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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Turning Test Scores into Scholarships, Lower Costs, & More


by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder of Celtic College Consultants

As PSAT scores are released, another world of opportunities is opened to teens and their parents. Unfortunately, most are blind to the possibilities.

Test Scores Direct the College Search

Selecting a college is a task with many steps. Finding the right environment to develop in as a person is a daunting task. There are numerous factors to consider. Most students don't consider schools very far from home. Whether the propensity to choose a college close to home is due to a lack of confidence, the enticement of in state tuition (at public universities), the familiarity of schools nearby, or some other reason, it's important to make the decision carefully.

In addition to social factors and educational opportunities in line with each student's inclinations and goals, academic fit is a very significant factor. Several years ago, Purdue did a study evaluating the happiness of alumni and its relationship with which college they attended. Fundamentally, they explored whether which college one attends impacts one's happiness in life. Their findings surprised them. Where one attends college does not make the most importance with regard to future happiness. What was more important is what one does while at college - having a mentor, people who care about our personal and scholarly growth, participating in long term projects and internships - these factors make the most impact on students' lives. Another study showed that those who finish in the bottom half of the class, even at prestigious schools like Harvard, did not fare as well in life as those who finished in the top portion of their class. 

Test scores are indicators of where one's academic skills fall in the spectrum of students across the country, from public schools to home schools to elite boarding schools. Using scores to determine academic fit is a powerful indicator of a key factor when choosing colleges to visit, apply to, and, ultimately, attend. Many believe that, if their score is within the range listed for a school, that school is a good fit. In a sense, that is true, in another sense it is not. As a college consultant, I direct my students to use those scores to identify schools where they will thrive.

Test Scores Lead to Scholarships

90% of scholarship dollars comes from the colleges themselves. Some of these are tied to financial need while others are tied both to academic qualifications as well as financial need. Some scholarships are won solely by academic factors. Many of those schools list their scholarships in the financial aid section of their websites. With more colleges adopting test optional admissions policies, finding this information has become more difficult. Diligent research is necessary.

Test Scores Lead to Lower College Costs

For more than a decade, the average time to graduate with a bachelor's degree in the US has been SIX years. The dramatic rise in student debt is a side effect of this since most aid ends after four years. Students who use their scores to research colleges thoroughly also tend to take the time during high school to seriously explore possible careers and the related academic majors. These tasks are key to graduating college in four years. Changing majors and/or transferring colleges almost always leads to graduating with credits that don't count toward graduation requirements. Those credits cost time and money to earn nonetheless.

Using scores to identify special learning opportunities such as honors programs and honors colleges also helps students graduate in four years. Honors students typically live together as a community and enjoy privileges like registering for classes before the other students on campus, thus guaranteeing that they will not have problems accessing required courses because they are full.

Lastly, situating oneself among other highly motivated students on one's college campus provides peer pressure to study well, complete one's work well, and take sufficient course loads each term to graduate on time.

Navigating the complexities of college selection, exploring possible majors, programs, campuses, and careers, as well as developing leadership skills are all difficult for teens to do on their own. College consultants like myself work hard to lead teens through these challenges. 

To schedule a consultation with Katherine, email her at

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