Boys and Girls State is among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students.  One week at Girls or Boys State could change your life while also developing in you a deep understanding of how the government system works.  Among Boys and Girls State alumni are Michael Jordan, Neil Armstrong, Tom Brokaw, Garth Brooks, Bon Jovi, Jane Pauley, Bill Clinton and many more. Though we all have government classes in our schools, there is nothing better than learning about the process through hands on experiences.  Read on to learn more about Boys and Girls State.

How long has Boys and Girls State been around?

Boys State was created in 1935 by two Illinois Legionnaires, and the first Boys State was held at the fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois.  In 1938, the first Girls State program was held, and, although it differs a bit from the Boys State program, both programs have the goal of helping educate young people about their responsibilities as a U.S. citizen. Each year, approximately 40,000 young men and women participate in the program and since its inception there have been over 2,000,000 young men and women who have participated in the program.

What do I do at Boys or Girls State?

The program is one in which participants learn about rights, privileges and responsibilities of U.S. citizens in a one-week intensive program. Most programs are held on a college campus and students live in the dorms.

Students are divided into the Nationalist Party (“Nats”) and the Federalist Party (“Feds”), and the participants elect government officials including a mayor, governor, and state legislators.  The officials meet to propose and pass bills in a similar fashion to our national government. Both parties write bills, carry out motions and learn basic government procedures.

The activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings and assemblies and of course there is time for presentations from various government officials and well respected members of the community such as law enforcement and state senators.

There is also built-in recreation time, and students are given the opportunity to sing in the Boys/Girls state choir or play an instrument in the Boys/Girls state band.   Although the selection for Boys and Girls State participants vary from state to state, all states adhere to the general basic guidelines of teaching students about government at the local, county and state levels while helping to prepare them to become informed adult citizens.

Do I need to know a lot about government before going?

The answer to this is quite simply, no.  Students in attendance come from all different areas within the state, and they come with various levels of understanding of how the government works.  Some students come prepared to run for offices such as Governor or Lieutenant Governor, while others come with no prior knowledge about the government and how it operates.  Boys and Girls State is the perfect opportunity for students with similar intellect to gather and learn more about government procedures.

When am I eligible to participate in Girls or Boys State?

All participants need to have completed their junior year of high school and although the selection criteria vary from state to state, the selection process occurs during your junior year. Some schools nominate individuals, some posts have an application and interview process while others are less rigorous.   There are Girls and Boys State programs in all 50 states.

Selection criteria and eligibility includes that students must:

  1. Be a legal inhabitant of the U.S.
  2. Have an interest in government or current events.
  3. Have high moral character.
  4. Show strong leadership abilities.
  5. Demonstrate above-average scholastic achievement.

How much does it cost?

As stated earlier, the program is one of the most respected and selective programs in the country, but the good news is that in most cases, the program is completely free to participants. Sponsorship may come from the local American Legion or American Legion Auxiliary posts or in some cases local businesses or other community based organizations.

What do I gain from participating in the program?

There are many things that one can gain from participating in the program.  During the week-long program, you will be exposed to students from all over the state and afforded the opportunity to run for various offices within the local, county and state government. Doing so, will strengthen your leadership skills as well as your public speaking skills.

Because it is one of the most selective programs in the country, you will find yourself surrounded by many people with similar interests and aspirations.  Some colleges offer scholarships specifically to Boys and Girls State participants and the American Legion also offers other scholarships to participants as well.  If you are fortunate enough to be selected to participate in Girls/Boys Nation, you will have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. with participants from all 50 states to learn more about government at the federal level.

Don’t just take our word for it:

“Boys state is an incredible way for young guys to step out of their comfort zones and try something they may have not been exposed to yet. It was a fun filled week surrounded by like -minded individuals from all over the state who came to learn about the government and how it functions.”-Paul Moffet-ND Boys State Governor 2015

“One of my favorite aspects of ND ALA girls state was all of the different opportunities that we had to get involved during the week. Between running for office, having a role in a play, or writing for the newspaper, there was something for everyone to do!”-Sierra Heitkamp-ND Girls State Lieutenant Governor 2015

Your summer can be filled with many different experiences, but Boys and Girls State will offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about our government while affording you the opportunity to enhance your leadership and public speaking skills.

Where do I find out more information about the program?

A great place to start is with your local American Legion or American Legion Auxiliary.

If you’d like to learn about various other summer programs, check out our blog. Here at CollegeVine, we want to help you discover opportunities that will best fit your needs as well as your busy lives.

Tammy Goerger

Tammy Goerger

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Tammy Goerger is a long-time educator and geo-circle lead for the Joyce Ivy Foundation. She is the mother of three children who attended Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, and she has a passion for helping students achieve their dreams and aspirations. She has been a resource for students and parents about the application process, financial aid, and scholarships. She enjoys sharing her love for music with others and volunteers as an EMT on her local ambulance squad. She strives to teach her students about the importance of community service, as well as the importance of living with an attitude of gratitude.
Tammy Goerger