Top 20 Public Policy Programs for High School Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Students talking in a debate.

Top 20 Public Policy Programs for High School Students

Welcome to our guide on public policy programs for high school students. Here, you’ll learn how these programs can kick-start your journey into understanding governance and societal change. We’ll explore the range of opportunities waiting for you, the eager minds ready to make a difference. Discover the benefits, the challenges, and the life-changing experiences these programs provide. Let’s dive into the world of public policy education, where you can tackle complex issues, sharpen your critical thinking, and get ready for a future in shaping our world.

Top 20 Public Policy Programs for High School Students

1. Yale Young Global Scholars – Politics, Law, and Economics (PLE)

  • Location: New Haven, CT
  • Estimated Cost:  $6,300
  • Eligibility: Must be at least 16 years old
  • Important Dates: 1st November, 2023

The Politics, Law, & Economics (PLE) session is perfect for students interested in economic theories, government operations, and legal frameworks from both historical and comparative views. In this session, students get to grips with crucial topics like public policy, human rights, market regulation, governance, international relations, and cross-border cooperation and conflicts.

Participants enhance their critical thinking and analytical skills, learning to dissect social systems and current issues through the lenses of economics, law, and politics. PLE encourages an interdisciplinary approach, broadening their knowledge across various subjects tied to the session’s theme. This experience equips them to become an informed and active global citizen.

2. Political Science Summer Institute at UCLA

  • Location: University of California
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: Grades 9th – 11th
  • Important Dates: June 23, 2024 – July 13, 2024 (Program Dates)

The Department of Political Science at UCLA offers a three-week program that includes introductory coursework in American Politics and a career panel featuring special guests discussing the field and various career paths available with a Political Science degree.

Participants will complete the program with a robust understanding of American Politics, earning five units of college credit applicable toward their Bachelor’s or high school degrees. They will also gain mentors at both the graduate and undergraduate levels and an appreciation of the extensive impact of political thought and influence in society.

Concentrated african american woman doing paperwork, sitting in modern office on conference.

3. Leadership Institute at Brown University

  • Location: Brown University
  • Estimated Cost: $5,498 (Residential), $4,318 (Commuter), $5,314 (Online)
  • Eligibility: Grades 9 to 12
  • Important Dates: June 23 – July 5, 2024, July 14 – July 26, 2024

The Brown Leadership Institute is designed to enrich participants’ understanding of complex social issues and bolster their ability to foster social justice, catering to various levels of prior engagement.

The institute offers a flexible participation format, with a two-week on-campus option or a four-week online program. Both formats provide an international platform for students to connect with others who are passionate about a range of issues, from law and social movements to educational equity, restorative justice, and activism. Participants engage in in-depth exploration of selected topics, fostering active interaction with peers and instructors.

The program emphasizes the development of a collaborative leadership approach, enhancing skills in active listening, public speaking, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork. Culminating the experience, participants will devise an Action Plan to apply the insights gained in their own schools or communities.

4. National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) – Political Action & Public Policy

  • Location: Varies
  • Estimated Cost: $3,795
  • Eligibility: Grades 6 to 12
  • Important Dates: Jul 12 – Jul 20, 2024 – Jul 24 – Aug 1, 2024

The National Student Leadership Conference provides interactive workshops that offer aspiring leaders a hands-on experience in American politics. From simulating the role of a U.S. Senator to managing a political campaign, students engage in practical exercises like drafting legislation, lobbying, handling campaign finances, and utilizing social media for political marketing. These activities aim to deepen understanding of the political process and prepare students for active civic engagement.

a male student having humanities online class

5. CivicWeek by Northwestern University

  • Location: Northwestern University
  • Estimated Cost: TBD
  • Eligibility: Grades 7 – 12
  • Important Dates: Applications received by January 15 (spring programs) and May 14 (summer programs)

The CivicWeek program immerses students in a transformative educational experience, fostering an understanding of social impact through active engagement, discussion, and collaboration with peers, mentors, and influential community figures. The curriculum is designed to inspire students by connecting them with community partners who share insights into their work and innovative approaches to enacting meaningful change.

Students engage in reflective activities that encourage a deeper processing of daily experiences, expanding their viewpoints and enhancing critical thinking. The program includes service projects where students collaborate with local non-profits or community organizations, contributing to their missions through direct action while also fulfilling service hours.

CivicWeek features sessions with leading figures from government, business, and non-profit sectors, providing students with firsthand accounts of professional journeys and their roles in driving societal change. Integral to the program is team building, where students develop communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills through structured group activities, laying the foundation for effective teamwork in their future initiatives.

6. Georgetown University American Politics Academy

  • Location: Georgetown University
  • Estimated Cost: $3,389 (Residential), $2,625 (Commuter)
  • Eligibility: Must be at least 15 years
  • Important Dates: July 14 – July 20, 2024

The American Politics Academy offers students a comprehensive examination of the United States government’s three branches, utilizing a combination of lectures and debate exercises for an immersive learning experience.

The curriculum looks into the significant influence of political parties, public opinion, and special interest groups on shaping political behaviors and decisions. It also examines the effect of America’s evolving culture on political movements and the resulting implications for federal, state, and local policies.

Participants will have the unique opportunity to engage with key elected officials, Capitol Hill staff, lobbyists, and policymakers. These experts contribute to class discussions, providing insight into the nuances of congressional campaigns, legislative priorities, and pressing national issues. This direct interaction with political practitioners gives students a rare glimpse into the inner workings of American politics.

The Pros And Cons Of Taking Free AP Classes

7. EMILYs List – Internship

  • Location: Washington, D.C
  • Estimated Cost: Interns are paid at a rate of $17 per hour.
  • Eligibility: High school graduates, current college students, mid-career professionals
  • Important Dates: March 31, 2024 (Application Deadline)

The EMILY’s List Internship program is an initiative tailored for individuals seeking to gain substantial political experience, particularly in supporting Democratic pro-choice women candidates across various levels of government. The program offers internships during spring, summer, and fall, across all organizational departments, and is specifically structured for those new to the professional political or campaign landscape who aspire to a career in politics.

Interns at EMILY’s List not only contribute to daily departmental operations and participate in staff events but are also involved in ‘brown bag sessions’. These sessions are designed to facilitate interaction with experienced staff members, allowing interns to learn about their professional journeys and acquire a deeper understanding of the organization’s various functions.

A pivotal component of the internship is the ‘Change the World’ training, a signature program that prepares interns with essential campaign skills, ensuring they are campaign-ready upon completion of their internship.

8. USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future High School Internship Program

  • Location: University of Southern California
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: Must be a High School student
  • Important Dates: May 2024 (Program Reopening)

The USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future extends an exclusive summer internship opportunity to a select group of high school students. This esteemed program is designed to provide participants with a collegiate-level internship experience prior to their university education.

Engaging with the Center’s annual keystone event, the “Climate Forward Conference,” interns are tasked with summarizing and analyzing the conference proceedings. They will watch recorded sessions and dedicate their summer to developing comprehensive assignments that reflect their understanding and insights gained from the event’s discussions. This rigorous program offers a unique intellectual challenge and a chance to contribute to the dialogue on climate action.

9. Maine Youth Council Internship

  • Location: Portland, ME
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: Must be a High School student
  • Important Dates: May 15, 2024 (Summer Applications Due), September 21, 2024 (Fall Semester Applications Due)

The internship program is designed to empower high school students to become active citizens who create positive change within their communities. It offers them a chance to immerse themselves in the political process, gain insights into how state laws are crafted, and hone skills in facilitation and community organizing. Interns have the autonomy to steer their experience towards areas of personal interest or expertise.

The program focuses on nurturing talents in various fields such as Community Organizing and Education, enhancing Communication skills, particularly in content creation and social media, and fostering Youth Organizing. A central aim is to contribute to building a more equitable and just society through initiatives like hosting events that raise awareness, stimulate discussion, and actively involve other young individuals.

One of the notable activities includes crafting Public Service Announcements (PSAs) for educational use statewide, tackling vital topics like Automatic Voter Registration, Voting Processes in Maine, the understanding of Rank Choice Voting, Miranda Rights, and managing Burnout in Organizing. These PSAs serve as crucial tools for engagement and education across various platforms.

International students participating in a class

10. Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program

  • Location: Centre College in Danville, Morehead State University in Morehead, and Murray State University in Murray
  • Estimated Cost: Free
  • Eligibility: Grades 9 – 11
  • Important Dates: June 17 – July 27, 2024 (Program per session)

The Governor’s Scholars Program offers high school students a unique residential experience, gaining profound self-awareness, and understanding of others while fostering long-lasting friendships in a communal living environment. The program fosters a dynamic exchange of ideas and joyful learning experiences among students, faculty, and staff in a nurturing community setting.

A carefully selected cadre of high school and college educators collaborates intimately with the Scholars through classes, seminars, and co-curricular activities, providing a supportive and enriching educational environment.

The program features distinguished speakers and performers, alongside a variety of activities such as films, field trips, special events, and extensive recreational options, all designed to stimulate and entertain while facilitating learning.

Scholars are encouraged to initiate events, emphasizing the importance of active participation and contribution to the community’s academic and social life. The program’s diverse offerings necessitate Scholars to make informed choices to fully engage in the available personal and cultural growth opportunities. Ultimately, the Governor’s Scholars Program empowers students to take charge of their learning journey, providing a comprehensive platform for personal development and intellectual growth.

11. American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: Students entering their senior year of high school
  • Important Dates: July 20-27, 2024 (Program Dates)

The American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation presents a singular opportunity for high school students entering their senior year. This transformative weeklong event offers a hands-on experience providing practical insights into the functioning of the federal government.

Two outstanding students from each ALA Girls State program are selected as “senators” to participate in ALA Girls Nation held in Washington, D.C. Here, they engage in a simulated legislative environment, drafting and presenting bills and resolutions, partaking in senate sessions, and electing key officials like the president and vice president.

Beyond the legislative simulation, participants depart ALA Girls Nation with invaluable leadership skills and a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. government’s core principles, citizenship rights, privileges, and responsibilities.

ALA Girls Nation also fosters meaningful connections among students nationwide, enabling them to interact with peers sharing similar interests as well as those with diverse perspectives. The program culminates in a profound appreciation for the nation’s heritage, veterans, and a heightened sense of patriotism.

While in Washington, D.C., senators engage in enriching field trips to Capitol Hill, iconic monuments in the city, and the solemn grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

12. American Legion Boys State

  • Location: Varies
  • Estimated Cost: The program is covered by sponsorships.
  • Eligibility: Completed junior year of high school
  • Important Dates: July 19-26, 2024 (Program Dates)

American Legion Boys State stands as a distinguished and highly competitive educational program offering government instruction to high school students across the United States.

Participants in Boys State immerse themselves in learning about the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of active citizens within local, county, and state governments. The program’s objective training approach focuses on the structural dynamics of governance at various levels.

Led by elected student officials, Boys State activities encompass legislative sessions, judicial proceedings, law enforcement insights, assemblies, musical performances, and recreational programs.

Highly selective, Boys State welcomes high school juniors chosen by Legion posts across the nation, with many expenses covered by sponsoring entities like posts, local businesses, or community organizations.

two african american students talking

13. Department of Education Student Trainees Volunteers

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: At least 16 years of age
  • Important Dates: May/June through July/August (Program Dates)

The Department of Education (ED) provides internships tailored for students and recent graduates eager to gain valuable work experience in government, federal education, policy, and administration. Participants in this program have the chance to contribute significantly to the ED’s mission of promoting student achievement and readiness for global competitiveness. They actively support educational excellence and work towards ensuring equal access to quality education opportunities.

14. U.S. Department of the Treasury Student Internship Program

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: Students must be enrolled or accepted at an accredited institution.
  • Important Dates: Spring Internship Period (January-May): Apply in October. Summer Internship Period (May-August): Apply in December. Fall Internship Period (September-December): Apply in June.

Treasury student internships provide unpaid opportunities in Washington, D.C., designed for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students seeking practical experience and exposure to federal careers. These internships offer a chance to gain substantive career experience, develop essential skills, explore public sector career options, build professional networks, and observe the workings of a cabinet-level federal agency.

15. United States Senate Youth Program

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors
  • Important Dates: March 1 – 8, 2025

The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) brings together two student leaders from each state, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity for a week-long immersion in Washington, D.C., witnessing the functioning of the national government.

During the conference, student delegates will have the opportunity to attend major policy addresses delivered by senators, cabinet members, officials from the Departments of State and Defense, directors of federal agencies, and typically engage in meetings with the President and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The Hearst Foundations cover all expenses related to transportation, accommodation, and meals.

Each delegate receives a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate studies, with a special emphasis on encouraging coursework in history and political science. This program aims to foster leadership skills, deepen understanding of government operations, and support students’ academic aspirations.

View of middle school students talking in a classroom.

16. New York Mayor’s Office Internship Program

  • Location: NYC Office of the Mayor
  • Estimated Cost: $16 per hour (The Mayor’s Office Internship Program is a paid internship)
  • Eligibility: Must be 16 years of age or older.
  • Important Dates: The Summer Terms run from June – August. The Fall/Spring Terms run from September – April.

The Mayor’s Office Internship Program is a comprehensive initiative with three key components:

Interns are assigned to departments based on their interests and qualifications, where they work closely with staff on a variety of projects. These may include research, attending meetings, managing inquiries, data analysis, drafting briefings, staffing events, assisting with outreach, and supporting special projects. This hands-on experience provides valuable insights into the daily operations of the Mayor’s Office and allows interns to contribute meaningfully to the city’s initiatives.

The program also includes a bi-weekly Speaker Series held at City Hall, featuring guest speakers such as Deputy Mayors, Commissioners, Program Directors, and senior staff. These sessions offer interns a deeper understanding of city government functions and policies, as well as networking opportunities with key decision-makers.

In collaboration with NYC Service, the Mayor’s Office division focused on volunteerism and service in New York City, interns participate in a service project aimed at benefiting local communities and supporting New Yorkers in need. Past projects have included initiatives like restoring Little League Ball Fields, organizing NYC Parks clean-ups, planting trees, and conducting beach clean-ups. This aspect of the program fosters a sense of civic responsibility and community engagement among interns.

17. Oklahoma State Legislature High School Page Program

  • Location: Capitol Building, Oklahoma City
  • Estimated Cost: Not Specified
  • Eligibility: High school juniors and seniors
  • Important Dates: First Monday in February through the last Friday in May.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives High School Page Program offers students from across the state an enriching opportunity each year. Pages are selected to participate for one week, from Monday through Thursday, during the legislative session running from the first Monday in February to the last Friday in May.

As Pages, students engage in various responsibilities, including working in the House chamber during daily sessions, running errands for Representatives and House staff, and participating in the House Page Mock Legislature.

All participating students receive hotel accommodations and are accompanied by chaperones throughout the program. Transportation to and from the Capitol is provided daily for Hotel Pages. Pages are under close supervision at all times and are not allowed to leave either the hotel or the Capitol premises.

a female student facing her laptop while being interviewed virtually

18. Pre-College Summer School Program at Harvard University – Legal Studies

  • Location: Harvard University
  • Estimated Cost: $5,550 + $75
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors and seniors
  • Important Dates: June 23-July 5, 2024 (Session 1), July 7-19, 2024 (Session 2), July 21-August 2, 2024 (Session 3)

The Pre-College Summer School Program at Harvard University offers a specialized track in Legal Studies designed to provide participants with a comprehensive understanding of law, legal reasoning, and the functioning of the legal system.

Throughout the program, Harvard Law School faculty lead interactive lectures, case studies, and discussions, immersing students in various aspects of legal studies. Topics covered include constitutional law, international law, legal advocacy, and critical legal thinking, all essential for success in law school and the legal profession. Students have the unique opportunity to engage in simulated legal proceedings, such as mock trials, providing them with hands-on experience and practical insights into legal practice.

Attending the Harvard Pre-College Program in Legal Studies allows students to experience the rigorous academic environment of one of the world’s top law schools. The program helps participants explore different facets of the legal field, assisting them in determining their interest and suitability for a legal career.

The program also prioritizes inclusion and aims to support students from underrepresented backgrounds in pursuing legal education and careers, making it a valuable and enriching experience for all participants.

19. International Leadership Foundation Youth Leadership Academy

  • Location: Capital Hilton, Washington D.C
  • Estimated Cost: $500
  • Eligibility: Rising High School Sophomores, Juniors & Seniors
  • Important Dates: April 15, 2024 (Application Deadline), July 13 (Virtual Kick-off)

The ILF Youth Leadership Academy program aims to empower high school students by deepening their understanding of American democracy and their unique roles within it, while also emphasizing the importance of fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. Through this program, ILF provides students with the necessary skills, knowledge, inspiration, and confidence to become actively engaged citizens, entrepreneurial thinkers, and future leaders.

The program consists of a week-long intensive seminar featuring expert speakers, AANHPI (Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander) leaders, and entrepreneurs. These sessions are designed to help students develop critical skills essential for success in higher education, the future workplace, and as active contributors to their communities. The overarching goal of the program is to inspire and cultivate the next generation of problem solvers in America.

The ILF Youth Leadership Academy is tailored for aspiring young leaders interested in a range of fields, including public service, entrepreneurship, and business. It focuses on nurturing civically engaged leaders who are committed to making a positive impact on the civic life of their communities.

20. Mikva Challenge Programs

  • Location: Washington, D.C
  • Estimated Cost: Free for participating students
  • Eligibility: Grade 9th-11th
  • Important Dates: Mikva Challenge programs operate on an academic year schedule, with activities and events taking place during the school year.

The program is rooted in the principles of Action Civics, with a focus on four core goals:

Firstly, it provides youth with authentic and transformative democratic experiences, shaping their understanding of civic engagement and participation. Secondly, the program aims to develop agency and instill a lasting commitment to civic action among participants, empowering them to take initiative and make a difference in their communities. Thirdly, it equips youth with the necessary skills and knowledge to be effective and engaged citizens, preparing them for active involvement in civic and democratic processes. Lastly, the program works to increase exposure to Action Civics, creating greater demand for and accessibility to meaningful civic experiences for young people.

Group of students working around the table.

How to Find the Best Public Policy Programs for You?

Finding the best public policy programs for high school students involves several steps to ensure the program aligns with your interests and career goals. Here’s how you can navigate your options:

Identify Your Interests

Begin by assessing your interests in public policy areas such as healthcare, education, environmental policy, or international relations. This will help narrow down programs that specialize in your areas of interest.

Research Program Offerings

Look for programs that offer a comprehensive curriculum, including courses, workshops, and hands-on experience in public policy. For example, the Model United Nations (MUN) program offers insights into international relations and diplomacy, while local government internships provide experience in municipal policy-making.

Consider Program Reputation and Networking Opportunities

Research the reputations of the programs you are interested in. Programs with strong reputations often have extensive networks, which can be valuable for future internships and job opportunities. For instance, the Junior Statesmen of America (JSA) has a long-standing reputation for fostering student leadership in politics and public policy.

Leadership Programs for students

Check Accessibility and Support

Ensure the program is accessible to you in terms of location, cost, and support services. Some programs offer scholarships or financial aid to high school students, making them more accessible to a broader audience.

Seek Feedback from Alumni

Contact alumni or read testimonials to understand the program’s impact on students’ educational and career paths. Their experiences can provide insight into the program’s strengths and areas for improvement.

Evaluate the Program’s Practical Experience

Hands-on experience is crucial in public policy education. Programs like internships at local government offices or non-profit organizations can offer practical experience in policy analysis, research, and implementation.

To find a public policy program that fits your interests as a high school student, look for options that offer hands-on learning and growth opportunities both personally and professionally. Make sure the program aligns with what you’re passionate about.

a young man shakes someone's hand after being interviewed

How Can Participants Benefit from Public Policy Programs for High School Students?

If you’re a high school student eyeing a future in government, non-profit, or advocacy work, diving into a public policy program can be a game-changer. These programs do more than just fill your brain with facts; they immerse you in the nitty-gritty of how policies come to life and why they matter. Understanding the ins and outs of policy-making sets you up for success in these sectors.

You’ll sharpen your mind through vigorous debates and policy analyses, learning to unpack complicated issues, entertain various perspectives, and build strong arguments. Critical thinking and analytical prowess are just the start. You’re also going to boost your communication and leadership abilities, essential for making your voice heard and working well with others.

But there’s more to it than skill-building. Public policy programs are a hotspot for networking. Rubbing shoulders with experts, officials, and fellow policy enthusiasts opens doors to mentorships, internships, and even job opportunities, creating a professional circle you can tap into long term.

Thinking about college or a career in public service, law, or political science? These programs are a solid stepping stone, adding weight to your college applications and giving you a taste of real-world policy challenges. They’re not just a learning experience but a launching pad for your career.

In essence, for high school students, public policy programs are more than educational—they are an opportunity into the broader world of public service, equipping you with knowledge, skills, and connections for the journey ahead.

Group of students walking in the campus.

Final Thoughts

Engaging with top public policy programs gives you, as a high school student, a head start in understanding and influencing the societal structures that shape our world. These experiences boost your academic profile and develop the critical thinking and leadership skills you need for the future.

Starting this journey prepares you to lead in public discourse and action. As you step into policy making, you have the potential to create a better tomorrow, showing that young minds can indeed drive significant change.


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