Mountlake Terrace High School senior Asher Wheaton is one of more than 5,000 candidates nationwide – and the only student in the Edmonds School District – selected for the 2024 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.
The federal program was established in 1964 by the executive order of President Lyndon B. Johnson to recognize some of the nation’s outstanding graduating high school seniors for their accomplishments in leadership, academic excellence and service to school and community.
“I felt incredibly honored to be invited to apply for this program,” Asher said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get here, but I’m glad it paid off.”
His mother, Monica Wheaton, said she believes that Asher was invited to apply to the program because he achieved the highest score possible – a 1600 – on the SAT, a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the U.S.
“Application is by invitation only,” Monica Wheaton said. “Therefore, students may not apply individually to the program, nor may their schools nominate them.”
She added that most of the initial selection process is based on scores from the SAT and ACT, another college admissions test. The scores from the top 20 male and 20 female examinees are used to select the candidates from each state, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and from families of U.S. citizens living abroad.
From this pool of 5,000-plus students this year, a panel of educators will review submissions and select about 600 semifinalists in early April. The Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group of up to 32 notable citizens appointed by the U.S. President, will select the finalists, and the U.S. Department of Education will announce the Scholars in May.
“This is a huge recognition for Asher to be selected from the entire pool of candidates who took the SAT and ACT last year,” Monica Wheaton said, pointing out that there were 1.9 million students who took the SAT and 1.4 million who took the ACT. “There is no monetary award for being invited to apply or selected, but hopefully, this will help boost his applications for college and scholarships.”
Asher is applying to study computer science at University of Washington, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Cornell.
He said that part of his success comes from spending a lot of his time on homework, but he also enjoys working on personal computer science projects, reading, drawing, sculpting and competing in computer science competitions through the Technology Student Association (TSA).
“I fill some of the time left over from that by teaching a small class about computer science at my school on Wednesdays,” he added.
The U.S. Presidential Scholars Program does not just focus on mainstream academics. In 1979, the program was expanded to include students with exceptional talent and scholastics in creative, visual and performing arts.
In 2015, it was expanded again to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in career and technical fields. Each year, up to 161 students are named “Presidential Scholars,” which is one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.
Asher said he has one tip for future students who wish to apply for the Presidential Scholars Program. “Study for the SAT and spend the time you need, but be confident in yourself,” he said. “The easiest way to fail is to lose confidence.”
— By Nick Ng