PSAT Scores Launch the College Search for Juniors

December is an important time for high school juniors as they look ahead to college. Most eleventh graders will receive the scores they earned when they took the Preliminary SAT (or PSAT) back in October. Even though the PSAT is just a practice test for the majority of students, it may be the first time that students have official scores on which to lay the foundation for their college search.

What can a student do with those PSAT scores? Of course, the student and parent should read all of the materials that College Board provides along with the score report. There will be plenty of great suggestions on how to use the scores. But, in a nutshell, what the student should do is multiply the scores by ten. This step will convert them to scores which are roughly equivalent to SAT scores. Next, you will want to add the Critical Reading (formerly known as Verbal) and Math scores to get a total score. You can include the Writing score if you wish, but most colleges and universities are still focusing mostly on the CR and Math scores.

Finally, take the combined scores and add 60 points to account for the likely increase in your scores when you take the real SAT, later in the junior year and again in the fall of the senior year. Thus, if you had a CR score of 56 and a Math score of 58, you could project a rough SAT score total of 1200.

You can now take that estimated SAT score and use it to search for colleges. The search can be done the old fashioned way, by searching through one of the many college search books available, or you can do your search on-line. If your school offers an on-line search engine such as Naviance or ConnectEdu, you can conduct your preliminary search there. If not, you can go to and use the search engine provided by the College Board.

In conducting your search, look for colleges and universities where your test scores and grade point average will put you in the upper half of the typical applicant pool. That is not to say that you shouldn’t apply to some “reach” schools, but you want to target your search around colleges which will be as interested in you as you are in them. These will be the colleges where you are more likely to be successful and they are more likely to offer you scholarships and other financial assistance.

Now that you have a preliminary college list, you can begin thinking about visiting campuses and doing the additional research that you need to do to make a great choice. You will also want to develop a plan for taking additional tests through the spring of your junior year and the fall of your senior year. You will probably want to take the SAT once in each of those semesters and, if you will be applying to some of the more selective colleges, you may want to take some SAT Subject tests as well.

Today, nearly every college and university accepts scores from either the SAT or the ACT interchangeably. Unlike the SAT, the ACT will test your knowledge in English, social studies, math, and science. If you have high grades in these subjects, but don’t test well on reasoning tests like the SAT, you might want to try the ACT. There are also more than 700 colleges that offer a variety of SAT optional plans through their admissions offices. For a list of these colleges, go to

Peter Van Buskirk, former Dean of Admission at Franklin and Marshall College and current CEO of The Admission Game, reminds current juniors that you now have “Score Choice” option available in managing your SAT score reports. He reminds students that when they take the SAT, they will be given the opportunity to designate up to four colleges to receive the results. Van Buskirk tells students, “Don’t list any schools unless you don’t care that they see all of your scores.” Instead, he suggests waiting “…until you have taken the SAT several times to determine which scores you’d like to send.” Peter Van Buskirk has been a featured speaker several times at Moorestown High School and other area schools. This article borrows heavily from his presentations and his work. You can learn more at

Whether you like taking standardized tests or not, college testing is likely to play an important role in your college search over the coming year and a half. Talk with your high school counselor to make sure you are fully informed about these assessments and when you need to take them. If you, your parents, and your counselor work together, you are sure to find the right college for you and to enjoy lots of success during the years following high school.