Scoring Merit Awards

Since 1997, the AFSA Scholarship Fund has supported Merit Awards for high school seniors. This page details the 2018 judging procedures and scoring process for AFSA’s Academic and Art Merit Awards and Community Service Awards.

  1. General Information on Judges
  2. Panels
  3. Academic Merit Criteria
  4. Selecting Academic Merit Winners
  5. Art Merit Scoring
  6. Community Service Award Scoring
  7. Feedback

I. General Information on Judges

Twenty-four AFSA members participate as judges (16 for Academic Merit, four for Community Service, and four for Art Merit). Judges include members of the AFSA Scholarship Committee and volunteers appointed by the Scholarship Committee. To help with continuity of scoring, each year AFSA has both returning and new judges. To the extent possible, judges are placed on panels so there is a mix by gender, returning versus new judges, agency, and age. All judges attend a Merit Awards judge orientation session each year to learn/review the scoring process. For the Art Merit competition, all judges have expertise in at least one of the four art categories: performing arts, musical arts, visual arts or creative writing. Children of current judges are ineligible to apply for AFSA scholarships.

II. Panels

Typically, 100 to 110 students apply for AFSA Merit Awards each year. In 2017, there were 73 Academic Merit applicants, 22 Community Service applicants, and 10 Art Merit applicants. Academic Merit applications are divided randomly between four panels. In addition, there is one panel for Community Service applicants and one panel for Art Merit applicants. Each judging panel is comprised of four judges.

III. Academic Merit Criteria

There are eight criteria (unweighted GPA, standardized test scores, high school activities, any awards won, two-page essay, one letter of recommendation, rigor of courses taken while in high school, and special circumstances, if any) on which the students are judged; not all criteria are weighted equally. The Scholarship Committee each year reviews the weight/points assigned to each criterion and tweaks the system, if need be. In the 2018 program the points are as follows:

Academic Merit Scoring Criteria Points
Grade Point Average (GPA) 25 points
Standardized Test Scores 25 points
Rigor of Courses Taken/Compared to What is Offered 5 points
Any Awards won/Honors bestowed 5 points
Extracurricular Activities 15 points
Essay 15 points
Recommendation Letters 5 points
Special Circumstances 5 points (if applicable)
TOTAL 100 points

GPA

AFSA uses unweighted GPA’s on a 4.0 scale and will convert GPA’s to a 4.0 scale if a school uses another point system. In addition, all weighted GPA’s are converted to unweighted GPA’s.

Standardized Test Scores

Students may submit SAT or ACT tests. In the SAT scoring, AFSA does not take into consideration the “writing” score. The student's SAT verbal and math scores are summed, and the student is assigned points based on this total. AFSA uses the composite ACT score. The higher the standardized test score, the higher number of points are awarded. Students may submit either standardized test. AFSA does use the SAT “super-scoring” where the highest verbal and math score are taken even if over several test dates.

Rigor of Courses Taken

The typical AFSA Academic Merit applicant has taken a number of higher level classes and AFSA needs a way to recognize such accomplishments. Students are awarded points based on the rigor of the advanced, honors, gifted AP and IB courses they take in their sophomore, junior and senior years of high school.

Any Awards Won/Honors Bestowed

The student will be awarded points for national, regional, state, local or any other honors bestowed or awards won.

Extracurricular Activities

With the "activities" score, the judges look at the following activities: academic activities, sports activities, other extra-curricular activities/employment, volunteer activities, etc. Judges give points for evidence of sustained effort, real achievement in one or more fields, social/character-building/intellectual value of activities, and leadership in one of the above areas.

Essay

Students write a 500-word essay on the following topic: "Describe your most memorable Foreign Service experience and why." Judges score on following directions, grammar, essay structure, analytical skills, conclusions drawn, and especially the "why" part of the essay. (12-point font, double-spaced.)

Letters of Recommendation

In the "letters of recommendation" category, students have an email sent to the person he/she inputs into the application site and an email is sent to the recommender. That person clicks on a link that takes them to the Fluidreview application site where that individual answers 3-4 questions on the student. Recommenders can cut and paste their answers into the document or answer by typing in their responses. Parents cannot submit a letter of recommendation on their child.

Special Circumstances

Under the "special circumstances" area, students may receive points for unusual conditions/circumstances which have affected the student’s life in their high school years. Points can be awarded for post evacuation, a disability, a traumatic illness, rigorous high school the student has attended, chronic health problem, divorce or death in the immediate family, numerous high school transfers, etc. It is totally up to the judges to allocate any points in this area.

IV. Selecting Academic Merit Winners

In 2018, AFSA will award 31 Academic Merit scholarships and two honorable mentions. The Academic Merit applicants are divided randomly between the four panels (17-22 applicants per panel). After the students are individually scored by each judge, the four-person judging panel meets. The judges’ scores for each student are then summed. The five highest-ranking students from each panel become automatic winners (producing 20 winners from the four panels). Each panel also identifies the five students in the next highest scoring positions who then become finalists (producing 20 finalists) and one finalist for best essay. One judge from each of the four panels then meet to select 11 winners and two honorable mentions from the 20 finalists and to select the best essay winner. Those scoring the highest in the competition received “named” scholarships.

V. Art Merit Scoring

In 2018, AFSA will award one Art Merit scholarship and up to four honorable mentions. The Art Merit scoring follows the same general format of the Academic Merit scoring. However, standardized test scores and GPA's are not factored into the Art Merit scoring (other than to verify a 2.75 GPA) since this award was instituted to recognize students who excel in the arts but are not necessarily academically gifted. The Art Merit panel judges score individually the student's application and submitted art. Then the four-person judging panel meets as a group to review their scores. The scoring criteria used in 2018 will be:

Art Merit Scoring Criteria Points
Essay 15 points
Letters of Recommendation 5 points
Special Circumstances 5 points (if applicable)
Other Awards Student Has Won/Programs Attended/Art Talents 10 points
Submitted Art Work 65 points
TOTAL 100 points

With funds for only one Art Award and up to three Art Honorable Mention Awards, AFSA understands it is a difficult task to compare the different art forms.

VI. Community Service Award Scoring

In 2018, AFSA will award one Community Service scholarships and two honorable mentions. Judges on the Community Service panel review the applicants’ service activities where the applicant is asked to submit 150 words on each describing the activity and why it was important. They consider the duration of the activity, longevity of the activity, leadership level the student has taken in the activity, level of interaction with any recipient(s), and impact on student.

VII. Feedback

After the scoring is finished, all judges are asked to complete an evaluation of the Merit Award competition and make suggestions on how to improve the program. Since 2011, AFSA has also surveyed merit applicants for their feedback. Each year, the AFSA Scholarship Committee reviews and tweaks the application process and scoring system based on input from the merit judges and applicants. The AFSA Scholarship Committee welcomes suggestions on how to improve this competition.

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