U.S. Presidential Scholars

In 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program was established by executive order of President Lyndon B. Johnson to recognize and honor the nation’s top graduating high school seniors. In 1979, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrated talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. In 2015, the program was again extended 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, appointed by the President, 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 the National YoungArts Foundation.


The first step to becoming a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts is to apply and be selected for the National YoungArts Foundation’s 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 a rigorous selection process, YoungArts nominates 60 candidates for an invitation to apply to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Finally, 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.

Scholars are invited to Washington, D.C. for several days of recognition activities. The scholars meet with government officials, educators, authors, musicians, scientists and other leaders. Scholars also visit museums and monuments in our nation’s capital and attend recitals, receptions and ceremonies held in their honor.

In addition to these activities, the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts have the opportunity to showcase their work in an exhibition and performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

View the list of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts


A Salute to the U.S. Presidential Scholars

The performance and exhibition is a celebration of all U.S. Presidential Scholars and is co-presented by the National YoungArts Foundation, the Commission on the U.S. Presidential Scholars and the U.S. Department of Education. 

Past U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts