High school juniors and seniors participate in two kinds of testing to determine their readiness for college. The ACT assesses students in English, mathematics, reading, science and writing. The SAT measures student knowledge in the areas of critical reading, writing and mathematics. High scores on either test can help students compete for college scholarship dollars through the national program and at individual colleges and universities.
National Merit Scholarships
The National Merit Scholarship program began in 1955 as an opportunity for students to compete at the national level for scholarship monies based on the Pre-SAT (PSAT) National Merit Scholarship Test. Students in grades 9 to 12 can take the test as a way both to prepare for the SAT and compete for top-level scholarship honors. The test must be taken no later than the third year in high school. Students taking the test must plan on attending a four-year college or university and be a citizen of the United States or a lawful permanent resident.
There are three types of scholarships for National Merit Finalists: National Merit $2500 scholarships, corporate-sponsored Merit Scholarship Awards and college-sponsored Merit Scholarship Awards. National Merit $2500 awards are single-payment scholarships awarded on a state representational basis. Corporate-scholarship awards are given to children of corporate employees participating in the program. College-sponsored awards are given to students who have already been accepted for admission to a particular college and have informed the National Merit Scholarship Committee that the school is their first choice.
Full-Tuition Academic Scholarships
Full-tuition academic scholarships, though rare, are available at some colleges and universities based on ACT or SAT scores, high school grade point average, community service and work experience while in high school. Each college or university offering these types of scholarships will have additional criteria for the award. Corporations and foundations also offer full-ride scholarships based on ACT or SAT scores and strong academic performance in high school. Most of these scholarships are also based on need as well as minority status.
Private College Scholarships
Private colleges use a criteria system to award scholarship monies based on ACT or SAT scores, academic performance in high school, community service, high school extra-curricular involvement and work experience. Each private college has its own formula, and the awards based on those criteria can be either one-time awards or renewable awards. Students must maintain a certain grade point average throughout their college career to continue to receive their renewable awards. The GPA standard is based on the amount of the award given.
Public College Scholarships
Public colleges and universities use similar standards to award scholarships to students as do private institutions. Awards are based on the National Merit Program, ACT scores or SAT scores, community service, grade point average, extra-curricular activities and work experience while in high school. Public universities also accept scholarship money for students from corporations, foundations and state-sponsored programs. Like private colleges, public colleges use ACT and SAT scores as a part of the scholarship-award system and give automatic amounts to accepted students based on their unique criteria. Students who apply and are accepted to the schools of their choice are automatically considered for the scholarships that are available.
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