What is the College Student Congress?


The College Student Congress is a transformative two-week summer program tailored for undergraduates, meticulously designed to cultivate essential personal character skills vital for future leaders in the realms of public policy, politics, diplomacy, and contemporary leadership. The summer program in public policy selects fifty-one rising college seniors, representing each state and the District of Columbia, to learn about the dynamics of the policy process through an experiential and immersive curriculum. Students engage with lawmakers, academics, government relations experts, policy advisors and other leaders to explore the challenges of formulating comprehensive public policy.


Immersive Public Policy Compromise Experience


A key component of the summer program is the public policy project, administered in partnership with the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration. Through this project, participants will have the opportunity to research and develop a bipartisan solution for a policy challenge currently facing the nation. Previous topics have included healthcare, the national deficit, national security, immigration, criminal justice reform, net neutrality and others.


First, students self-identify and subdivide as leaning more or less towards conservative or liberal ideology on the four topics. Then, students proceed to create a partisan policy proposal for their given topic. This results in a conservative and liberal proposal for each of the topics. The challenge presented to participants is to negotiate, combine elements of their partisan proposals and present a single, bipartisan policy proposal on their topic.


Throughout this process, students are advised by PhD students and hear from experts in order to explore the depths of their unique topics. Students are challenged to interact with peers who hold different beliefs than they do, to civilly and openly engage in a dialogue about their differences, to learn to listen to one another and, ultimately, to come together in the spirit of cooperation in order to achieve progress for the common good. All the while, students develop and hone their leadership, negotiation, communication, and interpersonal skills.


Washington, D.C. Exposure


Additionally, students have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to see the real public policy process in action. Students meet with politicians, visit government agencies, engage in conversations with private sector players, and explore possible bridges between their academic and professional lives. Previous events in D.C. have included:


  • Tour of the U.S. Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court
  • Visits to Microsoft, the U.S. Department of State, Hall of States, Congressional Budget Office and other organizations
  • Policy presentations to experts at the Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Private meetings with the Supreme Court Clerk and other Congressional leaders
  • Round-tables with lobbyists, legislators, and Capitol Hill staffers
  • The Henry Clay Center’s Bourbon Barrel of Compromise Reception and Clay Policy Summit
  • Private sessions with renowned journalists and reporters such as CBS News’ Robert Costa and CNN’s Pamela Brown


Connecting with Peers


In addition to the rigorous and exciting academic elements of the summer program in public policy, many students find the opportunities to participate in team-building, leadership, and social activities invaluable. Students might enjoy an educational trip to Henry Clay’s Ashland Estate or the Kentucky Derby Museum. Or a laid-back tour of Woodford Reserve Distillery or West Sixth Brewing. Moreover, students participate in a leadership workshop designed for current elected officials at the national headquarters of the Council of State Governments. Over the course of the two-week summer program, students create friendships and lasting bonds with diverse peers from across the country.

When and Where is the College Student Congress?


The 2024 College Student Congress will take place in Lexington, Kentucky and Washington, D.C. from May 13th – May 23rd, 2024. Applications are due by January 5, 2024.

The summer program in public policy is hosted on the campuses of the University of Kentucky in Lexington and American University in D.C.. Students will be housed in residential dormitories.

Who Should Apply?


The College Student Congress accepts fifty-one exceptional rising college seniors (juniors in the 2023-2024 school year) through a competitive application and selection process. One student from each state and the District of Columbia will be selected to attend the summer program. Students may represent either their home state or the state in which they attend school. Some qualities of  successful applicants are listed below, but are by no means requirements for admission.


  • Record of academic excellence, as exemplified by GPA and academic honors
  • Participation in relevant coursework, such as political science, public policy, economics, international studies, history, conservation, social work, etc.
  • Interest in pursuing a career in public service
  • Relevant internships, work or volunteer experience
  • Commitment to leadership and service, as exemplified by student involvement
  • Dedication to learning and participation, and the ability to interact respectfully and openly with peers
  • Strong desire and motivation for attendance, as exemplified by required application essay


Why Apply?

If you firmly believe in the power of individuals possessing robust character and the requisite skills to enact meaningful change within the public policy sector, this program is tailor-made for you.

The summer program in public policy is ideal for undergraduates looking for a way to supplement their internship experience, or for those who cannot afford a more expensive program. Alumni cite the College Student Congress as transformational in their outlook, setting many on paths of leadership and service. They best describe their experiences in their own words:


“The biggest strength in this program lies in bringing together 50 students from so many different backgrounds. It challenges us to rethink how we make relationships and the notion that we can only be friends with those who hold the same opinions as ourselves.”


“It was interesting to realize that when we get to the bottom of certain issues, there are only minute differences that separate us on policies, and if we are open to talking about them we realize we’re not as polarized as we previously believed!”


“The Student Congress will always be a special week to me. Not just because I met some of my closest friends there, but because for a week, a group of people came together and raised the bar for public discourse in our country.”

What is the Cost of the Summer Program?


There is NO cost to apply for or attend the College Student Congress. The Henry Clay Center covers all program-related expenses including meals, accommodations, program fees, and airfare. We believe that every student, regardless of background or circumstance, should have an equal opportunity to participate in our program. As a result, and thanks to our generous supporters, sponsors and foundations, we are able to provide full scholarships to all students.

Frequently Asked Questions

Applications for the 2024 College Student Congress are due by January 5, 2024 for full consideration. All applicants will be notified of decisions by early February. For further questions about the College Student Congress, please contact Abby Didawick, Program Manager, at adidawick@henryclaycenter.org.

What else is required besides the application?

In addition to a completed application, applicants to the College Student Congress are required to submit:

  • Résumé
  • Copy of most recent transcript (may be unofficial)
  • Personal statement expressing interest in attendance (no more than 400 words)

Do I have to be studying political science to attend the program?

No! While political science, history and economics majors often make up a large portion of applicants, we seek students from a diverse range of major concentrations to bring their unique expertise to the program’s public policy conversations. Thus, students from engineering, pre-healthcare professions, computer science, business and natural science backgrounds are always dynamic additions to the cohort.

What if my university isn't out of classes at the start of the College Student Congress?

The College Student Congress program dates attempt to strike the best balance between university semester dates, summer internship start dates and the Memorial Day Congressional recess. Thus, the program dates may conflict with your university’s exam week. However, many students find the College Student Congress to be a worthwhile, invaluable experience and work with professors to reschedule final exams and assignments.

Do I have to attend the program for the full amount of time in Lexington and Washington, D.C.?

While it is our preference that all 51 participants are able to commit to the program in Lexington, KY and Washington, D.C., we recognize that jobs, family events and other conflicts can limit students’ abilities to attend the full two-week summer program. Attendance at the first half of the program in Lexington is mandatory for acceptance. However, participants may opt out of the second half of the program in Washington, D.C. if necessary.

Do I have to be a junior to apply?

Preference will be given to applicants who are in the process of completing their junior years during the 2023-2024 academic cycle. However, a limited number of sophomores or seniors might be accepted based on qualifications, unusual academic circumstances, or availability.

Is the program really free to attend?

Yes! The Center covers the cost of housing, meals, airfare, transportation to/from the airport and during the summer program. Tangential costs that students should anticipate covering out-of-pocket include 2-3 meals during travel or free time, souvenirs and any after-hours, non-program activities (Ubers/Lyfts in D.C., late night snacks, etc.).

How do I know if I will be selected to represent my home state or the state in which I attend school?

In order to have all 50 states and the District of Columbia represented, some students may be selected to represent the state in which they attend school rather than the state they call home. When evaluating applications, students are first considered to represent their home state. They may only be shifted to the state in which they attend school if there are not enough qualified applicants for that state. If you have a preference about which state you represent, please note your preference on the application.

What does the day-to-day of the program look like?

The College Student Congress is tailored to the specific policy topics and current political climate, so the schedule and activities may vary from year to year. The program is dynamic and responsive to student feedback, and we work to make each year’s activities better than the last. View a copy of the 2018 schedule here.

Do I make my own travel arrangements or are they made by the center?

Once accepted to the program, the Center will provide information about booking your flights for the College Student Congress. All flights are arranged through a travel agency who will work with participants to identify the best flights to/from their desired airport. Accepted students who wish to drive to the program from within a reasonable distance will receive information about mileage reimbursement and parking logistics. All transportation associated with the program during the two weeks is arranged by the Center.

What policy topics will be chosen for the program, and do I get to pick which group I'm in?

Students have an opportunity to express their preference of policy topics on the application. Topics will be selected based on student preference and relevant political issues. Then, accepted students will be able to rank their top choices for which of the selected policy topics they would like to examine.

When will I find out if I'm accepted?

All applicants will be notified of decisions by early February.


Recent Student Congresses


2019 College Student Congress

2018 College

2018 College Student Congress

2017 College

2017 College Student Congress


2016 College Student Congress


2012 College Student Congress


2011 College Student Congress