AcadiumScholar.org allows high school students to qualify for an academic distinction based on a single, nationwide standard for PSAT scores. 

Our Goal

The Acadium Scholar certification is a consistent way to measure academic merit because the standard we use is the same for all students, regardless of the state in which they live.

The Acadium Scholar certification offers an alternative to the merit certification process of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). Their process uses a state-by-state cutoff system, with different cutoffs for each state.

That means that the NMSC’s assessment of students’ merit depends not only on how well they score on the PSAT, but also on where they live. We don’t think that this approach is the fairest way to assess academic merit among students in the USA.


Problems with Other Merit Certifications

State-by-state strategies for choosing National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists are biased in favor of students in some states and against students in other states.

For example, it is much harder to qualify for National Merit Semifinalist status in places like the District of Columbia (which in 2014 had a cutoff of 225) than in places like Arkansas (which in 2014 had a cutoff of 204). A student in DC had to score twenty-one points higher on the PSAT to earn the same National Merit Semifinalist designation as a student in Arkansas.

The state-by-state cutoff process actually hurts some students whose PSAT scores demonstrate their academic merit. NMS Semifinalists from one state may have lower PSAT scores than students in other states who did not receive a Semifinalist designation.

State-by-state cutoffs also tend to hurt some kinds of students more than others. For example, the state cutoff scores are positively correlated with the percentage of the population in a state that is African-American, Asian, or Hispanic.  This means that the higher the proportion of minorities in a state, the higher the NMS Semifinalist cutoff.

We have estimated that in the years 2008-2014 approximately 16% of PSAT test takers (or about 2,400 students each year) had higher scores than NMS Semifinalists but did not themselves get certified as Semifinalists. These students scored above the cutoff for some, or even most, states, but below the cutoff for their own state.  They missed out on NMS certification not because of their PSAT scores, but because of where they lived.

The Acadium Scholar Certification aims to address this bias, so that these students can have their academic merit validated and recognized.

You can learn more about the impact of the state-by-state cutoff discrimination here.


Comparing Acadium Scholars and National Merit Scholar Semifinalists

The Acadium Scholar designation can do more than help you demonstrate whether your PSAT score meets a national standard of merit. It can also tell you whether your score would have qualified you as a NMS Semifinalist if you lived in some other state. The Acadium Scholar designation details the number of other states where your PSAT score would have made you a NMS Semifinalist– if only you lived there.

For example, a student from a state with a high cutoff, like D.C., which had a cutoff of 225 in 2014, who scores a 218 can use our widget to certify that he’s a 41state Acadium Scholar. This means that in 41 states, though not D.C., he would have been a National Merit Scholar Semifinalist.

Similarly, a student from a state with a low cutoff, like North Dakota, who scores an extraordinary 235 on the PSAT, can use our widget to certify that she is a 50-state Acadium Scholar.

This may be more detail than you need for a college application, but it does help to know just how broadly your score would have qualified you if the system were constructed differently.

The NMSC’s Semifinalist system gives an all-or-nothing signal about achievement on the PSAT.   You either win, or you don’t.  In contrast, the Acadium Scholar certification provides a more varied signal about PSAT scores.  It gives you a way of telling colleges and universities whether your score would have qualified in some number of states or even all 50 states.

By certifying as an Acadium Scholar, you earn the right to represent yourself as an Acadium Scholar.

When you certify using our widget, you will receive a certificate of merit that you can print and frame or include in your college applications.

Certify as an Acadium Scholar for free!


Learn More

Learn more about the Acadium Scholar national cutoff here.

Learn more about the National Merit Scholarship process here.

Find related links and links to articles thinking about this issue here.


The Founders

India Unger-Harquail is a high school student in New Jersey. You can learn more about India here.

Ian Ayres is a Professor at Yale Law School. You can read more about Ian here.




Acadium Scholar is not affiliated in any way with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation or the PSAT/NMSQT.

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