U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects 20 YoungArts award winners at the Finalist level to receive one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students in the arts.

U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts exhibit artwork and perform at the Kennedy Center

About the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts

Screenshot of U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts performing at the Kennedy Center

The  U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson in order to recognize and honor the nation’s top graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was expanded to include students who demonstrated talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. The program was expanded again in 2015 to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical education fields.

Scholars are selected annually by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, based on academic achievement, personal characteristics, leadership and service activities, and writing ability. Every year, thousands of candidates qualify for the program based on outstanding performance on the College Board SAT and ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers or YoungArts.

Becoming a U.S. Presidential Scholar In the Arts

2018 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts taking their bow at the Kennedy Center

The first step to becoming a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts is to apply to and be selected for the YoungArts’ annual program for 15- to 18-year-old artists. To be further considered for nomination by YoungArts, applicants must be high school seniors and meet all of the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program requirements.

During National YoungArts Week, eligible participants are further evaluated, award levels are determined, and nominations are made for that year’s U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts candidates. 

After the rigorous selection process, YoungArts nominates 60 candidates to apply to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. From those 60 candidates, the Commission on Presidential Scholars selects 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts each year based on artistic achievement, personal characteristics and leadership and service activities.

Due to safety precautions related to COVID-19, in-person recognition events in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Salute to Presidential Scholars exhibition and performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, have been temporarily placed on hold until further notice. 

Past U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts

2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012