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Top Summer Leadership Programs for High School Students

13 minute read

Student leaders tend to be the ones who rise to the top of their class through grit and determination.

It makes sense then that many of the top student leadership programs are highly competitive, and college admissions officers do pay attention to these programs on applications. Give yourself plenty of time to apply. Some of these programs are prestigious, some are free, and some may even pay stipends and travel fees, all of which adds to their allure. We love that many of them aim to level the leadership playing field for underserved communities. 

All in all, these programs are a great place to develop your leadership skills, network with other ambitious students and professionals in your favorite fields, and in some cases do a bit of traveling. If you want to work on an independent community service project and need some guidance, check out some of our business, economics, organizational leadership, philanthropy, public health, or social science mentors.

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Top 25 Summer High School Leadership Programs

25. Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YQLI)

Hosting institution: Barnard College

Cost: $7,772-$9,058 

Format: In-person (New York, NY)

Application deadline: Mid April

This immersive 3-week leadership workshop is geared toward exploring leadership through a feminist lens. You can choose from one of seven tracks (STEM, writing/literature, political science/economics, urban studies/architecture, art history, sociology/gender studies, dance, and leadership in action) and work with a small group of peers to create a final project. You’ll also meet with professional women leaders from around the city.

24. Youth Leadership Program (YLP)

Hosting institution: FBI National Academy Associates

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Quantico, VA)

Application deadline: February 3

This intensive 8-day program only accepts 62 participants from the U.S. and around the world. All applicants must be nominated by one of FBINAA’s U.S. or international chapters. Topics include leadership fundamentals, ethics, business, resiliency, error management, fitness, and more. You’ll also attend field trips to museums and landmarks in Washington, D.C.

23. Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS)

Hosting institution: Yale

Cost: $6,500 

Format: In-person (New Haven, CT)

Application deadline: January 10

This 2-week session invites an exceptional and diverse group of  students from over 150 countries to address global challenges together on Yale’s historic campus. You can choose from four academic tracks: STEM, social science, interdisciplinary, and humanities. Living and learning beside peers from all world will also introduce you to new friends and cultures. You’ll collaborate with a group of them on a final capstone project. Needs-based financial aid is offered for the full tuition.

22. Summer Leaders Experience (SLE)

Hosting institution: West Point

Cost: $625 

Format: In-person (West Point, NY)

Application deadline: March 15

Get a taste of what it’s like to be a West Point cadet. This week-long, physically and academically challenging program will help you learn how to overcome challenges, work as a team, and rise to be the best version of yourself. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of academic disciplines such as engineering, chemistry, computer science, behavioral sciences, and more. 

21. University of Notre Dame Leadership Seminars

Hosting institution: Notre Dame

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Notre Dame, IN)

Application deadline:

This prestigious and highly selective program admits about 100 students to its 10-day program on the Notre Dame campus. You’ll be asked to tackle complex global issues, participate in a service project, and bond over ice-skating and open mic nights with new friends from all over the world. Tuition, housing, and meals are all covered by the University. 

20. SWENext High School Leadership Academy (SHLA)

Hosting institution: Society of Women Engineers

Cost: Free

Format: Online

Application deadline: December 12

This robust leadership development program designed for high school girls interested in engineering is a virtual year-round program. Again, not just summer, but such a great offering that we had to include it. In monthly meetings, you’ll learn how to prepare for college, find STEM pathway opportunities, develop strong leadership skills, and learn in an inclusive, diverse, encouraging peer group. You’ll have many opportunities to talk with inspiring role models, mentors, and industry professionals.

19. Summer Leadership Academy

Hosting institution: Mercy College

Cost: Tuition and residential accomodations are free / $595 fee for food and activities

Format: In-person (Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Application deadline: Rolling basis, sessions close when full

For rising seniors passionate about public speaking and interested in business, this 1-week, jam-packed program gives you seminars in finance, accounting, marketing, and entrepreneurship as well as leadership soft skill training in communication, cooperation, perseverance, and self reflection. You’ll get the rare opportunity to visit corporate headquarters in NYC (past visits have been to Google, MTV, Microsoft, ESPN, and more), and network at a career panel and Q&A with some of our current corporate leaders.

18. Subiendo: The Academy for Rising Leaders

Hosting institution: University of Texas

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Austin, TX)

Application deadline: February 14

This 5-day leadership development program gives rising juniors a chance to learn directly from McCombs School of Business faculty and corporate representatives. You’ll stay on-campus, receive mentorship from current undergrad leaders, explore Austin, and create life-long friendships. All costs are covered by the programs funders. All applicants are considered regardless of your background, and students from underserved or minority communities are strongly encouraged to apply.

17. Sadie Nash Leadership Project Summer Institute

Hosting institution: Sadie Nash Leadership Project

Cost: Free and some students are eligible for a stipend

Format: In-person (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Newark)

Application deadline: April 17

Attention New York City and Newark students: If you want to meet accomplished women and gender-expansive leaders and learn about how they got their start, this award-winning, 6-week program is the place to do it. You’ll discuss identity, social justice, and leadership and return home with new skill to share with your community.

16. Ronald Reagan Presidential Leadership Program

Hosting institution: Reagan Foundation

Cost: $549-$649

Format: Online or in-person (Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: Rolling admission (online), April 30 (in-person)

Both the virtual and in-person version are week-long day programs in which you’ll create a service-based leadership plan that you can implement in your own community. This is a great network of like-minded peers to collaborate with and get support and inspiration from. 

15. Pre-College Summer School Program for High School Students

Hosting institution: Harvard

Cost: $5,375

Format: In-person (Cambridge, MA)

Application deadline:

This 2-week program does not bill itself explicitly as a leadership opportunity, but it is an intensive experience designed to give you a glimpse of life at one of the most academically rigorous and leader-producing colleges in the world. These classes are non-credit so you can try college-level courses and discover your passions without fear of failure. Participants are encouraged to debate diplomatically on complex topics. You’ll also meet students all over the U.S. and 72 countries around the world. There are over 30 courses to choose from and some of the business and leadership offerings include management, speech, government, and economics.

14. National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC)’s Pre-College Programs

Hosting institution: National Student Leadership Foundation

Cost: $2,895-$6,995

Format: In-person (Washington, D.C. and New York, New York)

Application deadline: Rolling admissions, sessions fill by March

Attending NSLC is an honor. Outstanding high school students are nominated by teachers, counselors, and NSLC alumni and invited to attend. You can also apply for admission on a merit basis. NSLC provides about 30 different specialized programs in fields as varied as theater, marine biology, game design, biotech, and journalism. You will attend guest lectures, social events, workshops, field trips, and other daily activities relevant to your specific conference. Conferences vary in length from 6 up to 18 days. While it is implied that all who attend are leaders in their fields, note that there is one conference specific to leadership and service and another for political action and public policy. 

13. MIT Leadership Training Institute (LTI)

Hosting institution: MIT

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Cambridge, MA)

Application deadline: Rolling admissions

Ok, so this is technically a spring, not summer, leadership program, but it is such an amazing opportunity for high school students in the Boston area, especially for those from underprivileged background, that we had to include it. It takes place on consecutive Sundays between February and May at the MIT campus. The curriculum is broken up into two parts. The first half of the program is focused on leadership development with topics such as emotional intelligence, group dynamics, and the importance of diversity. The second half of the program features a community service project done under the supervision of a mentor.

12. Lott Leadership Program 

Hosting institution: University of Mississippi

Cost: $1425

Format: In-person (Oxford, MS)

Application deadline: January 5

This 5-week program designed for rising high school seniors helps college-bound students figure out how they can turn their academic interests into successful careers. You can take part in current event debates, decision-making activities, and a final field trip to Washington, D.C., to see the federal government in action and tour the Capitol. The program’s goal is for you to put your new leadership skills to good use when you return to your own school and community. Applicants must be nominated by their school, and only 40 students are selected.

11. Leadership in the Business World (LBW)

Hosting institution: The Wharton School

Cost: $9,899

Format: In-person (Philadelphia, PA)

Application deadline: April 5

Learn about practical real-world business practices from Wharton faculty and successful business leaders in finance, entertainment, retail, and more at one of the top business schools in the U.S. This hands-on, 3-week program challenges you to apply your skills with digital simulations and case competitions and work on a final project.

10. Leadership for Social Change

Hosting institution: Tufts (Virtual | In-Person)

Cost: $3,800-$5,500 

Format: Virtual or in-person (Boston, MA)

Application deadline: May 1

If you want to use your leadership skills to make a positive impact on your community or solve problems on a global scale, this 2-week program offers you the chance to learn from renowned faculty at a leading academic institution and network with ambitious peers from around the world. In the process, you can even earn college credit.

9. Kelley Women’s Leadership Institute

Hosting institution: Indiana University

Cost: Free, but travel is not covered

Format: In-person (Bloomington, IN)

Application deadline: Various from March to May

Even though these “institutes” only last for one day, it could be a day that changes your life. Participants are invited to take part in workshops with top Kelley School of Business faculty, explore real-world business cases, and network with fellow talented future businesswomen. 

8. Global Leadership Skills & Agents of Social Change 

Hosting institution: Georgetown University and Summer Discovery

Cost: $3,599-$10,299 

Format: In-person (Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: Rolling admission, closes when full

This 2-week residential or commute-in pre-college program focuses on sustainability, social responsibility, technology, business ethics, and mission-critical topics for our future global entrepreneurs and leaders who want to operate in a diverse global economy. You can also combine this with another course for a 4-week program.

7. Global Leadership Adventures (GLA)

Hosting institution: Global Leadership Adventures

Cost:  ~$4,000-$6,000

Format: Online or in-person (Various including Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the U.S.)

Application deadline: Rolling admissions, programs close when full

These multi-week programs are geared to inspire future leaders by immersing them in life-changing experiences. GLA combines meaningful community service projects, immersive learning, and adventure. Each program features a theme such as environmental stewardship in Juneau, Alaska, or public health and medicine in Bali. There are also virtual options for more flexible, part-time internship experiences.

6. Economics for Leaders (EFL)

Hosting institution: Foundation for Teaching Economics

Cost: $835-$2,100 

Format: Online or in-person (various around the country) 

Application deadline: April 10

These selective, week-long summer sessions are offered at various sites around the country and include a mix of economic topics (such as international markets, economic growth and scarcity, money and inflation) and leadership skill building. Theoretical concepts are always brought to life through fun simulations and exercises. In addition to being a great learning experience, it’s a great way to meet a global community of future economists.  

5. Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project (CLYLP)

Hosting institution: Los Angeles Institute

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Los Angeles, CA)

Application deadline: May 14

Calling Latino LA students: This program selects 50 students from LA County to attend an all-expenses-paid 3-day leadership conference. Topics discussed include the legislative process (a mock hearing will be held), college admissions, financial aid, career opportunities, and leadership training. You’ll also network with accomplished LA professionals and fellow student leaders. 

4. Brown University Pre-College Leadership Institute

Hosting institution: Brown University

Cost: $3,028-$9,459 

Format: Online or In-person (Providence, RI)

Application deadline: June 2

Want to transform your passion for social justice into action? This program offers either a 2-week on-campus session or up to 6-week online sessions. Whichever form of the program you choose, you’ll work with students from all over the world who are passionate about a wide variety of issues suchh as racial justice, gender equity, social entrepeneurship,  and more. You’ll hone skills such as active listening, public speaking, problem-solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, plus develop a final Action Plan to apply in your own school and community. 

3. Boys/Girls State

Hosting institution: The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary (Boys | Girls)

Acceptance rate: 3-6%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: March

If you’re interested in government, history, democracy, and politics, Boys and Girls State are respected, 1-week programs that teach citizenship and leadership skills for U.S. high school students via role play. Each state program runs its own program focusing on its own legislative sessions, court proceedings, assemblies, law enforcement, among other topics. There’s also a great documentary about Boys State, if you’re curious about the experience.

2. Bella Abzug Leadership Institute (BALI)

Hosting institution: Abzug Institute at Hunter College

Cost: Free. You are paid a $500 stipend.

Format: In-person (New York)

Application deadline: June 5 

Calling all NYC female-identifying, LGBTQI and gender-expansive students: This 6-week program open to NYC student from 13 to 21 years old includes workshops, seminars, speakers, networking, and debate labs, all geared around building leadership skills. If you want to gain the knowledge and confidence to be a political or corporate leader, this is an incredible opportunity. 

Priority is given to youth coming from underserved neighborhoods and or schools.

1. Bank of America Student Leaders                          

Hosting institution: Bank of America

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Various and a week in Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: January 12th

If you’re looking to make a change in your community or even the world at large, this program can help give you the tools to make a difference. High school juniors and seniors get paired with local nonprofits to complete an 8-week internship that address issues in their communities. The summer session ends with an all-expenses-paid final Student Leader Summit in Washington, D.C., where participants will explore the connection between business nonprofits and government and how they work together to solve problems. They also meet with their Congressional group from their district to discuss the issues they feel most impact their community.

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