High School Leaders Program


The Sorensen Institute's High School Leaders Program (HSLP) offers concentrated study in Virginia politics and government for high school students from across the state. The HSLP is based on a firm belief that young people not only can make a positive difference in their communities, they should be strongly encouraged to do so.

Our High School Leaders Program gives students the practical skills and political knowledge to become effective advocates in their communities and schools. Participants engage in substantive debate about the public policy challenges facing the Commonwealth and interact with Virginia's political and business leaders. The two-week HSLP is held each summer on grounds at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Students who successfully complete the program receive three hours of college credit from the University of Virginia.  The program features a Virginia-focused, multidisciplinary curriculum with three main goals:

  • To prepare future leaders for ethical and responsible citizenship and public service in the Commonwealth
  • To connect Virginia's youth leaders from different backgrounds and philosophies with each other and with current leaders in the government, business, and non-profit sectors.
  • To energize our democratic system of government by promoting civic engagement among youth leaders.

In 2007 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching recognized the Sorensen Institute's College and High School Leaders Programs as among the very best in the nation and something of a national model when it comes to giving young people the skills and motivation to become politically engaged in their communities. 


The HSLP curriculum is divided into three primary learning modules:

The Informed Citizen: Virginia Government and Politicsfocuses on the basics of Virginia state and local government; who the players are, how government functions, and what the primary issues facing Virginia are.

The Thoughtful Citizen: Virginia Public Policyexplores how public policy is formed and debated in the Commonwealth. Students learn how to engage positively and effectively in policy debates and learn how they can influence public policy.

The Active Citizen: The Tools of Modern Advocacy—gives students the hands-on training and real-world skills that they will need to make their ideas a reality. They will learn how to write a professional resume, to pitch stories to the media and hold press conferences, to effectively address crowds large and small, to collaborate with others who possess different personality types and conflicting opinions, and to personally lobby legislators.


Marc Johnson—Executive Director at the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. Former Assistant Director and Director of Programs at the Sorensen Institute. He originally came to the Institute in the summer of 2004 to oversee the College and High School Leaders Programs.  Since that time he has taught and facilitated in all of the Sorensen Institute programs.


A typical High School Leaders Program class includes no more than 32 students who attend a public or private Virginia high school—or a Virginia resident attending high school in another state. Students must be at least 16 years old by the start of the HSLP and at least a rising junior. The class is also open to graduating seniors. Students come from throughout Virginia, representing a diverse variety of communities.

A HSLP class will typically include students that are interested in many different academic subjects and participate in numerous extracurricular activities. This program is for all students who are keenly interested in learning more about leadership and public service, not just those who study politics or are active in student government. Each class is roughly balanced according to gender, and aims to reflect the racial, ethnic, and regional diversity of Virginia's population. The program attracts students who will be leaders in all aspects of life in the Commonwealth.

Program Dates and Schedule

The 2020 High School Leaders Program will take place from July 11- 25, 2020.  Students are required the attend the entire program.  If a student cannot commit to attending the entire program, the student should wait and reapply in a future year that would allow full participation.  All students are housed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for the duration of the two-week programs. Aside from some field trips, the students will spend most of their time on grounds at the University.

A typical program day starts at 8am with breakfast before class begins promptly at 9am. Lectures, presentations, discussions, and workshops run throughout the day with multiple breaks and lunch. Dinner is served each evening around 6pm, after which students have free time to work on class projects or socialize. Youth Program Managers, many of whom are alumni of our College or High School Leaders Programs, live on site with the students and are available to students at all times.  A sample schedule of the typical two-week program can be found here.

On the last day of the program a ceremonial graduation is held at the University. Family and friends and encouraged to attend.

College Credit

Successful completion of the High School Leaders Program earns each student three graded college credits from the University of Virginia. Their grade is calculated by considering a final project due after the completion of the program, as well as participation inside and outside the classroom, effort put into the group culminating project, and any other assignments given by the professors during the program.


The cost of the High School Leaders Programs is $2,800, which covers all instructional materials, events, room, board, meals, and field trips.  The tuition also covers all expenses related to the three UVA credit hours. 

Financial Aid

Financial aid and fundraising opportunities are available for students who need them. Potential applicants are strongly urged to apply regardless of financial concerns. Information about the financial aid process can be found here. 


To be eligible for the High School Leaders Program, applicants must be:

  • a student attending a public or private high school in Virginia or a Virginia resident attending high school in another state.
  • in good academic standing at an accredited institution.
  • at least 16 years old by the start of the program and a rising junior.
  • graduating seniors are eligible to participate as well.

In accordance with a policy of equal opportunity recruitment, the Sorensen Institute strongly encourages women and minority students to apply. The application includes the following components:

  • the online application, which includes two short-answer questions and one 300-word maximum essay.
  • the applicant's current high school transcript.
  • a resume or activity list (this piece will be reviewed for content, not for formatting)
  • one letter of recommendation (no more than two letters of recommendation will be considered.)

Selection Process

The High School Leaders Program applicant pool is evaluated to create a highly qualified and diverse class. Participants are chosen from throughout Virginia. Interviews are usually conducted in late January and early February and decisions are made in March. Students for the program are chosen through a careful selection process that includes the following considerations:

  • complete application and essay
  • academic record
  • letter/s of recommendation (at least one, but no more than two)
  • a resume or activity sheet.  Resumes and activity sheets will be evaluated for content, not formatting.
  • personal interview—a number of qualified finalists will be contacted for an in-person interview. The interviews are conducted by board members, alumni, and staff.

How to Apply

Students who wish to apply should be aware of three deadlines:

  • Applications for the 2020 High School Leaders Program must be submitted by midnight on Tuesday, November 12th, 2019.
  • Supplemental materials must be postmarked or submitted electronically by Friday, November 15th, 2019.
  • Financial aid applications are due by Monday, December 2nd, 2019.

In addition to filling out an online application, students must also submit an academic transcript, a resume or activity sheet, and at least one letter of recommendation. 


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.

1.  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 High School Leaders Program Class of 2019. 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.

2.  In addition to completing the online application in its entirety, please send:

  • a copy of your school transcript (official or unofficial are accepted)
  • a resume or activity sheet
  • at least one letter (but no more than two letters) of recommendation

Supplementary materials that are mailed must be postmarked by Friday, November 15, 2019.  Supplementary materials that are emailed must be received by Friday, November 15, 2019.

Supplementary materials may be sent two ways.  They may be mailed to: The Sorensen Institute, Attn: HSLP 2020, P.O. Box 400206, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4206.  Or they may be emailed to Sarah Campbell at sc9ef@virginia.edu with a subject line of "High School Leaders Program Application Materials for (your name)".

Your application is not complete until we have received these three documents. 

The HSLP online application includes a series of short-answer questions in addition to a 300-word essay. You will also be asked to provide some basic contact and background information. See below for details. You will be able to copy/paste your answers into the online application.

Short-Answer Questions

The HSLP online application includes a number of short-answer questions. Be aware that your answers are a significant part of the selection process and very important to making admissions decisions. Please answer each question fully. The short-answer questions on the High School Leaders Program online application are as follows:

  • Why are you interested in attending the High School Leaders Program?
  • Why are you interested in government, politics and public policy in Virginia?
  • Please list any major commitments or events that might conflict with the program dates.
  • Is there anything else you would like us to know or take into consideration that has not been included on this application form?
  • How did you learn about the High School Leaders Program?


Please write a (NO MORE THAN) 300 word essay on ONE of the following two topics:

A. Describe the accomplishment you are most proud of and why. Feel free to address the following questions: What obstacles did you need to overcome to achieve your goal? What did you learn from your experience? What would you have done differently if you had the chance to do it again? How has this affected your goals for the future? How would you be different if you had not had this experience?

B. Briefly outline a public policy issue that you care about and suggest a solution. Address why this issue is important to you. Give the three strongest reasons for your solution, and give the three strongest arguments against the solution you have proposed. What would you say to convince someone who was opposed to your solution that is is the correct path to take?

Contact/Background Information

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

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Cell phone number (if applicable)
  • Home address and phone number
  • Year in school
  • Name of high school and its location (city, state)

2020 Interviews

Some applicants will be selected for a personal interview as the next part of the application process. 

In the weeks following the deadline for applications, students will be contacted to let them know whether or not they will receive an interview.  Those who are offered an interview will be given an appointment for an interview in their region that will take place in late January or early February.  There is only one interview date in each region.  If you are unable to make your interview time, a make-up date to interview in Charlottesville will be available. You will be contacted via the email address you provide in your application if you are selected for an interview.  Please make sure the email address you provide is typed correctly, and is one you check regularly.

2020 Attendance

Attendance during the program for all activities by all participants is very important to the success of the program. A sample schedule can be seen here.  Full participation is expected, there are no "free" days during the HSLP.  If you cannot commit to participating in the entire program, you should wait and reapply in a future year.

Tuition and Financial Assistance

Tuition for the 2020 HSLP is $2,800. Tuition includes three University of Virginia college credits.  Participants can apply for financial aid. Requests for financial aid will be reviewed by representatives of our parent organization, The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, after applicants have been accepted to the program. 

In 2019, we met 100% of demonstrated financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships, and financial aid. No individual has ever been denied participation in a Sorensen program because of inability to pay the tuition cost. Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses, but unless otherwise stated all 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. Financial aid applications must be submitted by Saturday, December 1st to be considered. 

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 High School Leaders Program, contact Sarah Campbell.
Applications Open
Tue, November 12, 2019
Applications Close
Tue, November 12, 2019