Best Summer Leadership Programs – 2023

June 23, 2023

From law firms to movie sets to biology labs, there’s no doubt that good leadership is the backbone of any successful workplace. (If you’ve ever worked on a group project, you can attest to this fact–the vibe can turn Office Space rather than Friday Night Lights quite quickly.) As such, many programs help students develop leadership skills in relation to a particular subject area or career path, so it can be helpful to have your future goals in mind when evaluating options. Not sure what you want to do yet? Not a problem–leadership skills can be applied across industries and are useful for highly visible and small-scale roles alike, from founding a school club to spearheading an English presentation. Ready to discover which summer leadership program for high school students is the best fit for you? We’ve compiled a list of excellent options below.

1) Snider Enterprise and Leadership Fellows (SELF) Experience

  • Location: College Park, MD
  • Residential?: In-person commuter or online options available
  • Program Length: 3 weeks
  • Cost: In-person commuter: $2,500; Online: $1,500
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and college freshmen
  • Application Deadline: May, but applications are evaluated on a rolling basis
  • At the University of Maryland’s summer leadership programs, students become the CEO of ME (My Enterprise), Inc. while working in a collaborative environment to develop solutions to real-world problems. They also create their own original venture, which they’ll pitch at the end of the program. In addition to receiving exposure to topics like marketing, strategy, and personal finance, they build self-reliance, enterprise, and leadership skills. For example, students learn how their unique talents can be used to benefit others, identify their values and capabilities, and practice receiving feedback.

Although there is no residential option available, non-local students can take the course remotely. In general, students spend approximately three hours per day in class and another four to six additional hours on homework assignments and projects. No matter the format chosen, all students receive three college credits upon successful completion.

To apply to this summer leadership program, students must have at least a 3.0 GPA; they’ll submit their transcripts alongside the general application.

2) Bank of America Student Leaders

  • Location: A local nonprofit organization & Washington, DC
  • Residential?: No
  • Program Length: 8 weeks
  • Cost: None
  • Eligibility: Currently a junior or senior in high school at the time of application
  • Application Deadline: January

Rather than teaching leadership concepts in a classroom, the Bank of America Student Leaders Program takes a more hands-on approach by matching students with a local (to them) nonprofit organization. There, they will intern for two months. Additionally, all students must attend the week-long Student Leaders Summit held in Washington, DC.

Currently, the Student Leaders program operates in over ninety cities across the US, from San Diego to Knoxville to Worcester. Once matched with a nonprofit organization, students work at least thirty-five hours a week while receiving a close look at how their organizations work to meet the needs of the local community. They’ll also build practical leadership, problem-solving, and communication skills through workshops and networking events. Moreover, all internships are paid, and the program covers the expense of traveling to Washington, DC for the required Summit.

In addition to the general application, a recommendation is required. If you’re interested in applying to this summer leadership program, you must be organized and have strong credentials–applications are due in January, and only about 300 students are accepted.

Summer Leadership Programs for High School Students – Continued

3) Summer Leaders Experience at West Point

  • Location: West Point, NY
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 1 week
  • Cost: $625
  • Eligibility: High school juniors (at the time of application), age 17+ by the start of the program
  • Application Deadline: March

Any military officer is expected to be a leader above all else; that role is valued far more highly than their particular specialty. As such, a massive part of the undergraduate experience at service academies and ROTC programs is leadership training and development. Summer programs at such institutions are no different.

At West Point’s Summer Leaders Experience (SLE), students dive into life as a cadet–academically, socially, and militarily. Over the course of one week, they’ll take classes, get a taste of military training, participate in team-building activities, and have access to current cadets, coaches, and admissions officers. If you’re interested in attending a service academy–or serving as a military officer–SLE will provide a taste of what you can expect.

These summer leadership programs are highly selective. Accordingly, most accepted students are in the top 20% of their class, have strong test scores, are active in extracurricular activities, and are athletes (or in excellent physical shape).

It should be noted that each service branch has its own academy, and each service academy has its own summer leadership program. As such, depending on your interests and goals, you might also consider checking out the Naval Academy’s Summer Seminar and/or the Air Force Academy’s Summer Seminar.

4) Brown Leadership Institute

  • Location: Providence, RI
  • Residential?: Residential and online programs are available
  • Program Length: On-campus: 2 weeks; Online: 4 weeks
  • Cost: On-campus: $5,218; Online: $5,313
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors, seniors, and college freshmen, aged 15-18 by the start of the program
  • Application Deadline: May

Brown offers a Leadership Institute in two formats: residential and online. All students have the opportunity to take a course that explores current social issues, through which they’ll develop skills in active listening, public speaking, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork. Moreover, they’ll identify their current leadership style as well as how to strengthen it. A large focus of this summer leadership program is also understanding how to be a strong leader even (and especially) when faced with complex social issues, so all students develop an Action Plan that they can implement in their own local communities.

However, there are several differences between both formats (other than length). On-campus students have more courses to choose from–12, to be exact. These include options like Leadership and the Future of Science, Technology, and Medicine, Leadership and Intercultural Communication, and Leadership and Social Justice. Online students have five courses to choose from, including Women and Leadership and Reimagining Leadership: Art and Social Change. Additionally, on-campus students have the opportunity to build a strong community while online students spend more time working asynchronously and independently.

These summer leadership programs are competitive; Brown looks for high-achieving students with strong academic records. Accordingly, students need to submit their transcripts as well as an essay.

5) Lott Leadership Institute

  • Location: University, MS
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 4 weeks
  • Cost: Tuition and room & board are covered by a scholarship, but students will be responsible for all program fees (approximately $1,000)
  • Eligibility: Rising seniors
  • Application Deadline: January

Held on the University of Mississippi’s campus, these summer leadership programs are geared toward students interested in developing skills related to public policy, public speaking, and networking. Consequently, they’ll take three courses: Introduction to American Politics, Fundamentals of Public Speaking, and Special Topics in Liberal Arts. (The latter is an experiential course; students participate in service learning and meet with local and national leaders.) All students also take a five-day excursion to Washington, DC. There, they not only meet with federal officials but also nonprofit leaders. Finally, students who successfully complete this summer leadership program receive seven college credits.

Since only forty applicants are selected, the admissions process is selective and intensive. As a result, students need to have at least a 3.2 GPA as well as strong community involvement. They also need to submit transcripts, a teacher recommendation, test scores, an essay, and a video or audio response.

Hoping to spend time at Ole Miss this summer? Keep in mind that you’ll need to prepare your materials early–applications are typically due by the end of January.

Final Thoughts – Summer Leadership Programs for High School Students 

If there’s one skill that is beneficial for every industry, it’s leadership. Students can’t go wrong spending time at a summer leadership program that develops their abilities to connect and relate to others, navigate challenges, and become more adept public speakers and networkers. They’ll find that these fundamental skills will allow them to thrive no matter what career direction they ultimately choose.

Looking for a summer leadership program in your area? Consider checking out the following: