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8 Free Leadership Programs for High School Students

Joining a leadership program in high school is a great investment in personal and professional growth, especially while applying to college. Such programs offer a unique opportunity to develop essential leadership skills, enhance communication abilities, and foster teamwork. Engaging in leadership activities during your formative high school years will not only build confidence, but also instill a sense of responsibility and initiative. Additionally, participation in a high school leadership program provides a platform to connect with like-minded peers, mentors, and opportunities that can shape a promising future. It is a chance to gain practical experience, develop a strong work ethic, and lay the foundation for your successful and impactful leadership journey ahead.


However, most leadership programs often charge hefty amounts, or offer limited financial aid, which can be a deterrent for quite a lot of high schoolers. 


In this blog, we’ve highlighted 8 free leadership programs that you can make the best of! 


The Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) is a renowned organization dedicated to empowering and developing young leaders. Named after actor Hugh O'Brian, who founded the program in 1958, HOBY aims to inspire high school students to become effective and ethical leaders in their communities. The organization hosts leadership seminars and programs across the United States, providing participants with opportunities for personal growth, community service, and networking. Through interactive workshops, discussions, and hands-on activities, HOBY aims to encourage students like you to explore your potential and make a positive impact on society. 


The program focuses on fostering qualities such as communication, critical thinking, and social responsibility, preparing you for leadership roles in your school and beyond. HOBY’s State Leadership Seminar welcomes school and community nominated students to 3-4-day seminars each spring and summer, with locations varying from the East Coast to the West. 


Location: See here to find your closest State Leaderships Seminar location.

Dates: Dates vary, see here to find out when the State Leaderships Seminar is in your area. 

Registration: Students are nominated by other peers. See here

Eligibility: High school sophomores. 


The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) is a dynamic and immersive leadership program designed to help students who are seeking to explore their interests and develop essential leadership skills. Through a variety of specialized conferences in fields such as business, medicine, law, and more, NSLC provides you with hands-on experiences, engaging simulations, and interactions with professionals and experts in their chosen fields. 


This unique program not only fosters academic enrichment but also emphasizes the importance of leadership, teamwork, and critical thinking. With campuses at top universities across the United States, NSLC offers a transformative experience that will empower you to envision and pursue your potential future career path while honing the leadership qualities that will serve you well in any endeavor. Some of NSLC’s programs do require tuition, but the others don’t, so make sure to apply for the right one!


We have covered all there is to know about the NSLC in this blog. 


Location: The conference is hosted across 13 different prestigious universities, see here.

Dates: NSLC’s programs are split into many different fields of interest, with the dates varying. See here for the full list and schedule. 

Registration: NSLC does have suggested seasonal deadlines, but will continue to accept applications if space is available in a program or on a program’s waitlist. Apply here

Eligibility: 6th-12th grade students. 


The Summer Institute by The Sadie Nash Leadership Project is a unique leadership initiative tailored for high school women and gender-expansive students aspiring to delve into the realms of diversity and inclusion within leadership. Spanning six weeks, the program encompasses enriching experiences such as field trips, workshops, and insights from guest speakers and leaders across the broader NYC area. 


Through mentorship, workshops, and community engagement, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project strives to amplify diverse voices, instill confidence, and cultivate a sense of agency in its participants. By emphasizing the intersectionality of leadership and social justice, Sadie Nash is at the forefront of creating a generation of dynamic and socially conscious leaders poised to make a positive impact in their communities and beyond.


Location: Program available in New York, NY and Newark, NJ.

Dates: Summer Institute runs for 5 weeks at locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Newark.

Registration: The application cycle for Summer Institute 2024 will open in the Spring of 2024.

Eligibility: Young women and gender-expansive youth who are enrolled in high school and live in New York City or Newark.


The Bank of America Student Leader program is a prestigious initiative designed to empower and inspire the next generation of community leaders. This competitive program provides high school students with a unique opportunity to engage in a transformative eight-week summer internship, gaining firsthand experience in nonprofit work and community service. Through paid positions at local nonprofits, immersive leadership training, and a week-long leadership summit in Washington, D.C., participants develop essential skills, expand their understanding of social issues, and cultivate a commitment to positive change. The program, supported by Bank of America's commitment to youth leadership and community development, will equip you with the tools and networks necessary to make a meaningful impact in your community.


We have covered this program in detail here!


Location: Internship locations vary.

Dates: 8 weeks (Summer 2024).

Registration: Applications for the 2024 program are now being accepted through January 17th, 2024.

Eligibility: High school juniors and seniors.


MIT conducts this annual Leadership Training Institute, spanning twelve Sundays in the spring. Participants are organized into small cohorts guided by Leadership Development Mentors. The experience involves introspective discussions on leadership principles, followed by the implementation of a substantial community service initiative addressing local issues. 


Additionally, a project development segment focuses on community service, translating acquired training into tangible social impact. 


For almost two weeks between February and May, the MIT Leadership Training Institute employs a dual approach of theory and practice to cultivate the leaders of tomorrow. Their sessions integrate a leadership development component, fostering confidence, character, and essential leadership skills. 


Location: Boston, Massachusetts.

Dates: Vary but fall between February 11, 2024 to May 11, 2024.

Registration: Rolling admissions until December annually.

Eligibility: High school students. 


Subiendo, a competitive initiative hosted at UT Austin for high school rising juniors and seniors, provides an introduction to the McCombs School of Business. The program encompasses leadership seminars, case studies, campus tours, and interactions with current students. Participation in the program is entirely cost-free, with a particular emphasis on encouraging students from underrepresented groups to apply. During the week-long program, students will reside on campus, and all associated educational, boarding, and meal expenses will be covered by the University.


This program is designed to prepare young leaders, like you, in addressing the needs of the next generation by practicing with and talking through problem-solving issues in healthcare, energy/environment, and education. 


Location: Austin, Texas.

Dates: 5 days (June 11 – June 15, 2023).

Registration: January 31, 2023. 

Eligibility: High school juniors and seniors. 


Throughout your visit, you will actively engage in a series of enriching experiences that include attending workshops conducted by distinguished faculty members from the Kelley School of Business and gaining valuable insights and knowledge. IU’s YWI also offers countless networking opportunities as you will get to interact with accomplished Kelley alumni and current peers, fostering connections that will extend beyond the day's events. 


A highlight of the program involves a hands-on exploration of a real-world business case project, allowing you to apply your skills in a practical context. Additionally, the program serves as a platform for honing leadership and communication abilities, with tailored activities aimed at personal growth. Lastly, you will have the chance to connect with like-minded women who share a passion for business, creating a supportive community for ongoing collaboration and inspiration.


We’ve covered this program in detail here!


Location: Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. 

Dates: Dates vary, see here

Registration: TBD

Eligibility: Women who are juniors and seniors in high school. 


The Youth Leadership Program (YLP) by the FBI National Academy Associates aims to empower future leaders. Tailored to nurture the intellectual curiosity and impactful aspirations of exceptional young individuals, this Youth Leadership Program provides many opportunities that will allow you to flex your leadership muscle in a new and nationally-known setting (with the Federal Bureau of Investigation).


The overarching goal of YLP is to cultivate a community of influential leaders who are not only socially conscious, but also committed to serving others. By fostering connections through association, the FBI’s Youth Leadership Program endeavors to create a network of individuals dedicated to making a positive impact on the world.


Location: The FBI Academy in Virginia. 

Dates: June 20th-28th, 2024. 

Registration: Applicants should contact their local FBINAA Chapter and coordinate with the Chapter YLP Coordinator for specific information on that Chapter’s application process.

Eligibility: High school sophomores and juniors. 


If you’re looking for an incubator program that helps you establish a developed startup in high school, consider the Young Founders Lab! 


The Young Founder’s Lab is a real-world start-up bootcamp founded and run by Harvard entrepreneurs. In this program, you will work towards building a revenue-generating start-up that addresses a real-world problem. You will also have the opportunity to be mentored by established entrepreneurs and professionals from Google, Microsoft, and X. 


You can access the application link here!


Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If conducting independent research in leadership, business, or workplace practices interests you, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students, founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Mandy Brenner is a current junior at Harvard University. She is concentrating in History and Literature and loves to read and write in her free time.


Image Source: Bank of America Student Leaders logo


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