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Presidential Scholarship: 7 Reasons Why You Should Apply

With college tuition being as expensive as ever, it may feel daunting to consider how you may pay for your college education. Luckily, there are many scholarships and resources available that will help lessen the load for high schoolers, so make sure to be on the lookout for opportunities.

Scholarships can range in scale, but some may be on a national level and be known for their prestige. That is the case for U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, which is described as "one of the Nation's highest honors for students" in the United States of America and the globe. To learn more about this program and how you can succeed, continue reading!

What is the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program?

The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was first established in 1964 by the executive order of the President. The purpose of the program was to award the most accomplished graduating high school seniors in America. Over the course of this program’s history, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts and in career and technical education fields. Each year, up to 161 students are named as Presidential Scholars, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students.

As such, being recognized as a Presidential Scholar means you are one of the top graduating high schoolers in the nation, so it’s an incredible honor to receive one.

Does the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program offer monetary value?

Unlike other scholarships, a Presidential Scholarship does not provide monetary assistance to the awardees. Instead, it provides scholars with invaluable experiences and opportunities that other students don't have access to. For example, selected applicants are chosen to attend an exclusive, all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. in June to visit the White House, where they will be presented with a Presidential Scholars medallion. The visit will also include historical monument tours, recitals, events, and ceremonies.

During their stay, scholars have the chance to meet national figures such as renowned authors, scientists, educators, musicians, and government officials to discuss social and global issues. The endless opportunities to network among accomplished peers and to create lasting connections make the U.S. Presidential Scholars program truly special.

In addition, while the Presidential Scholars Program does not provide scholarship money, it can still help you in financing your college career. The academic prestige will definitely help you stand out in any merit-based scholarship you apply for.

Who is eligible for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program?

For the general component of the program, applicants should meet the following criteria:

  • Be U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent U.S. Residents by the application deadline.

  • Graduate or receive a diploma between January and August of the current program year.

  • Score exceptionally well on either the SAT of the College Board or the ACT of the American College Testing Program, based on tests taken during the recognition cycle.

  • Be nominated by their Chief State School Officer (CSSO) or nominated by one of our partner recognition organizations based on outstanding scholarship.

For the arts component of the program, students who meet the following criteria:

  • Be U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent U.S. Residents by the application deadline.

  • Graduate or receive a diploma between January and August of 2023, the current program year.

  • Demonstrate academic achievement and talent in the visual, creative and performing arts.

  • Participate in the YoungArts program.

For the CTE component of the program, students who meet the following criteria:

  • Be U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent U.S. Residents by the application deadline.

  • Graduate or receive a diploma between January and August of 2023, the current program year.

  • Demonstrate academic achievement in career and technical programs.

  • Be nominated by their state's Chief State School Officer.

The application for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program is by invitation only. Students may not apply individually to the program or be nominated outside of the above process.

How do I qualify for the U.S. Presidential Scholarship?

Given how only a few high school seniors receive the scholarship, it may look like chances are slim, but there are a few ways you can improve your application and be selected. Here’s how to walk through the application process:

Expected Timeline

The Presidential Scholars Program usually releases invitations to apply in January, and those who receive them are required to submit candidacy materials by the end of February. In the following months, the review committee will then look over the applications and select the 161 finalists.

Test Scores

One way to receive an invitation to apply is scoring well on the SAT or ACT – well enough to score within the top percentile of all test-takers in the United States! The committee simply chooses the top 20 male examinees and top 20 female examinees as the candidates in each state.

This method of becoming a scholar has one main advantage; unlike the other methods of evaluation, students are able to take the SAT/ACT as many times as needed until you reach perfect or nearly perfect scores.

Good grades

Academic success in secondary school reports is also a highly valued component of the application. High-achieving students are able to succeed in their schoolwork and excel in rigorous classes, so make sure to manage your time responsibly during the school year to maintain your GPA.

Personal characteristics

While this area can be a bit vague – after all, it’s hard to measure personal characteristics quantitatively – there is still a lot you can do to be judged well in this category You’ll be able to describe your personal characteristics directly within the self-assessments component of the application (see below for more details), but you can also let them show throughout your application. For example, if you are an initiative-focused individual, you may join organizations or set up events that showcase your dedication to social change. In another instance, you may be an adventurous individual with a thirst for experiencing new things, so you are involved in many different activities. The possibilities are endless!

Leadership abilities

Some may think that this category may always judge on whether or not you’ve held a leadership position. While becoming a president or captain of a club is valuable, more importantly, you should demonstrate your leadership abilities through your involvement and work. Therefore, even if you don’t hold a specific leadership role, you should actively seek change within a club you are actively involved in. Maybe you’ve come up with a thrilling fundraising idea, or you were able to compile a list of resources for members of your club – both of these count towards your traits as a leader. As long as you possess effective communication skills, leadership abilities should follow suit.


In the application, students will be required to describe their personal characteristics, leadership and service activities in their school and community, their academic achievements, and any special challenges or hurdles (if any) that they overcame while still achieving high academic success. This is an opportunity for the applicant to describe themselves and highlight their strong suits to the judges.

Community service & extracurriculars

Volunteer service activities or community work are important to highlight your commitment to helping others. Therefore, instead of solely focusing on your academics, see if there are clubs or organizations nearby that you can join to better your local area and reach out to those in need. In addition, extracurricular activities should reflect your interests and involvement within the school community and beyond. They can also be an excellent supplement to illustrate your academics, since many extracurricular activities are closely related to intellectual pursuits.

Scholarship essays

The essay portion, much like any essay you may write for a scholarship, allows the judges to peek into the “story” behind your accomplishments. This is where you can truly come to life within your application – beyond your SAT scores, transcript, and academic achievements, these essays will be similar to standard questions such as “Describe how your community has been important to your development” and “Describe how you overcame a challenge.” It goes without saying, but pay close attention to your grammar and vocabulary. It may help to have a peer or teacher review your essays before submitting them – but you must write them yourself!

Other: Visual and Performing Arts or Creative Writing

Talented seniors within the performing arts or visual arts can be nominated for the Presidential Scholarship through the YoungArts Program. Members who are in this national recognition program senior year of high school and meet all of the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program requirements can go on to earn the scholarship.

During National YoungArts Week, eligible candidates are evaluated in one of 10 different disciplines: Cinematic Arts, Dance, Design, Jazz, Music, Photography, Theater, Visual Arts, Voice, and Writing.

Other: Career and Technical Education

If you plan on going into technical education, then there's another way of becoming a scholar. In 2015, the program expanded to include high school students who demonstrate ability and skills in career and technical education fields. These students are personally nominated by their Chief State School Officer (CSSO) based on achievement in CTE.

Review of the Application

A committee of educators, known as the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, from across the nation will gather by the White House to review the final candidates.

In every component listed, potential candidates will be measured based on standards of excellence, rather than competing with each other for a nomination. To get a presidential scholarship, students must focus on academic achievement, community involvement, and going above and beyond.

7 Reasons why you should apply for the Presidential Scholarship

  1. It is prestigious: Being named a Presidential Scholar is considered one of the nation's highest honors for high school students, showcasing your exceptional academic achievements and talents.

  2. It gives great exposure: Presidential Scholars attend an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C., where they visit the White House and receive a medallion, attend historical monument tours, recitals, events, and ceremonies.

  3. It provides great networking opportunities: During the Washington D.C. trip, scholars have the chance to meet and engage with renowned authors, scientists, educators, musicians, and government officials to discuss social and global issues.

  4. You make valuable peer connections: The program brings together accomplished high school seniors from across the nation, providing a unique opportunity to network and create lasting friendships with like-minded students.

  5. It gives your college application boost: Though the Presidential Scholars Program does not provide monetary assistance, the academic prestige associated with the honor can help you stand out in merit-based scholarship applications and college admissions.

  6. Your personal growth: The program offers a platform to showcase your leadership abilities, personal characteristics, and commitment to community service, helping you develop important life skills and grow as an individual.

  7. It provides an array of opportunities: The program recognizes students with exceptional talent in visual, creative and performing arts, and in career and technical education fields, providing opportunities for a diverse range of high-achieving students.

The Presidential Scholarship is highly selective, but with enough time and effort spent into tailoring your skills and application, you will surely go far. Even if you were not selected as a finalist, your academics and activities will allow you to not only apply for scholarships, but also stand out in your college applications. So, shoot for the moon! Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.

Want extra support? The Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for an excellent opportunity to boost your application or to build your own independent research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.

Lydia is currently a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Molecular and Cellular Biology. During high school, she pursued engineering activities like attending the Governor's School of Engineering and Technology. In her spare time, she likes to create digital art while listening to music.

Image source: US Presidential Scholars logo



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