15 Leadership Programs for High School Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young man smiling while on a hallway.

15 Leadership Programs for High School Students

Leadership programs for high school students are crucial stepping stones in shaping the leaders of tomorrow. These programs enhance students’ leadership skills and prepare them for the challenges and opportunities they will face in their personal and professional lives.

This blog will explore 15 leadership programs specifically designed for high school students. We will delve into how high school students can exhibit leadership, the importance of student leadership in high school, and strategies for developing leadership among students.

15 Leadership Programs for High School Students

Preparing high school students for leadership roles in the future is crucial in today’s rapidly evolving world. Recognizing this need, several prestigious institutions offer specialized leadership programs to nurture the next generation of leaders. These programs equip students with the skills, knowledge, and confidence required to excel in various fields, from business to politics.

Students studying in a library.

1. National Youth Leadership Forum: Business Innovation

  • Location: University of California, Berkeley, Yale University
  • Cost: $4,245
  • Program Dates: June 25 – July 2, July 6 – July 13, July 15 – July 22
  • Eligibility: High School students

The National Youth Leadership Forum: Business Innovation is an intensive 8-day program that guides high school students through the journey of launching a startup. Set in the esteemed environments of Yale and UC Berkeley, the program combines academic learning and real-world business experience. Students engage in the 8 Days to Startup Challenge, transforming ideas into viable products through hands-on activities like business site visits and interactions with industry leaders.

From ideating to pitching, students make decisions critical to an entrepreneur’s success. They also learn to crowdsource ideas, gaining insights into market needs and customer preferences. This practical approach is enriched by site visits, where students see successful businesses in action, and lectures from business leaders, offering knowledge and inspiration.

2. Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS)

  • Location: Yale University
  • Cost: $70 Early Action fee or $85 Regular Decision fee
  • Program Dates: Session I (June 23 – July 5), Session II (July 7 – July 19), Session III (July 21 – August 2)
  • Application Deadline: November 1 (Early Action), January 10 (Regular Decision)
  • Eligibility: Ages 16-18 by July 21, 2024, fluent in English, current high school sophomore or junior.

Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) is a top leadership program at Yale University, designed for high school students aged 16-18. It introduces participants to university-level academics and fosters global discussions among students worldwide. YYGS offers sessions in various academic areas, challenging students academically and expanding their worldviews.

The program consists of seminars, lectures, and projects led by Yale’s faculty and experts. It spans science, engineering, and social sciences, allowing students to deepen their knowledge or explore new interests. This can guide their future academic and career choices.

YYGS is a melting pot of cultures, with students from over 120 countries. This diversity promotes open discussions and learning from different perspectives, enriching the educational experience. The program encourages collaborative learning, critical thinking, and leadership—skills crucial for today’s global leaders.

3. National Youth Leadership Forum: Engineering

  • Location: University of California, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, Olin College of Engineering, Carnegie Melon University
  • Cost: $4,195 – $4,245
  • Program Dates: June 16-23, June 25-July 2, July 6-13, July 15-22
  • Eligibility: High School students

The National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) on Engineering introduces high school students to the vast world of engineering. Held at leading universities, this program combines theory with practical challenges to show what engineering is all about.

Over eight days, students engage in a hands-on project, the Capstone Impact Challenge, to solve real problems using engineering principles. This approach helps participants understand the importance of engineering in solving global issues and encourages innovative thinking.

Students will hear from industry experts about the realities of engineering careers, participate in site visits, and use simulations to explore different engineering fields. This experience is designed to clarify the diverse engineering pathways and help students make informed decisions about their future.

Students lined up in their desk in a classroom.

4. Brown Leadership Institute

  • Location: Providence, Rhode Island (on campus); Online
  • Cost: On Campus (2 weeks): $5,498; Online (4 weeks): $5,314
  • Program Dates: On Campus: June 23 – July 5, July 14 – July 26, 2024; Online: June 24 – July 19, 2024
  • Eligibility: Students completing grades 9 to 12, ages 14 to 18 by June 16, 2024.

As one of the top leadership programs, the Brown Leadership Institute equips high school students with the tools to lead social change. Available in both on-campus and online formats, it allows young individuals to discuss crucial topics such as law, social movements, and education equity. This program is ideal for those eager to enhance their understanding of societal issues and strengthen their leadership abilities.

It provides a curriculum that encourages exploring various societal challenges, fostering debate and informed viewpoints. The program’s flexible setup accommodates different preferences, with residential and virtual learning options. Students tackle an Action Plan for social change, motivating them to identify and solve societal issues they care about. This method boosts their problem-solving abilities and instills a proactive approach to initiating change.

Additionally, the program focuses on key leadership skills like public speaking, analytical thinking, and teamwork through practical workshops and activities. The Brown Leadership Institute prepares students with the knowledge for advocating change and the leadership skills necessary in any environment.

5. National Youth Leadership Forum: Medicine & Health Care

  • Location: Emory University, St. John’s University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Maryland, College Park, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Cost: $4,195 – $4,245
  • Program Dates: June 16-23, June 25-July 2, July 6-13, July 15-22
  • Eligibility: High School students

This program gives high school students an in-depth look at the medical field, allowing them to experience what it’s like to be a physician. Hosted at leading universities, it combines simulations with hands-on clinical practice, sharpening participants’ medical skills and decision-making abilities.

One key feature is the Outdoor Medicine Simulation. Here, students learn crucial first-aid techniques like wound care and bleeding control, essential for emergencies where medical help is not readily available. This practical learning experience prepares students for real-life medical challenges.

Another significant aspect is the Triage Simulation, where students practice prioritizing patients in a disaster scenario. This teaches them to apply medical knowledge under pressure, enhancing their problem-solving and leadership skills. Beyond simulations, the program includes visits to top medical schools and interactive sessions led by seasoned advisors. Participants also engage in clinical skills rotations, gaining a comprehensive view of the medical profession.

6. National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) on Leadership & Service

  • Location: Georgetown University, Washington, DC; University of Miami, Miami, FL
  • Cost: $2,995 RESIDENTIAL
  • Program Dates: Georgetown University: Jul 11 – Jul 16, Jul 19 – Jul 24, Jul 27 – Aug 1, 2024; University of Miami: Jun 22 – Jun 27, Jul 1 – Jul 6, 2024
  • Eligibility: Students aged 14-18, having completed at least one year of high school.

NSLC on Leadership & Service, one of the best leadership programs for high school students, empowers students to positively impact their communities while developing essential leadership skills. This program combines service projects with leadership training, offering students a platform to practice goal-setting, public speaking, and team collaboration. By participating in community service, students learn the value of civic engagement and social responsibility, enhancing their leadership profile.

Students experience college life firsthand, living on campus and engaging in a structured program that balances academic learning with real-world application. The NSLC curriculum is tailored to help students explore their leadership potential, providing them with the tools to lead effectively in diverse settings.

7. Bank of America Student Leaders Program

  • Location: Multiple locations across the United States
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Program Dates: 8-week program including a week-long summit in Washington, D.C. (July 22-27, 2024)
  • Application Deadline: January 17
  • Eligibility: High school juniors and seniors legally authorized to work in the U.S., available for an 8-week internship and summit participation.

The Bank of America Student Leaders Program is a key initiative for high school juniors and seniors throughout the United States, focusing on community service and leadership. Started in 2004, this program plays a vital role in readying students for the workforce through paid internships at local nonprofits and a leadership summit in Washington, D.C.

It offers real-world work experience, enhances leadership abilities, and highlights the importance of teamwork in tackling community issues. During the 8-week program, students engage in paid internships with nonprofits, working on projects that benefit their communities. This direct involvement applies their academic knowledge in practical settings and provides insight into the nonprofit sector’s workings and challenges.

The program also focuses on building essential leadership skills. Through teamwork and workshops, students learn to lead empathetically, innovate, and make impactful choices. They finish the program ready to contribute positively to society.

Students looking at the computer while studying together

8. National Youth Leadership Forum: Advanced Medicine & Health Care

  • Location: Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  • Cost: $5,295
  • Program Dates: June 19-28, July 2-11, July 16-25
  • Eligibility: High School students

This advanced program at Johns Hopkins University is tailored for students who are deeply interested in healthcare. Over ten days, it explores specialized medical fields, offering hands-on workshops and simulations covering various medical procedures and practices.

Participants will learn from medical professionals, practicing skills like measuring vital signs, understanding birthing processes, and addressing common complications. Workshops with The Apprentice Doctor teach crucial practices such as venipuncture and suturing, fostering critical thinking and practical application of medical knowledge.

9. National Youth Leadership Forum: National Security–Diplomacy, Intelligence & Defense

  • Location: University of Maryland, College Park
  • Cost: $4,195
  • Program Dates: June 16-23, June 26-July 3, July 6-13, July 16-23
  • Eligibility: High School students

The National Youth Leadership Forum: National Security is an 8-day immersion into U.S. national security. Based at the University of Maryland and leveraging the resources of Washington, D.C., the program offers students a deep dive into diplomacy, intelligence, and defense careers. Through direct engagement with national security experts, participants gain insights into the sector’s challenges and the skills required to address them.

The program features a simulation that tests students’ decision-making and leadership skills, reflecting real-world national security scenarios. An exclusive college admissions panel gives students rare access to advice and information from higher education and professional realms, guiding them toward their career goals.

10. American Legion Boys State and Girls State

  • Location: Various locations across the USA
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Program Dates and Application Deadline: Dates and deadlines vary by state.
  • Eligibility: High school juniors demonstrating leadership, character, scholarship, loyalty, and service in their schools and community.

American Legion Boys State and Girls State leadership programs introduce high school students to American government operations. Students engage in hands-on activities, learning about citizenship rights, responsibilities, and operations. They participate in simulated governmental roles, experiencing legislative sessions, court proceedings, and political campaigns.

These programs focus on developing leadership qualities, emphasizing public speaking, negotiation, and collaboration. Students learn to work together towards common goals, reflecting the cooperative aspect of governance. They also comprehensively understand civic duties and the significance of democratic participation.

Boys State and Girls State offers more than just educational experiences; they are transformative, inspiring students to become knowledgeable and active citizens. Alumni often describe these programs as crucial to their personal and professional growth, highlighting their profound impact. Participants leave with a better understanding of government and leadership, prepared to contribute positively to society.

11. MIT Leadership Training Institute (LTI)

  • Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Program Dates: February 11 to May 11, 2024 (Sundays)
  • Application Deadline: December 1
  • Eligibility: Open to high school students interested in leadership and community service.

The MIT LTI is designed to build leadership skills through workshops and community service. Meeting on Sundays from February to May, the program focuses on practical leadership development and implementing service projects. Students work in small groups, fostering a supportive environment for personal growth. Topics include public speaking, emotional intelligence, and the importance of diversity in leadership.

The community service project component enables students to apply their newfound skills in real-world scenarios, benefiting local communities. Guidance from mentors ensures that students receive support and feedback throughout their journey. The LTI program aims to develop confident, skilled leaders ready to tackle future challenges.

a group of students enjoying social life

12. Leadership in the Business World (LBW) by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

  • Location: Philadelphia, USA (on campus)
  • Cost: $10,999
  • Program Dates: Jun 9 – Jun 29, 2024; Jun 30 – Jul 20, 2024; Jul 21 – Aug 10, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Priority deadline: January 31, 2024; Final deadline: April 3, 2024
  • Eligibility: High school students currently enrolled in grade 11 with demonstrated leadership experience and academic excellence of a 3.5 unweighted GPA or higher. International applicants are welcome.

LBW at Wharton stands out for its rigorous approach to business education, designed to mirror the undergraduate experience at one of the world’s leading business schools. Participants study the complexities of leadership in the 21st century through classes, simulations, and discussions led by Wharton professors and industry experts. The program emphasizes practical skills, from negotiating and strategic thinking to understanding customer focus and organizational strategy.

A typical day is packed with lectures, group activities, and digital simulations, ensuring students apply what they learn in real time. Beyond the classroom, LBW fosters a sense of community and teamwork, essential traits for any future leader. Admission is competitive, looking for students who excel academically and show a profound interest in business and leadership.

13. National Youth Leadership Forum: Law & CSI

  • Location: University of Maryland, College Park, MD
  • Cost: $4,195
  • Program Dates: June 16-23, June 26-July 3, July 6-13, July 16-23
  • Eligibility: High School students

As one of the top leadership programs for high school students, the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) on Law & CSI at the University of Maryland is an immersive program for high school students interested in law and forensic science. This unique opportunity allows participants to select a legal or CSI track to study each field.

Students choosing the legal track will experience the legal system up close through mock trials and courthouse visits. They’ll learn about the steps to becoming a lawyer and explore various legal careers. Those on the CSI track will get hands-on with crime scene investigation, learning from experts about the latest technologies in forensics.

Beyond the specialized tracks, all students will benefit from workshops on college admissions, offering a peek into university life and the admissions process. The program’s tuition covers everything from accommodation and meals to transportation for site visits, ensuring a comprehensive learning experience.

14. Boston Leadership Institute (BLI)

  • Location: Boston and surrounding areas
  • Cost: $599 for one-week programs, $2,200 for three-week programs
  • Program Dates: Various dates throughout the summer
  • Application Deadline: Rolling admissions
  • Eligibility: Open to students performing at or above grade level, competitive admissions for three-week programs.

BLI’s curriculum includes one-week and three-week programs designed to immerse students in their chosen field of interest. The one-week options are perfect for students with limited time, allowing them to experience different subjects and discover their passions. The Edge programs provide targeted preparation for students looking to excel in math, science, or AP courses.

Science programs give students extensive lab experience under the guidance of accomplished instructors. Engineering and tech programs challenge students with projects that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Medicine programs offer hands-on experience with procedures and research, ideal for pre-med students. Business programs introduce entrepreneurial skills and business management, which are valuable for future entrepreneurs.

BLI operates out of three campuses, offering day and residential programs to accommodate different needs. The day programs run from 9 AM to 3:30 PM with an optional extended day until 5:00 PM at no extra charge. Residential programs provide housing, meals, and supervision for a more immersive experience. Admission processes are straightforward, with a deposit required to secure a spot. Financial aid is available, demonstrating BLI’s commitment to accessibility.

15. Harvard Summer School’s Secondary School Program (SSP)

  • Location: Harvard University
  • Cost: $3,900 to $14,250, depending on the chosen program and format
  • Program Dates: 4- or 7-week programs during the summer
  • Application Deadline: January 10 (Early Application), February 14 (Regular Application)
  • Eligibility: High school students graduating in 2024, 2025, or 2026, at least 16 years old by June 22, 2024.

The Harvard SSP invites high school students to a summer of academic growth at a top university. This program offers both 4-week and 7-week courses that allow students to live on campus, study online, or commute. Students can earn college credits in subjects ranging from humanities to STEM, preparing them for the college experience. The program balances study, extracurricular activities, and socializing, providing a realistic glimpse into college life.

Participants come from over 71 countries, bringing diverse perspectives to the classroom. The application process targets motivated students who are eager to challenge themselves academically. Financial aid is available for those who qualify, making this prestigious opportunity more accessible.

How Can High School Students Show Leadership?

High school is crucial for developing leadership skills for personal growth and future success. Leadership programs for high school students provide structured ways to cultivate these skills, enabling young individuals to learn, apply, and demonstrate leadership in various settings.

Group of students talking in a room.

Participation in Student Organizations

Being active in student organizations is key for high school students to display leadership. These groups offer roles where students can practice organizing, team management, and communication. Leading club initiatives or serving in student government, students gain practical experience in guiding peers and managing events, enhancing their teamwork and problem-solving abilities.

Leading Community Service Projects

Community service projects offer significant opportunities for showcasing leadership. Initiating and guiding these projects, students identify community needs, devise plans to meet them, and gather necessary resources. These efforts demonstrate students’ dedication to societal improvement and build empathy and a deeper understanding of social challenges, highlighting leadership as a community service.

Initiatives in Collaborative Academic Projects

Academic projects that require collaboration present chances for students to lead by taking charge. Such projects demand coordinating with peers, sharing tasks, and ensuring the group achieves its objectives. High school students leading in these scenarios learn to inspire others, handle group dynamics, and produce quality work together, showing their capacity to improve group performance.

Positive Peer Influence

Leadership also involves positively influencing peers beyond formal positions. High school students who encourage kindness, respect, and academic integrity positively affect their atmosphere. By initiating actions to combat bullying or promote inclusivity, they exemplify leadership through the influence of their deeds on their school’s environment.

Resilience Through Challenges

Overcoming difficulties is a crucial aspect of leadership. High school students show leadership by displaying resilience—keeping a positive attitude, learning from setbacks, and persisting toward goals despite obstacles. This resilience motivates others, demonstrating that hurdles can lead to growth and achievement.

Role Modeling in Activities

Serving as a role model in academic and extracurricular pursuits is yet another form of leadership. Students who excel in their studies and interests set a high bar for their peers, embodying the traits that leadership programs aim to develop. Their dedication and integrity encourage others to reach for excellence, fostering ambition and a high-achievement culture.

Why Is Student Leadership Important in High School?

The importance of leadership programs for high school students stretches beyond just preparing them for upcoming challenges; it’s crucial for developing a generation ready to make thoughtful decisions and solve problems creatively. These programs offer young people structured opportunities to explore and enhance their leadership skills, bringing numerous advantages.

Group of students signing up for internship.

1. Developing Key Skills

Leadership programs focus on teaching important life skills. Communication, problem-solving, and teamwork are at the core of these lessons. Students learn to express themselves clearly, solve problems creatively, and work in groups. These are essential skills for success in both personal and professional settings.

2. Boosting Academic Success

Being part of leadership activities encourages students to manage their time well and prioritize their tasks. Leadership often means juggling various responsibilities, leading to improved focus and discipline in academic endeavors.

3. Readiness for College and Careers

Leadership skills make students more attractive to colleges and employers. Demonstrating leadership can enhance college applications and prepare students for future job markets where such skills are in high demand.

4. Personal Development

Leadership roles challenge students to step out of their comfort zones, fostering self-reflection and personal growth. They learn about their strengths and weaknesses, develop empathy, and practice making ethical decisions.

5. Influencing School Culture and Community

Student leaders significantly impact the atmosphere of their schools, promoting a culture of respect and inclusiveness. Leadership often involves community service, which helps those in need and instills a sense of civic duty among students.

6. Establishing a Leadership Foundation

The leadership experience gained in high school lays the groundwork for future roles. It prepares students to lead and make ethical decisions in their personal lives, careers, or community engagements.

Leadership programs for high school students transform participants into well-rounded individuals ready to tackle academic challenges and contribute positively to society. Investing in such programs unlocks students’ potential, guiding them toward a successful and fulfilling future.

How Do You Develop Leadership Among Students?

Cultivating leadership skills in high school students is crucial to their development, preparing them for personal and professional success. It involves several strategies to empower students with the necessary skills and confidence to take on leadership roles.

Providing Leadership Opportunities

Allowing students to assume leadership roles in activities such as student government, clubs, sports, or group projects offers practical experience. Schools can support this by offering a range of leadership roles that cater to diverse interests, ensuring every student has the chance to lead.


Mentorship plays a vital role in leadership development. Pairing students with mentors from different fields provides them with guidance and feedback on their leadership style. This relationship helps students understand the complexities of leadership and fosters a supportive environment for their growth.

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Teaching Responsibility and Accountability

Teaching students the importance of responsibility and accountability for their actions as leaders. Schools can instill these critical qualities in students by setting clear expectations and teaching the value of reliability and ethical leadership.

Leadership Workshops

Workshops focused on leadership skills offer valuable learning opportunities. Covering topics like effective communication and conflict resolution, these workshops equip students with essential leadership skills and knowledge.

Student-Led Initiatives

Encouraging students to spearhead their projects allows them to address issues they’re passionate about. This hands-on approach teaches valuable lessons in leadership, teamwork, and perseverance.

Recognizing Achievements

Acknowledging the achievements of student leaders is crucial. Recognition can take many forms, from awards to public acknowledgment, and it serves to motivate students and highlight the importance of their contributions.

Developing leadership in high school students involves providing opportunities to lead, mentorship, fostering a sense of responsibility, organizing leadership workshops, supporting student-led initiatives, and recognizing their achievements.

Leadership programs for high school students are instrumental in this process, offering structured experiences to build their skills. Through these programs and targeted support, students can become effective, ethical leaders prepared for future challenges.


Leadership programs for high school students offer invaluable opportunities to develop the skills necessary for success in college and beyond. By participating in these programs, students gain a deeper understanding of leadership concepts and apply these skills in practical, real-world contexts.

As we prepare the next generation of leaders, supporting and encouraging high school students in their leadership journeys is essential, recognizing their pivotal role in shaping a better future for all.


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