Junior State of America (JSA): Build Your Leadership Skills

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Three students smiling and doing the thumbs up sign

Junior State of America (JSA): Build Your Leadership Skills

Getting into college in today’s current day and age is harder than ever, with students needing to be more strategic and careful with their application and academic planning– especially if they want a chance at being accepted into a prestigious Ivy League school. Be one step ahead with Junior State of America(JSA).

Your dream school will be looking for more than just a squeaky clean transcript and outstanding test scores. Admissions officers want to see what makes you unique. How have made an impact on your community? Have you demonstrated leadership or are you a force for change in the world? What are you passionate about? Do you use the knowledge or skills you possess constructively?

At AdmissionSight we believe in finding answers to these questions and highlighting the best parts of yourself to showcase to the school that you wish to attend. We work closely with you to build an Ivy League calibre academic and extracurricular profile, and present a powerful application to get that acceptance letter. Our results are proven.

So how would a student like you improve their application outside of academics? The answer to that lies in extracurricular or summer programs. You can spend your summer participating in a world-renowned program at Harvard University, or be a part of Science Olympiad during the school year. No matter what you are interested in or what you’re good at, there will be a good option that suits you!

a group of students talking each other in the library

For students interested in careers in the government, public policy, or the public sector, there are many extracurriculars worth pursuing. Doing so in high school not only highlights your dedication to the field and lends you an important knowledge base but also shows colleges that you’re an invested and skilled candidate.

One option worth considering if you’re interested in politics is the Junior State of America.

What is the Junior State of America (JSA)?

Junior State of America (JSA) is a non-partisan youth organization dedicated to helping high school students gain the leadership skills and knowledge necessary to be effective participants in their government and community. JSA is probably most well known for its summer program.

Group of students in the hallway smiling for the camera

The Junior State of America (JSA) was created by and for young people interested in what happens around them – from politics, to how government works, and contributing to their community. Since its founding in 1934, JSA has served as a place where students build leadership skills, learn civil debate, and strengthen their engagement through volunteering and activism. More than 500,000 students have graduated high school as more active, informed members of their community as a result of their participation in JSA.

One aspect that makes JSA unique is that it is entirely student-led and organized. Members elect local, regional, and state leaders who plan and organize conventions, conferences, and other events.

JSA operates on every level from local to national. Local JSA programs might include debates or simulations like Model UN or Model Congress. Larger conventions are also held at the state and national levels.

How and When was the Junior State of America Founded?

The concept for the Junior State was first conceived by Professor E. A. Rogers, headmaster of the Montezuma Mountain School for Boys in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains in the early 1930s. Rogers had long maintained that one of the primary needs of democracy was to train its youth in the essentials of good government. He believed that without an informed populace, a democracy is worthless.

A man sitting by the window is lost in thoughts

On an autumn evening in 1934, Professor Rogers put the question before his students. Someone suggested a junior government – an educational project to help create the statesmen and citizens of the future. Excited by the idea, the students began to set out the goals for their junior government. Non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-secret and non-profit, the organization would rise above the evils of propaganda and dirty politics.

Students would not just learn about democracy but would practice it among themselves. (Today, the Montezuma campus is known as the Presentation Center and is supported in part by the Montezuma Foundation.)

The project soon spread to other high schools across California. The group thrived through its annual “summer school,” where young men and women were taught political science and public speaking. JSA – Junior Statesmen of America as it was then known – entered the ’70s invigorated by a supporting foundation which assisted students in the organization of their government and handled fund-raising and administration of the summer schools.

In the last 30 years, the group has spread from the West Coast across the nation, with viable chapters in more than 35 states.

Since Professor Rogers’ time, the name has changed, but the mission remains the same. For 75 years, the Junior State has maintained its integrity – even through the divisive McCarthyism of the 1950s and the political upheaval of the 1960s – and steadily grown in influence.

The Junior State has fought for student rights, including the need for a lowered voting age (approved by the United States Congress in 1971) and student representation on school boards. It is the largest student-run organization in the United States – governed completely by and for the students.

What does Junior State of America (JSA) do?

In the student-run, student-led JSA, participants learn how to engage civilly in political discourse. They cultivate democratic leadership skills, challenge one another to think critically, advocate their own opinions, develop respect for opposing views and learn to rise above self-interest to promote the public good.

JSA is involved in 3 major sectors of student development: civic education, leadership, and civic engagement.

  • Civic Education: JSA chapters serve as the centre of political awareness at high schools. JSA conventions and summer programs bring thousands of students together to learn from each other. JSA allows for an exchange of ideas through stimulating student debates, thought talks, problem-solving and a variety of simulations. By participating in these activities, each member gains a more intelligent and informed viewpoint. JSA also provides a wonderful chance to meet and make friends with scores of other bright, involved students who have similar interests.
  • Leadership: Students experience the drama and power of politics as well as the challenges and responsibilities of leadership. From our Council of Governors to chapter officers and regional cabinets, JSA provides several opportunities for young people to learn, practice and build their skills in project management, consensus building, and time management. These are all skills that prepare them for college and beyond.
  • Civic Engagement: During the summer, JSA offers a pre-college experience through its summer schools and institutes. Our summer schools are hosted on the campuses of Georgetown, Princeton, and Stanford universities. The Summer Institutes are short, focused programs hosted at the University of California Los Angeles, Princeton and the University of California Davis. JSA also hosts a Diplomat Program at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China. These programs offer a rigorous curriculum that includes advanced courses in government, politics, history and public speaking. Speakers’ programs, a highlight of the summer programs, allow students to meet and engage with elected officials, public administrators, members of the media, lobbyists, civic leaders and business executives in lively dialogues about the public policy issues facing us as a nation.

What does JSA value?

  • Leadership: JSA believes in lifelong engagement with others to affect positive change. The organization practices learning by doing, using a student-run and student-led model wherever possible. They also support creative problem-solving, communication, delegation, and diplomacy. Challenges, failure, and reflection are seen as opportunities for growth.
  • Empowerment: JSA also believes everyone should have the skills, resources, and opportunities to make their voices heard and generate impact. They promote informed and constructive engagement through dialogue, debate, collaboration, and public speaking as well as encourage service with peers, communities, and government. Access to college-level curriculum is offered that teaches critical thinking, research skills, and analyzing and evaluating information.
  • Accountability: JSA believes every citizen should be informed, constantly improving themselves, and playing active and positive roles in their community and country. By participating in respectful discourse and using reliable sources accurately we can take ownership of our words, decisions, and their consequences.
  • Diversity & Inclusion: JSA believes in active, equitable participation and supports opportunities for all. Through respectful dialogue, sharing perspectives, and challenging ourselves and each other, we can explore differences, foster understanding, and learn collaboratively.

Who Can Join Junior State of America?

To become involved in JSA, you need to join your local chapter. These are usually organized through your high school and open to any student attending that school.

A group of students sharing their works

If your high school does not have its own chapter, you have two options. You could use the Find a Chapter resource on the JSA site to contact another high school near you and ask if it’s possible to join through their chapter. Alternatively, you can start your own chapter.

It’s worth noting, however, that you don’t have to be involved in a local chapter of JSA to apply to its summer programs. Of course, being involved at the local level will probably help your summer program application and make you a more compelling candidate.

How do I Start a Local Chapter?

Because JSA is a student-led and organized program, students are able to start their own chapters if one does not already exist at their school. To do so, you’ll want to start on the Starting Your Chapter page of the JSA site. Here, you’ll find all a simple contact form to fill out before you receive a copy of the JSA Chapter Startup Guide.

This guide will walk you through the initial phases of starting your own chapter, including choosing a teacher adviser, getting school approval, and recruiting new members. Once your chapter is up and running, you’ll also refer to the guide for information about collecting dues and electing officers. Finally, you’ll plan your chapter meetings and activities, and write a chapter constitution. This may sound intimidating, but the guide outlines the process and provides general guidelines for what must be included in a constitution, along with an example of a good one.

Once you’ve officially started a chapter, you can use the Chapter Resources page for ideas about meetings, organization, and activities. Setting up your own JSA chapter is a relatively simple process, and it’s a great way to showcase your initiative and ambition on a college application instead of simply joining JSA.

What Main Activities and Events does Junior State of America Offer?

There are three, large annual events for JSA chapters to participate in, and a flagship summer program that is highly regarded and well-known by many colleges.

The three school year conventions are Fall State, Winter Congress, and Spring State. These events are typically held at the regional level, so you can usually locate one that’s within driving distance. They typically take place over the course of a weekend and are located at a hotel, where the official convention and social activities will be held. To participate in the school year events, you must register through your local chapter of JSA, so you’ll need to be a member in good standing.

Group of students working on their project.

School year conventions consist of a number of different featured events. These include debates, thought talks, keynote speakers, and political fairs. Students have the opportunity to engage in respectful political discourse with a diverse population of varying perspectives. At the end of each debate, students vote on “Best Speaker.”

JSA is best known for its summer programs. These three to four-week-long programs are held on elite college campuses and allow students the opportunity to take intensive college-level classes in topics like international relations and constitutional law.

  • JSA Summer School: This program gives students access to rigorous college-level classes on the campuses of some of the most prestigious universities in the world. In addition to classes in topics like international relations, constitutional law and speech & political communication, speakers programs, debate workshops, and social activities help equip students with vital leadership skills while forming lasting friendships and memories.

During a summer with JSA, you’ll meet and question leaders who make and influence public policy—like elected officials, journalists, lobbyists and military strategists. Inside the classroom, you’ll also develop a more sophisticated understanding of international relations, economics, the media, and other important topics. Classes, taught by real college professors, are often discussion-based and require you to deeply engage with assigned readings. This approach prepares you for the kinds of classes you might take at the college level and will also hone your analytical reading and writing skills.

JSA Summer Schools are held on the campuses of two renowned universities: Georgetown and Stanford. You’ll move into the dorms, gain access to the gym and other student-only facilities and learn what a campus meal plan is like. This rich experience will help prepare you for life on a university campus and give you a taste of the independence and adjustments that await at college and beyond.

  • JSA Summer Institutes: Concise programs focused on leadership and politics, the JSA summer institutes give students a short, focused program on governance and key components of the political system. Programs range from four to five days long, and each combines a speakers program with interactive student activities, offering a unique perspective on the political issues facing Americans today.

Participants will gain a complete understanding of important issues directly from the decision-makers and power brokers who shape public policy. During the program, you’ll meet and question leaders who make and influence public policy—like elected officials, journalists, lobbyists and military strategists.

This access to real-world political leadership is complemented by simulations like crisis scenarios and budget negotiations, student-run debates, and social activities that help you meet interesting students from across the U.S. A focus on specific issues drives each JSA Summer Institute, giving students a chance to become experts in the topic of their choice.

The three-week-long programs at Georgetown and Stanford cost $5650, while the month-long Shanghai program costs $7500. There are scholarships for both the Summer School and Summer Institutes for students who can’t afford to attend otherwise. Remember that summer programs are most prestigious if they’re free and selective. So, if you can win a scholarship, that would make your attendance at the JSA summer programs even more impressive.

To apply to the programs, students must submit school transcripts, letters of recommendation and essays in addition to an application. According to the admissions FAQ, JSA is “looking for academically serious students who are willing to work hard and understand that they will be undertaking a serious summer of study and academic enrichment.”

Participating in a program such as the Junior State of America (JSA) will not only leave you with valuable lifelong skills, it will help round out your college application to make it impressive to admissions officers. You will become better informed of public policy and current issues. JSA will make you a better public speaker and leave you with lasting new connections and relationships from a college environment that can open doors for you in your future college career and journey beyond.

At AdmissionSight we evaluate both your academic and extracurricular profiles and provide you with a customized plan tailored to your needs in order to strengthen and improve both sides of your application. We fully encourage you to engage in activities that showcase your strengths and highlight your interests so you can get one step closer to attending the college of your choice.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up now to receive insights on
how to navigate the college admissions process.