC wishes to keep from public view may be found on several other websites.

If you live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, or New Jersey, you’re out of luck this year. To qualify for a [large national] scholarship, you needed to score at or above the highest score cutoff in the country or [removed]—a full 20 points higher than competing students in Wyoming who needed to score [removed] to earn the same academic distinction and scholarship opportunities. Unfair? Maybe.

Each year, a magic wand gets waived over the total universe of PSAT scores, and a list of [large national] scholarship finalists appears. These finalists are invited to compete for a host of benefits ranging from scholarship money to automatic college admission. They’re lauded in the press and labeled as among the most distinguished high school students in the nation. What did they do to earn all this fame and fortune—take one test on one day. And if luck would have it, they happened to live in a state where their selection index—a combination of math, critical reading, and writing scores—happened to be above the cut-off.

The methodology for determining who gets the [large national] scholarship nod is loosely described on the [large national] scholarship website. To begin the process, high school students must take the PSAT in October of their junior year. In the spring after the test, 50,000 high scorers are contacted for program recognition as “commended” or “semifinalist” based on a selectivity index generated by the combined PSAT scores. This year’s national cutoff for recognition was [removed].

High scorers are then notified of their final status in September of senior year. Students who received a score below the semifinalist cutoff specific to their state will be “commended." Those above the cutoff—about 16,000 students—are invited to continue in the competition as semifinalists. Approximately 90% of the semifinalists eventually earn the finalist distinction.

But mysteriously each state has a different cutoff. And these cutoffs vary by year. Using data compiled and confirmed through several online sources, below is a chart listing selectivity indexes for 2010:


Because scholarship money, prestige, and college admissions are at stake, this is a huge deal.

Imagine living in Maryland and scoring 220an outstanding score that would earn semifinalist status in 47 states including neighboring Virginia. All those honors are out the window because of your address. Surely there must be a better way.

*Please note that the scores cited were not "official" from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. They were obtained as a result of research conducted using information freely provided on various public websites.

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