Many pageants offer their contestants the opportunity to compete at the national level without having won their state title. Some say that you can place in an optional or the queen's court (top 5) and go to nationals. Some allow the 1st runner up to go to nationals etc etc. However, this does not necessarily mean that you should just pay your way and attend nationals...let me tell you why.
My dad often told me that nationals is where the 'best of the best' come together. Did you win 4th runner up in actress? Well so did 20 other girls...and some won 1st runner up in actress..and some flat out won it. They are all going to nationals. Some have competed for 6 years and have been working hard for 6 years to qualify for nationals...that girl is going too. My point is, if you are going in with one weekend of preparation from your state pageant and nothing else, (and your earning that 4th runner up in modeling), how do you think it will fair against 100s of other girls who did better than you at the state level. And some...at the national level before too.
Ok, I'm NOT saying that you should not go to nationals...but let me say this again - nationals is where the 'best of the best' compete. I remember my first qualifying for nationals - I was a maniac with excitement! Checking flights, see what I could compete in etc etc. But I made a vow to myself - I would not go to nationals until I won my state title or until I felt I truly could compete against the best of the best. Hey, after all, to be the best...you have to beat the best.
Again, I'm not saying that you should not compete at nationals without a state title, but I want to you seriously consider the monetary, mental, and physical commitment you are making with traveling to nationals without your state title (if you won the state title, you are required to compete at nationals). Take a look at some of the videos from previous national competitions on YouTube - they can be quite the education! See what the winners wore (style, designer, fabric) and how they wore it (modeling technique, customized clothing, shoes, jewelry) etc. Nationals is a serious undertaking for someone who wants serious results.
Do not just compete at nationals because you CAN. Compete because you are at your personal best and are confident that you can do your personal best. <3