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U.S. Presidential Scholars Program

U.S. Presidential Scholars Program

blue ribbon award

President Lyndon Johnson established the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program in 1964. The mission of the program is to recognize outstanding high school seniors. Approximately 8100 seniors have been honored since the program began.

  • For most of the program's existence, nominees have been invited to apply for Presidential Scholars recognition based solely upon SAT or ACT scores (Category 1).
  • Since 1979, outstanding students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in the visual and performing arts or creative writing have also been included in the Presidential Scholar pool (Category 2).
  • In 2013, the presidentially-appointed Commission on Presidential Scholars initiated a pilot program to expand the nominee pool by including students who have shown outstanding achievement while overcoming challenges in their educational journey (Category 3). Students in this category have demonstrated outstanding scholarship but might not otherwise be nominated through the current SAT/ACT, Arts, or CTE recognition processes.
  • Since 2016, outstanding students who demonstrate excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) have also been included for recognition (Category 4). 
  • Unlike other scholarship programs, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program does not award a monetary scholarship.

Selection Process for Achievement & Overcoming Challenges (Cat. 3) and CTE Accomplishment (Cat 4):

Each year in August, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) sends an email to every Wisconsin high school principal asking them to nominate students for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. We ask for one nomination in the “Achievement and Overcoming Challenges” category (Category 3) and one nomination in the “Achievement and CTE Accomplishment” category (Category 4). All high school seniors graduating between January and August who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents and attend public, parochial, or independent schools or are home-schooled are eligible. More details about selection criteria are provided to principals when they are invited to submit nominations in early fall.

In early fall, the DPI contacts all nominated students and invites them to submit an application. A panel of judges at the DPI evaluates the student applications and selects 20 students (10 males and 10 females) in Category 3 and five students in Category 4. These names are submitted to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program office at the U.S. Department of Education.

In January, the U.S. Department of Education announces the names of the nominees and invites these students to submit an application. Applications are due in February. Scholars are selected by the Commission on Presidential Scholars in May. In June, students chosen as Presidential Scholars. 

Selection Process for the Arts (Cat. 2):

Students in the arts can self-nominate by applying through the YoungArts Competition. The U.S. Department of Education has, since 1982, partnered with YoungArts to nominate up to 60 students in the arts from across the nation to the Presidential Scholars Program. This is the only pathway to the U.S. Scholars Program for the arts. From the 60 students nominated by YoungArts, The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects 20 of those students to receive the Presidential Scholar in the Arts award.

Eligibility Requirements For Students In The Arts:

  1. Are or will be U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent U.S. Residents by the application deadline (Feb);
  2. graduate or receive a diploma between January and August, the current program year;
  3. demonstrate academic achievement and talent in one of these art disciplines- classical music, dance, design arts, film, jazz, photography, theater, visual arts, voice or writing; and
  4. participate in the YoungArts program

2023-24 Project Timeline

August 14, 2023 - Invitation sent to all Wisconsin high school principals requesting nominations (max of one CTE and one Achievement Overcoming Challenges per school)
September 14, 2023 - Principal nominations due to DPI
September 25, 2023 - Application sent to nominated Wisconsin students.
October 23, 2023 - Student applications due to DPI
October 25-Nov 28, 2023 - Selection panel to determine 25 total students to be forwarded to national U.S. Presidential Scholar Program (20 Achievement/Overcoming Challenges Students and 5 CTE Students)
*November 29, 2023 - Wisconsin nominees announced and submitted to national program.
Mid January, 2024 - Application sent from U.S. Department of Education for national program to those in national program
Late February, 2024 - Applications due to U.S. Department of Education
Mid April, 2024 - Semifinalists Announced
Early May, 2024 - U.S. Presidential Scholars Announced

Congratulations to the three Wisconsin students selected as 2023 U.S. Presidential Scholars

WI – Brookfield – Ananya Bhatt, Brookfield Central High School, Brookfield, Wisconsin.

WI – Glendale – Ethan Mark Zentner, Nicolet High School, Glendale, Wisconsin.

WI – Medford – Saskatoon Robert Fuzz Damm, Medford Area Senior High School, Medford, Wisconsin.


Helpful Links:

U.S. Department of Education- Presidential Scholar Program Website

YoungArts Presidential Scholar In The Arts Website

Wisconsin DPI Presidential Scholar Program Website

U.S. Presidential Scholars Foundation & Alumni Association Website