What is the High School Student Congress?


The High School Student Congress is an immersive high school summer program for students interested in politics, leadership and public policy. Fifty rising high school seniors are selected to attend the weeklong academic summer program. Throughout the High School Student Congress, participants focus on different dimensions of politics and public policy through an intensive curriculum. In addition, students engage with lawmakers, local officials, community leaders and others to explore the challenges of leadership in public policy.


Politics and Leadership


Each year’s program invites students to study the dynamics of current politics and political issues, informed by the experiences of Henry Clay. Past themes have included Henry Clay as a legislator and Speaker of the House, during which students authored, debated and voted on pieces of original legislation, and on Henry Clay as a diplomat and Secretary of State, during which students participated in an international conflict negotiation.

No matter the theme of the program, students are challenged to interact with peers who hold different beliefs than they do, to civilly and openly engage in dialogue about their differences, to learn to listen to one another and, ultimately, to come together in a spirit of cooperation in order to achieve progress for the common good. Moreover, students develop and hone their leadership, communication, negotiation and interpersonal skills.


Connecting with High School Peers


In addition to the rigorous academic program, students participate in team-building, leadership and social activities that create friendship and lasting bonds among the cohort of students. Previous activities have included trips to Henry Clay’s Ashland Estate, the Kentucky Horse Park, the Kentucky State Capitol and the national headquarters of the Council of State Governments. Students also look forward to film viewings, scavenger hunts and special closing banquets.

When and Where is the High School Student Congress?

2024 UPDATE:

The Henry Clay Center will not be hosting the High School Student Congress during the summer of 2024.

We appreciate your understanding and look forward to the continued success of the High School Student Congress in the coming years.

For any questions regarding the High School Student Congress, please contact Abby Didawick, Program Manager, at adidawick@henryclaycenter.org.

Who Should Apply?


The High School Student Congress accepts fifty exceptional rising high school seniors (juniors in the 2022-2023 school year) through a competitive application process. Applicants from Kentucky and across the nation are welcome to apply, as previous years’ attendees have represented many states across the US. Qualities of successful applicants include:


  • Record of academic excellence, as exemplified by GPA and standardized test scores
  • Participation in relevant coursework, such as AP Government, Economics and History
  • Interest in pursuing public service
  • Commitment to service and leadership
  • Dedication to learning and participation, and ability to interact well with peers, as exemplified by required teacher recommendation
  • Demonstration of excellent writing skill, as exemplified in required application essays


Why Apply?


The short length of the high school summer program is ideal for students interested in politics who cannot commit to a full summer program. In addition, it is an excellent option for high school students looking for a fully-funded opportunity. Alumni cite the High School Student Congress as a definitive experience in their high school careers, encouraging many to pursue paths of leadership and service. Our alumni describe their experience best in their own words:


“This week changed my life. I have a newfound passion for debate and policy that I never expected. I also made a wonderful group of close friends (and someday, colleagues) whom I love dearly and bonded with immediately.”


“The other students taught me the most, because I have never been able to fully state my opinions before, and they allowed me to do so. They made me realize my opinions matter.”


“This program provided me with an opportunity to meet people from all over the country, and to get to hear their viewpoints on political issues and how their personal experiences shaped their views. This experience strengthened my love for politics and debate and it was one that I will never forget.”

What is the Cost?


There is NO cost to apply for or attend the High School Student Congress. The Henry Clay Center covers all program-associated costs. This includes meals, overnight accommodations, and other program related activities and materials. 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 and sponsors, we are able to provide full scholarships to all students during the program.


In 2023, the Henry Clay Center will not be able to accommodate travel costs for participants. All participants are responsible for covering the cost of transportation to/from the program. The Center will connect out-of-state students with an outstanding travel agency in Lexington to assist students in booking flights to/from the program. While airfare is not included, the Center will cover the cost of transportation to/from the Lexington airport to the University of Kentucky’s campus.

Frequently Asked Questions


We’d love to talk to you about applying for the 2023 High School Student Congress! Feel free to contact Abby Didawick, Program Manager, at adidawick@henryclaycenter.org with any questions.

What else is required besides the application?

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

  • Two short responses to essay prompts (see application)
  • Copy of most recent transcript (may be unofficial)
  • Teacher Recommendation Form

Do I have to be a junior to attend?

Yes. Students who are completing their junior year of high school during the 2022-2023 academic cycle are eligible to apply. In very rare cases, students can defer their attendance to the high school summer program until the end of their senior year.

Is the program really free to attend?

Yes! The Center covers the cost of housing, meals, transportation during the program, and other related activities. However, participants are responsible for covering their transportation (including airfare) to/from the program. Tangential costs that students should anticipate covering out-of-pocket include 1-2 meals on travel days and souvenirs.

Do I need a letter of recommendation to apply?

You will need to have a teacher complete and submit the Teacher Recommendation Form on your behalf. This MUST be submitted in order for your application to be complete.

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

The High Student Congress is tailored to a specific theme 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 earn college credit during the program?

Due to the short length of the program, the High School Student Congress does not provide an opportunity to earn college credit. However, the immersive academic nature of the program will provide students with an invaluable opportunity gain skills and experience that will give them a leg up on their collegiate peers. Plus, a high school summer program in politics looks great on a college application!

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

Once accepted to the summer program, the Center will provide information about booking flights and driving to the High School Student Congress. All flights for out-of-state students are arranged through a travel agency who will work with participants to identify the best flights to/from their desired airport. Accepted students whose parents wish to drive them to the program will receive information about drop-off and pick-up logistics. All transportation during the program is arranged by the Center.

I am interested in public service, but I have never done anything like this before. Do I still qualify?

Yes! The High School Student Congress is an excellent opportunity for students who want to explore the world of politics, public policy and leadership and may not have prior experience in this area.

When will I find out if I'm accepted?

Students will be notified in late March – early April of decisions.


Recent Student Congresses


2019 High School Student Congress

2018 High School

2018 High School Student Congress


2017 High School Student Congress


2016 High School Student Congress


2015 Student Congress


2014 High School Student Congress