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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 2015 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, Freedom of Information Act, and gift disclosure rules. 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 people 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 seeks to have 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 2016 Political Leaders Program are currently being accepted.  Applications for the 2016 Political Leaders Program will be accepted through Monday, November 16th 2015 at midnight.  Applicants may also submit up to two letters of recommendation. These are not required; we will not review more than two letters. Letters must be received by Wednesday, November 16, 2015 for consideration and should be addressed to:

The Sorensen Institute
Attn: Lauren Gilbert
P.O. Box 400206
Charlottesville, VA 22904

For more information about how to apply, or to submit an application, visit our Application Page.



Tuition for the PLP Class of 2016 is $2,400. Acceptance to any Sorensen Institute program is need-blind.  Participants are responsible for their own travel expenses, but food and lodging costs are covered by the tuition. No individual is ever denied participation in a Sorensen program because of inability to pay the tuition cost. 

Participants can apply for financial aid.  Requests for financial aid will be reviewed by members on the Sorensen Statewide Advisory Board after applicants have been accepted to the program.  In 2015 we met 100% of demonstrated financial need through a combination of grants, scholarships and financial aid.  More information about how to apply for financial aid is 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.


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 2016 Schedule
March 17-19*: Williamsburg
April 15-16: Richmond
May 20-21: Lynchburg
June 17-18: Martinsville
July 15-16: Northern Virginia
August 12-13: Shenandoah Valley
September 15-17**: Southwest
October 14-15: Norfolk
November 11-12: Roanoke
December 16-17: Charlottesville

*Full attendance on opening weekend in March is mandatory.
**For our Southwest weekend, hotel rooms will be offered on the night on Thursday, September 15th due to travel distance. No official sessions will take place on Thursday.

If you have any questions about the Political Leaders Program,
please contact Lauren Gilbert at 434-243-2844 or
If you would like to refer someone to our program, please visit our
referrals page.
To apply to the Political Leaders Program, visit our Application Page.

Trust, Civility and Respect in Politics





Featured Alumni

  • Kenny Alexander.gif

    Kenneth Alexander

    Political Leaders Program

    Class of 2002

    Kenny served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002-2012. In September 2012 he was elected to the Senate of Virginia representing the 5th District in Norfolk and Chesapeake.