SAT test prepTuition rates are rising every year – often at rates that are out of touch with the rest of the economy. And schools are giving fewer need-based and more merit-based financial awards  than ever before: 49% of financial assistance was given based on need at the end of the last decade, as compared to 66% during the 1990s.  

Less than half of most colleges' financial aid budgets are spent on need-based assistance. A full 43% of those budgets were used for merit-based scholarships just a few years ago, and that number hasn't likely decreased. In other words: when it comes to scholarships and other financial aid, schools care less about your needs and more about your test scores than ever before.

Test Scores Aren't the Only Factor—But They're Still Huge

For many (mostly private) colleges, you'll need a high SAT/ACT score just to get in the door. And SAT/ACT scores are almost always important when it comes to paying your way through school. That makes SAT test prep  more important than ever before. 

How high a score do you have to have? That depends on where you're going, and how much financial assistance you're seeking. And you don't have to get a full scholarship in order for your score to make or break you financially.

For many schools, you'll need to score 1400 or higher if you want a full ride based just your test score and GPA (which typically needs to be at least 3.5 for this type of scholarship, and often 3.75 or higher).

Of course, that's not the only option. Most universities offer merit-based partial tuition scholarships for scores of around 1200 or higher. Even a score of 1100 may pay for your dorm room and/or meal plan.

Most students don't have any single source for assistance, but rather rely on two or more forms of financial aid. Even if you're afraid you'll never make it to 1400 on the test (you might!), your SAT test score can still make or break your college experience—or decide whether you have on at all. In short, it's always to your benefit to study and do SAT test prep. 

What About the National Merit Scholarship?

The National Merit Scholarship is given out to almost 10,000 students each year and is based largely on their PSAT (Preliminary SAT) test score. The amount it pays can vary from year to year, but it can cover a sizable portion of your fees every year.

Can you practice for that test as well? You certainly can—and it's an important one to prepare for. A good SAT preparation guide  will help you prepare for the PSAT as well.

Like almost everything else in life, you'll do much better on your SAT if you take some time and energy to prepare for it. Merit-based financial aid can come from a number of sources. That means that even if you don't get a full scholarship because of your score, SAT test prep  can still make your life easier now and for the next four years.


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