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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 for 10 months from March through December. You can meet the 2014 PLP on its class page.



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. We also explore Virginia's conflict of interest laws and Freedom of Information Act. 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 enjoy 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, economic development, crime and public safety, and the environment. Program speakers include current and former elected officials, cabinet secretaries, business and non-profit leaders, and other experts in each field.

Campaign and Advocacy Skills
The program surveys the key elements of winning political and issue advocacy campaigns. Topics may include fundraising, campaign finance laws, message development, crisis management, working with the media, and more. (For those interested in an intensive, "ready-to-run" campaign education, see our Candidate Training Program).


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. 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
September—mid November: Applications accepted for next 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.

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.

Applications for the 2015 Political Leaders Program are not currently being accepted.  Applications for the 2016 Political Leaders Program will be available in Autumn of 2015.


Tuition for the PLP Class of 2015 is $2,250. 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 2014 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.

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.

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 2015 Schedule
March 19-21: Williamsburg*
April 17-18: Richmond
May 22-23: Southern Virginia
June 19-20: Lynchburg
July 17-18: Northern Virginia
August 14-15: Shenandoah Valley
September 18-19: Southwest Virginia
October 16-17: Hampton Roads
November 13-14: Roanoke Valley
December 11-12: Graduation

*The opening weekend starts the afternoon of Thursday, March 19 and runs through Saturday afternoon March 21. Attendance at the entire opening session is mandatory.


If you have any questions about the Political Leaders Program,
please contact April Auger at 434-243-2470 or
If you would like to refer someone to our program, please visit our
referrals page.

Trust, Civility and Respect in Politics


Featured Alumni

  • Pat Gottschalk.jpg

    Patrick Gottschalk

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2000

    Pat is a partner at Williams Mullen. He serves on the boards of the Virginia Economic Developers Association and the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. Pat was Virginia's Secretary of Commerce and Trade under Governor Tim Kaine.