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The United States Senate Youth Program Explained

For high school students interested in studying history or political science, the United States Senate Youth Program provides an exciting opportunity to experience the government in action. In addition, it’s a highly selective and well-regarded program, meaning it certainly draws positive attention from college admissions committees. If your interests lie in these fields and you want to learn more about this amazing program and the scholarship associated with it, you won’t want to miss this post. 

What is the United States Senate Youth Program?

The United States Senate Youth Program (USSYP) is an annual weeklong program offered to elite students from across the country. During this program, students spend a week in Washington DC immersed in the national government. Some of the highlights include the chance to hear major policy addresses by Senators, cabinet members, and officials from federal agencies. Students also will get to meet with a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Funded by the Hearst Foundation, all travel, hotel and meal expenses are covered. In addition, participants in this elite program each receive a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate studies. Though students are free to use this scholarship to pursue whatever line of study they ultimately decide on, they are encouraged to consider a degree in history, political science, or a related field. 

President Barack Obama speaks with members of the United States Senate Youth Leadership Program in the East Room of the White House. (March 14, 2013) 
SOURCE: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Who is Eligible for the United States Senate Youth Program?

All applicants must be in 11th or 12th grade. They must be actively participating in student leadership through elected or appointed positions “in which they are actively representing a constituency in organizations related to student government, education, public affairs and community service.” In addition, they must live in the state through which they apply to participate.

Essentially this means that only high school juniors and seniors who are actively serving in qualified leadership roles and who are residents of the state they apply to may be considered. 

Qualified leadership roles include:

  • Student Body president, vice president, secretary or treasurer
  • Class president, vice president, secretary or treasurer
  • Student Council representative
  • A National Honor Society officer (including discipline-based Honor Societies such as the National English and Social Studies Honor Societies that include service components)
  • Student representative elected or appointed (appointed by a panel, commission or board) to a local, district, regional or state-level civic, service and/or educational organization approved by the state selection administrator

It’s important to note that participating in or holding an office in an academic club does not constitute a qualified leadership role. For example, positions such as captain of the debate team or treasurer of the french club are not eligible. Neither are participatory roles such as member of the National Honor Society. 

Selection will be made based on an applicant’s outstanding abilities and demonstrated leadership skills.

How to Apply for the United States Senate Youth Program

Students apply through their state, not directly through the USSYP. Because applications are handled individually by each state, there is no standard application process and it’s absolutely essential that you check the requirements specific to your state of residence. You can learn about the specific requirements for your state by using the State Contacts and Deadlines site. You should also be able to request information from your school counselor high school principal. 

To give you an idea of what the application process may look like, let’s review a few examples. For residents of Arizona, the application consists of four short-answer questions (150 words or less) focused on your leadership skills and accomplishments, and one essay question (500 words or less). Students can choose from five essay questions, each of which requires a political or historical analysis. 

For residents of Illinois, though, the application only requests demographic information, along with a typed narrative, no longer than two pages, outlining your experiences in leadership and the ways in which participating in this program would benefit both you and your community. 

Application deadlines also vary according to state. These range from as early as August 1st to as late as November 1st. Most fall sometime in October.

Other Important Information About the United States Senate Youth Program

If you’re considering applying to the USSYP, there are a few other pieces of important information that you should know. 

First, some students use a screening test to help them determine the most qualified applicants. This is not required by all states, but it is by many, so you may want to prepare for this in advance. The Annual Public Affairs Exam is designed to test your knowledge of public affairs and current events in politics. It includes multiple choice, True/False, and essay sections. The USSYP recommends that in order to be prepared for the exam, all students should “study the Constitution, review general knowledge about American history, the U.S. government and political processes and know the current elected and appointed official in each branch of government as well as key historic figures who have served in each branch.”

You should also be aware that if you are selected to represent your state at the USSYP, you will only receive your college scholarship if you attend the program. Alternate delegates are chosen for each seat in the program, and if you are not able to attend, you will have to forfeit both your seat and your scholarship.

The United States Senate Youth Program is an impressive accolade to include on your college application, but it is also much more than that. It provides firsthand experience in our national government, allowing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of everyday life in Washington DC. This can be invaluable insight for a student considering a career in public policy or government, and the $10,000 college scholarship could be just the tool to get you there. ‘

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