Political Leaders Program


The Sorensen Institute's flagship Political Leaders Program (PLP) is a leadership development program designed for residents of Virginia already engaged in the political, civic, business, nonprofit or governing life of their locality, region or the Commonwealth.

Ideal applicants are those interested in developing skills, knowledge, experiences, and professional relationships to enable them to: 1) participate more effectively in public service; 2) have a greater impact on public policy in the Commonwealth of Virginia; 3) work with people across the partisan aisle or from different regions of the Commonwealth; or 4) better understand the interplay between their current positions and politics and government in Virginia.

Participation in this program has been an important step for  people who want to establish themselves as political and civic leaders in the Commonwealth.

Program participants meet in various locations across Virginia once a month from March through December except for the month of July. In response to the COVID pandemic, the 2021 PLP will be held from August through December.

Applications typically open in mid-September for the following year's program. 


Effective leadership – through building trust and working together – is a central theme of the program. We explore how leaders have gained positions of trust and shaped public policy in Virginia. We also look at how bipartisan and regional cooperation can be used to craft approaches and solutions to problems, opportunities, and challenges faced by Virginia residents. We also review techniques for finding common ground in addressing potentially divisive topics.

The Political Leaders Program curriculum is focused on several core subject areas, including:

Public Policy - Participants will experience presentations and discussions regarding a variety of public policy issues facing Virginia and its localities including but not limited to the state budget, transportation, education, healthcare, workforce and economic development, public safety, and the environment.

Influencers in the Political and Governing Process - Elected officials are not the only ones who have an impact on the workings of government in Virginia. Areas of exploration include current and former elected officials, appointed officials, boards and commissions, lobbyists and advocates, regional and subject matter experts, economic and infrastructure development, innovation, funding priorities, reform efforts, and the changing nature of Virginia’s electorate.

Experiential Learning – Leadership can require an understanding of the different regions and cultures within Virginia. Each year’s program experience is unique, but include tours and visits in regions across the Commonwealth and engagement with businesses, academic centers, landmarks, cultural centers, and both public and private venues.

Ethics in Public Service - The program will include a study of general ethical principles as they relate to public service. The development of skills and practical application of bipartisan cooperation in politics, government, and civic life is also a central theme throughout the program.

(For those interested in an intensive, "ready-to-run" campaign education as a candidate or key campaign/candidate advisor, see our Candidate Training Program).


Program Schedule

The Political Leaders Program runs for ten months each year, March through December. The 2021 program will run from August through December in response to the COVID pandemic.

Classes meet one weekend a month and are held in different locations across the state. With few exceptions, a typical weekend schedule begins at 12:00pm on Friday and ends by 12:00pm on Saturday. Weekends typically begin with an optional, dutch-treat lunch on Friday, followed by a tour, dinner, and guest speaker. Saturdays usually include debates, speakers, and panels in the morning starting around 8:30am and departing around lunchtime. We ask that you confirm in advance your availability on the weekends below before you apply to the program.

Political Leaders Program 2021 Schedule

Williamsburg Opening Weekend: August 12, 13, 14*

Richmond: August 26, 27, 28

Southwest Virginia: September 9, 10, 11

Lynchburg: September 24-25

Danville and Martinsville: October 7, 8, 9

Norfolk: October 22-23

Alexandria: November 5-6

Harrisonburg: November 12-13

Charlottesville: December 10-11

* Full attendance on opening weekend is mandatory.
** For our Southwest Virginia weekend, no official segments take place on Thursday but hotel rooms will be offered on the night of Thursday, September 9 due to Friday's schedule.


Tuition for the PLP Class of 2021 is $4,450, which includes a private room for each weekend in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. Tuition for the 2021 PLP is due in full by February 15, 2021. Acceptance to any Sorensen Institute program is need-blind, meaning that the people who evaluate applications to participate in the program differ from those who review financial aid applications.

Requests for financial aid or scholarships will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, the parent organization of the Sorensen Institute, once the selection process is completed. Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses, but meals, lodging, and program materials are covered by the tuition.

More information about our financial assistance payment plan, and how to apply for financial aid, is available on our Financial Aid page.

According to IRS guidance, the Lifetime Learning tax credit applies to students who are enrolled in one or more courses at an eligible educational institution. The course or courses must be either part of a postsecondary degree program or taken by the student to acquire or improve job skills. There are many other details surrounding the Hope and Lifetime Learning Tax Credits. We suggest that you contact your own tax professional to see if you qualify for these credits. Unfortunately, neither the Sorensen Political Institute nor the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service can provide tax advice. You can also contact the IRS' Office of Public Liaison at 202-622-2970 or view Publication 970 on the IRS website for further information.

Application and Selection Process

The Sorensen Institute seeks people of all ages from across Virginia who are actively involved in their communities and who desire to participate in political, governing, and civic leadership. Approximately 36 participants are selected each year in a highly competitive selection process that includes a detailed essay-based application and interviews by staff members, Sorensen alumni, and regional leaders. The Sorensen Institute typically receives more than three times as many applications for the Political Leaders Program each year as there are available spaces in the class.

The application process is open to Virginia residents who have demonstrated leadership ability in their communities. A commitment to fully participate in the program is required. We ask that you confirm in advance your availability for the session weekends below before you apply to the program. After we review your application and determined that it is complete, you will be contacted to schedule an interview.

One essential goal of the selection process is to ensure that the program participants reflect the demographic and geographic makeup of the state. Each class has a balance between Republicans and Democrats, in addition to participants who have other party or no party affiliations. This composition is critical to the effectiveness of the program and influences our selection process. The selection process generally follows this schedule:

November—December: Interviews of applicants, selection of class participants
March—December: Class meets one weekend each month except for the month of July
September—mid November: Applications accepted for next year's class

Application Instructions :

  1. PLEASE NOTE: This is an online application. There is no way to save a partially completed application and return to work on it later.  For this reason, we recommend that you prepare everything you will need to complete the application in advance.
  2. After you have read the instructions, questions, and have prepared everything you will need to complete the application, follow the link at the bottom of this page. That link will take you directly to the online application for the Political Leaders Program. Again, please remember to prepare everything you will need prior to filling out the online application. There is no way to save your work and return to it later.
  3. The PLP application includes a series of short essay questions in addition to some basic contact and background information. See below for details.
  4. Applicants may also submit up to two letters of recommendation and a resume. These are not required, and we will not review more than two letters. 

Emailed letters or resumes must be received by Friday, November 13th 2020 and can be sent to the selection committee at sorensenapplications@virginia.edu.  Due to COVID-19, please do not mail any application materials. 

Essay Questions

The PLP online application includes a number of short-answer essay questions. Each question requires a 250 to 500-word answer. Be aware that the essays are a significant part of the selection process and very important to making admissions decisions. The essay questions on the Political Leaders Program online application are as follows:

  1. Describe a time when you had to work with someone or a group of people who disagreed with you and with whom you had to build consensus or a compromise.  How did you do that?  What was the result of your efforts?  What did you learn from the process?
  2. What achievement, experience or pursuit in your life makes you most proud? What has your most satisfying leadership achievement so far? What barrier(s), if any, have you encountered in achieving your goals? Explain.
  3. What does state or local government in Virginia do well? What would you like to change about government in Virginia?
  4. Have you ever run for political office?  Is it your goal to become an elected official? If so, what sort of office would you pursue, and why? If not, what role do you see for yourself in the political and/or civic life of Virginia or your local community?
  5. What specific skills, knowledge or resources do you hope to acquire as a result of participating in the Sorensen Institute Political Leaders Program?
  6. Each class is selected to bring together unique individuals who care about politics and policy in Virginia.  If you were to be selected, what unique attribute, experience, or perspective do you feel you would contribute to the cohort?

Contact/Background Information

You should also be prepared with the following information to successfully complete the PLP application:

  • How did you learn about the Sorensen Institute?
  • Current employment: employer, your title, your supervisor, work address and phone number
  • Education: high school, college, graduate school, and any relevant non-degree training programs
  • Past Employment: list past employers including your title, supervisor, and dates of employment
  • Activities: list organizations and activities that you have been involved in that demonstrate your commitment to public service, community involvement, and/or volunteer work.
  • Contact information: your current mailing address, home phone, work phone, cell phone, and email address 
  • Two references


Applications for the 2022 Political Leaders Program will be available mid-September 2021. 

If you would like to refer a candidate to our Political Leaders Program, or if you are interested in receiving more information when applications open, please visit our referrals page. Information provided will only be used to contact potential candidates about applying for our program.

Please remember, once you start the application there will be no way to save partial work 
so make sure you have everything you need to complete the application.
If you have any questions about the PLP or your application, contact Lauren Gilbert.

Applications Open
Tue, September 22, 2020
Applications Close
Mon, November 9, 2020