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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 program is open to all students who are at least 16 years of age or are rising juniors. Graduating seniors are also eligible to participate. 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. 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. Click here to meet the alumni of our High School Leaders Program. And to learn about the history of this program and of the Sorensen Institute, click here


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 Advocacygives students the hands-on training and real-world skills that they will need to make their ideas a reality. They will learn how to responsibly manage social media, write a persuasive op-ed, speak to an audience of one or one thousand, give effective radio and television interviews, and to personally lobby issues with legislators.

Click here to learn more about the HSLP curriculum.



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 approximately 30 students. All students attending a public or private Virginia high school—or a Virginia resident attending high school in another state—are eligible to participate. Students must be at least 16 years old by the start of their junior year 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 and experiences.

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 and ethnic diversity of Virginia's population. The program attracts students who will be leaders in all aspects of life in the Commonwealth.

Each class aims to reflect the racial and ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic diversity of Virginia's population. The program attracts students who will be leaders in all aspects of life in the Commonwealth.


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 March and admissions decisions are mailed in early April. Students for the program are chosen through a careful selection process that includes the following considerations:

  • complete application and essay
  • academic record
  • letters of reference (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 select number of qualified finalists will be contacted for an in-person interview. The interviews are conducted by board members, alumni, and staff.


Applicant Information

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 their junior year and at least a rising junior in 2016. Graduating seniors are eligible to participate as well.

The application includes the following components:

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

In accordance with a policy of equal opportunity recruitment, the Sorensen Institute strongly encourages women and minority students to apply.



The cost of the 2016 High School Leaders Programs is $2,000, which covers all instructional materials, events, housing, meals, and field trips. The tuition also covers all expenses related to the three UVA credit hours you will receive upon successful completion of the program. A payment plan is available for any students that would like to spread out payments between their acceptance to the program and the start of the program. The High School Leaders Program is sponsored in part by State Farm, which helps us keep program costs to students as low as possible.


Financial Aid

Assistance for students who may have difficulty paying the program tuition is available. Potential applicants are strongly urged to apply regardless of financial concerns. Click here to learn more about available financial aid.


College Credit

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


Program Schedule

The High School Leaders Program Class of 2016 will be held Saturday, July 9 through Saturday, July 23. All students are housed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for the duration of the two-week program. 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, and 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 may work on their culminating project or share free time with classmates. Three Program Managers, all of whom are alumni of our College or High School Leaders Programs, live on site with the students and are available to at all times. On the last day of the program a ceremonial graduation is held at the University. Family and friends and encouraged to attend Graduation.  To see a sample schedule of the High School Leaders Program, click here.


Refer a candidate to this program:

If you would like to refer a candidate to our High School Leaders Program, please visit our referrals page.  Information provided will only be used to contact potential candidates about applying for our program.



We are NOT currently accepting applications for the 2016  High School Leaders Program.  Applications for the 2017 High School Leaders Program will be accepted starting in December of 2016 and be accepted through the first Monday in March of 2017.



If you have any questions about the High School Leaders Program,
contact Cash Arehart at 434-243-2470 or

Trust, Civility and Respect in Politics