Qamar Schuyler thought she had no chance of winning when she received an application to become a Presidential Scholar, an honor that goes to only about 140 high school students nationwide each year.
"But I decided to fill out the application just for the heck of it," said Qamar, 17, of Marriottsville. "Things like that nag at me. I can't just not do things because then I ask myself, 'What if?' "
Now, the Mount Hebron High School senior is among 500 still in the running out of a pool of 2,600. She is the only student represented from Howard County and one of only 18 in the state.
The students are selected on the basis of academic, artistic and leadership abilities and school and community activities.
Up to 141 students will be selected this month. If Qamar is among them, she will meet President Clinton and participate in a week of activities in Washington.
Qamar's high SAT scores -- 790 math, 760 verbal -- prompted the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars to invite her to apply.
After an extensive application that involved writing four essays, Qamar said she "was extremely and pleasantly surprised" about becoming a finalist.
She is one of 12 state finalists designated in the broad academic achievement category -- Qamar has had straight A's throughout high school. The six remaining state finalists are in the categories of academic achievement and artistic scholarship.
Qamar's school activities include membership in the National Honor Society, the Senior Board (a group that organizes senior activities), the math team, and Students for Environmental Awareness.
She also is editor of the school newspaper The Mountain, vice president of American Field Service, captain of the It's Academic team, and historian and co-chairwoman of the Linwood Committee, a group that plans activities twice a year for autistic children who attend the Linwood Children's Center in Ellicott City.
She also participates in Rising Stars, a teen acting group at Howard Community College; has a part-time job making jewelry at The Crystal Underground in Ellicott City; and takes singing lessons through the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.
"Fun" includes "hanging out with my friends, going to the movies, renting movies, going to parties, shopping, camping, and travel."
Qamar, whose name is Arabic for "moon," says she loves to travel and has done her share, mostly with her parents. She has visited Hungary, Austria, England, Kenya and Japan, where she spent six weeks last year as an exchange student.
Qamar's parents, Philip and Kinza Schuyler, lived in Morocco before Qamar and her brother, Karim, 13, were born. Mr. Schuyler is a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland; Mrs. Schuyler is a program manager at the Institute of International Education in Washington, D.C.
Qamar, who was accepted at all six colleges of her choice -- including Yale -- chose St. Mary's College of Maryland because of her interest in marine biology.
Asked about her future, she replies: "I've got it all figured out. I'm going to major in biology, do graduate work in marine biology, and I would like to get a Ph.D. and do research in the field. I don't want to get stuck in a stuffy office; I'd rather swim with the dolphins."