Political Leaders Program


The Sorensen Institute's flagship Political Leaders Program (PLP) is a leadership development program for residents of Virginia interested in becoming more active in public service, whether as community leaders or as elected officials. Participation in this program has become a traditional "first step" for future political leaders in the Commonwealth. The class meets in various locations across Virginia, once a month from March through December except for the month of July.


The PLP curriculum is focused on three core subject areas:

Ethics in Public Service - The program will include a study of general ethical principles as they relate to public service. The practical application of bipartisan cooperation in politics, including the use of mediation techniques, is also a central theme throughout the program.

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

Influencers in the Political Process - Elected officials are not the only ones who impact the workings of government in Virginia. The class may learn about the changing nature of Virginia’s electorate, nonpartisan redistricting, campaign finance reporting, conflict of interest laws, efforts to protect civil liberties in the Commonwealth, the Freedom of Information Act, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, and much more. 

(For those interested in an intensive, "ready-to-run" campaign education, see our Candidate Training Program).


Program Schedule

The Political Leaders Program runs for ten months each year, March through December. 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 2020 Schedule

Williamsburg Opening Weekend: March 12-14*
Richmond: April 9-11
Roanoke: May 8-9
Martinsville: June 19-20
(No meeting in July)
Harrisonburg: August 14-15
Southwest: September 10, 11, 12**
Norfolk: October 23-24
Alexandria: November 13-14
Charlottesville Graduation: December 11-12

*Full attendance on opening weekend in March is mandatory.
**For our Southwest weekend, hotel rooms will be offered on the night on Thursday, September 10 due to travel distance. No official sessions will take place on Thursday.


Tuition for the PLP Class of 2020 is $3,450. Acceptance to any Sorensen Institute program is need-blind. Requests for financial aid or scholarships will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis once the selection process is completed. In 2020 we met 100% of demonstrated financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships and financial aid. No individual is ever denied participation in a Sorensen program because of inability to pay the tuition cost. Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses, but food and lodging costs are covered by the tuition.

More information about 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 men and women of all ages from across Virginia who are actively involved in their communities and who desire to participate in the political process. Approximately 35 participants are selected each year in a highly competitive selection process that includes a detailed essay-based application and in-person interviews by staff members, regional board members, and alumni. 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 are eligible to run for political office. 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 you will be contacted to schedule an in-person interview.

One essential goal of the selection process is to ensure that the program participants reflect the demographic and geographic make up 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. 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. Mailed letters or resumes must be postmarked by Friday, November 15, 2019 for consideration and should be addressed to:

The Sorensen Institute
Attention: PLP 2020
P.O. Box 400206
Charlottesville, VA 22904

Emailed letters or resumes must be received by Friday, November 15th 2019 and can be sent to Sarah Campbell at sc9ef@virginia.edu.

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. What role should civility play in our increasingly polarized politics?  Does it have value in itself? Does it have value in helping to win elections or achieve policy goals?  Explain.
  2. How have the norms and incentives of political life in our country changed, for better or worse, during your lifetime?  Why have those changes taken place?
  3. What does state or local government in Virginia do well?  What would you like to change about government in Virginia?
  4. What achievement, episode 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.
  5. 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 life of Virginia or your local community?
  6. What specific skills, knowledge or resources do you hope to acquire as a result of participating in the Sorensen Institute Political Leaders Program?

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 any past employers including your title, supervisor, and dates of employment
  • Activities: list any past 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 


If you would like to refer a candidate to our Political Leaders Program, 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, November 12, 2019
Applications Close
Tue, November 12, 2019