Presidential Scholars Program
It was established in 1964 by executive order of the President of the United States to recognize and celebrate distinguished American graduating high school seniors. Each year, the United States Department of Education and the Presidentially-appointed White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects, from around 3 million graduating high school seniors, up to 141 students as U.S. Presidential Scholars: 121 in the academics and 20 in the arts.
In summary of the overall program, from the program's website, “By ages 16 and 17, these astonishing young people have not only succeeded in the highest possible level of high school academic rigor, but have also mastered multiple languages, worked for NASA and the Air Force Research Lab, played with the New York Philharmonic, volunteered and founded regional and national and international social service programs, conducted cutting-edge cancer research, issued scholarly papers, competed in the Olympics, placed in most major national and international competitions, and launched their own companies. They go on to attend the Nation’s top colleges and universities, and to exercise their gifts on behalf of our country and the world.”
Students chosen as Presidential Scholars are flown to Washington, D.C., in the summer after they graduate high school. During the National Recognition Program, they meet with government officials, educators, authors, musicians, scientists, businessmen, and past Presidential Scholars. During the program scholars have the opportunity to visit museums and monuments, frequent recitals and receptions, and attend ceremonies as guests of the Department of Education and the Executive Office of the President.
To commemorate their achievements, the scholars are individually awarded the Presidential Medallion in a ceremony sponsored by the White House.
Of the up to 141 Scholars, the Commission on Presidential Scholars chooses up to 121 in the academics and 20 in the arts. All candidates are invited to apply to the program in January of their graduation year. Applications are due in February. Semifinalists are announced in Mid-April and all Scholars are announced the first week of May. The Scholars usually are in Washington, DC for the National Recognition Program in June.
An overview of selection progression follows:
|Designation||Number of candidates||Ratio||Percent|
|Graduating senior||3,000,000 (approx.) eligible to apply||1 in 1||100%|
|Presidential Scholar Candidate||2600 (approx.)||1 in 1,500||0.0667%|
|Presidential Scholar Semifinalist||500 (approx.)||1 in 6,000||0.0167%|
|Presidential Scholar||121 in academics, 20 in arts||1 in over 20,000||0.00470%|
All graduating high school seniors who are citizens of the United States or legal permanent residents, enrolled in either private or public high schools, and who have scored exceptionally well on either the SAT of the College Board or the ACT Assessment of the American College Testing Program on or before October of each year are automatically considered for participation. This is a pool of approximately 3,000,000 students.
The United States Department of Education then examines the test records for the top 30 males and top 30 females in each state/jurisdiction. The combined file of scores from the top male examinees and top female examinees are then ranked from high to low in each state. The scores associated with the top 20 male examinees and top 20 female examinees are used to identify the candidates in each state. When ties occur in the threshold score, more than 20 persons of that gender are selected in that state. In addition, each Chief State School Officer (CSSO) may nominate up to three male and three female candidates, based on their outstanding scholarship, residing in the CSSO's jurisdiction. Each year approximately 3,300 students are invited to apply to the program.
Candidates then go through a rigorous application process where they must submit candidacy materials, including essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts. Candidates are evaluated on their academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership, service, and other extracurricular activities, and an analysis of their essays.
In mid-April approximately 500 Semifinalists are chosen by a review committee of qualified individuals experienced in secondary and post-secondary education. Six to twenty Semifinalists are identified for each state/jurisdiction. The number of Semifinalists identified per state/jurisdiction is proportionate to the number of candidates for that state.
In May, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars makes the final selection of up to 121 Presidential Scholars. One male student and one female Scholar are chosen from each state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and from families of U.S. citizens living abroad. In addition, up to fifteen Scholars are chosen at-large.
The National YoungArts Foundation reviews approximately 11,000 candidates annually of 15-18 year old artists in the fields of visual, literary, performing and design arts. From these they select (through a blind adjudication process) the top 600-700 artists in the nation as National Winners. 171 of these Winners travel to Miami, Florida for National YoungArts Week, where they are further adjudicated by panelists and can win up to $10,000 to help them pursue a career in the arts. These 171 Winners are then narrowed down to 60 nominees that are recommended to the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. These 60 candidates are invited to apply, and the Commission, in turn, selects the 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
Students must register and participate in YoungArts, a national program of the National Young Arts Foundation designed to identify, recognize and encourage talented high school seniors who demonstrate excellence in cinematic arts, dance, design, jazz, music, photography, theater, vocal performance, visual arts or writing.
Based on the discipline entered, registrants must submit audiotapes, videotapes, slides or manuscripts demonstrating artistic accomplishment. One panel for each arts discipline evaluates applicants in a two-step blind adjudication process. The judges review material submitted by the applicants and select up to 20 award candidates in each of the ten disciplines for live adjudications in Miami (YoungArts also has National Merit and Honorable Mention Winners that can attend one of three Regional Programs in Los Angeles, New York City and Miami, Florida, as well). All applicants are judged against a standard of excellence within each artistic discipline, not against each other.
The final judging from the National YoungArts Week results in the recognition of excellence in five different award categories. Upon completion of the YoungArts program, YoungArts will nominate up to sixty students who meet the eligibility requirements for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. These students will be mailed candidacy materials and invited to apply to the program.
To be considered further, candidates must submit candidacy materials, including essays, self-assessments, secondary school reports, and transcripts. Candidates are evaluated on their academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership, service, and extracurricular activities, and an analysis of their essays.
Arts candidates enter the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program selection process at the semifinalist level. In April the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars makes the final selection of up to twenty U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
- Richard Alley (1976, Ohio) - geosciences professor at Pennsylvania State University
- Patrick Chovanec (1988, Illinois) - business professor at Tsinghua University, former aide to Speaker of the House John Boehner
- Kristin Forbes (1988, New Hampshire) - business professor at MIT, former member of Council of Economic Advisors
- Kermit Roosevelt III (1989, District of Columbia) - author, law professor at University of Pennsylvania
- Suzette Charles (1981, New Jersey) – Miss America 1984, singer and entertainer
- Rita Dove (1970, Ohio) – Poet Laureate of the United States, winner of Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
- Desmond Richardson (1986) – dancer, co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet
- Conrad Tao (2011, New York) – pianist, composer and violinist
- Sallie Krawcheck (1983, South Carolina) - president of Bank of America's global wealth and investment-management unit
- Amory Lovins (1964, Massachusetts) - environmentalist, Chairman and Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute
Government and politics
- Donald S. Beyer Jr. (1968, District of Columbia) - U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, former Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
- Mitch Daniels (1967, Indiana) - Governor of Indiana, former Director of U.S. Office of Management and Budget
- Bruce Reed (1978, Idaho) - CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, former aide to President Bill Clinton
- Merrick Garland (1970, Illinois) - Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
- Todd Park (1990, Ohio) - Chief Technology Officer of the United States