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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. More than 7,500 seniors have been honored since the program began.

Nominees have been invited to apply for Presidential Scholars recognition based solely upon SAT or ACT scores (Category 1) for most of the program’s existence. Beginning in 1979, outstanding students who demonstrated ability and accomplishment in the visual and performing arts or creative writing have also been included in the Presidential Scholar pool (Category 2). Beginning with the 2013 program, 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. Beginning in 2016, outstanding students who demonstrate excellence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) were included for recognition (Category 4). 

Each year in late August, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) asks every Wisconsin principal to nominate students for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. We ask for two nominations (one male and one female) in the “Achievement and Overcoming Challenges” category, and one nomination in the “Achievement and CTE Accomplishment” category. 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.

The DPI contacts all nominated students and invites them to apply in early fall. Student applications are evaluated by a panel. The panel selects 20 students (10 males and 10 females) in Category 3 and five students in Category 4 and provides those names to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program office at the U.S. Department of Education. Next, nominees are announced by the U.S. Department of Education and invited to apply in mid-January. Completed applications are due in February. Scholars are selected by the Commission on Presidential Scholars and announced at the beginning of May. Students chosen as U.S. Presidential Scholars receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, in June and are presented the U.S. Presidential Scholars medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House. 

More details about selection criteria are provided to principals when they are invited to submit nominations in early fall.

More information can also be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s Presidential Scholars Program web page:

For more information, contact Chris Tiedje .

For questions about this information, contact Christine Tiedje (608) 266-3706