Top high school scholars converge on campus March 19

SMU students in front of Bishop Boulevard marker

SMU’s annual Scholarship Interview Day brings more than 100 of the nation’s best high school students to the Hilltop to show them what the University has to offer.

The 2010 event, which takes place March 19, is an opportunity for these top students to learn more about SMU and its two leading merit-based programs – the President’s Scholars program, directed by Associate Provost Tom Tunks, and the Hunt Leadership Scholarship program, directed by Associate Provost Ellen Pryor.

It will be a busy weekend for prospective students: The Office of Undergraduate Admission is also hosting more than 1,000 interested high school juniors and their parents. Later, on March 25-26 and April 9-10, accepted students and their parents will visit campus to learn more about SMU and make their final decisions.

For the University, Scholarship Interview Day helps determine its next class of top scholars – and as such, it may be the most important opportunity for the University to make its case to its most highly qualified applicants.

“We know that prospective students have many choices and offers of admission and that universities like SMU are in fierce competition for the best and brightest,” SMU President R. Gerald Turner wrote in an e-mail message to faculty and staff March 16. “Thankfully, we have a remarkable campus community that can attract, enroll and serve these promising students as they pursue their studies.”

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 40 entering students will receive President’s Scholarships for Fall 2010, while up to 25 will receive entering Hunt Leadership Scholarships. Currently, SMU has 114 President’s Scholars and 83 Hunt Scholars.

Their visit actually begins the night before Scholarship Interview 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. When space is available, some current students host visitors in their own rooms in SMU’s residence halls.

The candidates spend the day in interviews with faculty members, current students and sometimes alumni. Staff members in admissions, financial aid, prelaw and premedical programs, SMU-in-Taos the Education Abroad office and others provide information and options from their areas, as well.

Candidates also 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.

“We give them examples of what our past Scholars have done, and show them how our services are personalized to their individual plans and interests, beginning from their first year,” Hugley-Cook says. “We want to get to know these students from the moment they walk in the door. That way, we can help them create options and opportunities they had never been aware of before, and we can help them develop their own potential to the maximum.

“I think one of the things students most want from their university is for the people there to take a personal interest in their wellbeing and their future,” she adds. “And that’s exactly what we do.”

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.

“What attracted me to SMU over other universities was the people,” says senior President’s Scholar Maia VanDyke, a biological sciences major in Dedman College. “SMU is strong academically and has gorgeous facilities, but there are many other schools that share those qualities. It was the caliber of the people, how much they cared about their jobs and the campus and the students, that made SMU stand out in my mind. From students I passed in the halls to the faculty and staff who helped with the interview process, everyone made me feel welcome and at home.

“After seeing the community and the people involved in it, I just couldn’t see myself wanting to be anywhere else.”

Former President’s Scholar Matthew Lindner (’09) calls Scholarship Interview Day “intense, in a good way. I met so many candidates who seemed immensely more qualified than myself. But we all got our moments to shine.”

It helped that a current President’s Scholar was present for all the interviews, says Lindner, who graduated last May with an advertising degree from Meadows School of the Arts. “They are kindred souls, who not so long ago were in your shoes. They were all extraordinarily talented, intelligent and friendly. I wanted to be a part of this program that could recruit such high-caliber people.

“The chance to be a part of such a special program, the chance to study abroad, to meet diplomats, heads of state, authors, historians…they were all my reasons for coming to SMU and why I had such an amazing four years here,” Lindner adds.

In fact, he says, he liked the experience so much that he decided to stay at the University for two more years to get his Master’s degree in advertising. “Scholarship Interview Day introduced me to a lot of the reasons which eventually led me to choose SMU.”

Meet the President’s Scholars at their homepage
Learn more about the Hunt Leadership Scholarship Program
Visit the Office of National Fellowships and Awards
Check out the Office of Undergraduate Admission online