Top scholarship candidates visit campus March 20

Dallas Hall groupOn March 20, more than 100 of the nation’s best high school students will visit SMU for an annual event that will show them what the University has to offer and help determine its next class of top scholars.

Merit Scholars Day 2009 is an opportunity for these top students to learn more about SMU and its two leading merit-based programs – the President’s Scholarship program, directed by Associate Provost Tom Tunks, and the Hunt Leadership Scholarship program, directed by Associate Provost Ellen Pryor.

But it’s also an opportunity for the University to make its case to some of its most highly qualified applicants, Tunks says.

“These students are among the brightest in the country,” he says. “They have opportunities at many institutions, and they get many offers as good as ours. Part of this whole process is making sure we present our best face.”

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Hunt Leadership Scholar candidates apply for the scholarship when they submit their SMU applications, while President’s Scholar candidates are selected from the application pool by a committee of SMU faculty and administrators. Of the 2009 candidates, 55 are potential President’s Scholars, while 56 are finalists for Hunt Leadership Scholarships.

Up to 37 students will receive entering President’s Scholarships for Fall 2009, while up to 25 will receive entering Hunt Leadership Scholarships. Currently, SMU has 102 President’s Scholars and 73 Hunt Scholars.

Their visit actually begins the night before Merit Scholars Day, at SMU-hosted receptions and dinners for each group of candidates, where they get a chance to mingle with current scholars.

“When they meet the students who already hold these scholarships, that’s the moment when SMU goes to the top of their lists,” Tunks says. “We really have a great group of students here. So we try to get candidates next to our undergraduates at every opportunity.” When space is available, some current students even host visitors in their own rooms, he adds.

The candidates spend the day in interviews with groups of faculty members, current students and sometimes alumni. They discuss their options with staff in areas such as admissions, financial aid, prelaw and premedical programs, SMU-in-Taos and the Education Abroad office.

In addition, they meet with National Fellowships and Awards Director Kathleen Hugley-Cook to learn how the University can support them in applying for opportunities such as Fulbright Scholarships and Richter Fellowships.

Often the more the merit candidates learn about SMU, the more they like the University. About two-thirds of candidates who receive President’s Scholarship offers accept them, Tunks says. “That’s an amazing yield for a group of students who essentially can go anywhere they want.”

Patrick Probst can attest to the power of a visit. As a “very undecided” candidate who already had been accepted to schools such as USC, Georgetown, Boston College and Emory, the first-year President’s Scholar says his Merit Scholars Day experience “greatly affected my decision.”

“I got tours of residence halls that were actually being lived in, not set rooms. I sat in on classes, which I had never done at other schools,” Probst says.

But perhaps the most important factor was the friendliness of the campus, he says. “I had visited schools where people didn’t smile and no one talked to each other, let alone me. But during my SMU visit, people were friendly when they walked past, they stopped and held conversations with each other, and they answered my questions without hesitation.”