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What is Junior State of America (JSA)?

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For students interested in careers in the government, public policy, or the public sector, there are many extracurriculars worth pursuing. Doing so in high school not only highlights your dedication to the field and lends you an important knowledge base, but also shows colleges that you’re an invested and skilled candidate. 


One option worth considering is the Junior State of America. To learn more about this leadership- and politics-based program, don’t miss this post. 


What is Junior State of America?


Junior State of America (JSA) is a non-partisan youth organization dedicated to helping high school students gain the leadership skills and knowledge necessary to be effective participants in their government and community. 


One aspect that makes JSA unique is that it is entirely student-led and organized. Members elect local, regional, and state leaders who plan and organize conventions, conferences, and other events. 


JSA operates on every level from local to national. Local JSA programs might include debates or simulations like Model UN or Model Congress. Larger conventions are also held at the state and national levels. 


JSA is probably most well known for its summer program, which we’ll describe in depth later. To learn who can get involved and how you can start your own local chapter, keep reading. 


Who Can Join Junior State of America?


To become involved in JSA, you need to join your local chapter. These are usually organized through your high school and open to any student attending that school. 


If your high school does not have its own chapter, you have two options. You could use the Find a Chapter resource on the JSA site to contact another high school near you, and ask if it’s possible to join through their chapter. Alternatively, you could start your own chapter, which we’ll talk about next.


It’s worth noting, however, that you don’t have to be involved in a local chapter of JSA to apply to its summer programs. Of course, being involved at the local level will probably help your summer program application and make you a more compelling candidate, though.


How to Start a Local Chapter of Junior State of America?


Because JSA is a student-led and organized program, students are able to start their own chapters if one does not already exist at their school. To do so, you’ll want to start on the Starting Your Chapter page of the JSA site. Here, you’ll find all a simple contact form to fill out before you receive a copy of the JSA Chapter Startup Guide.


This guide will walk you through the initial phases of starting your own chapter, including choosing a teacher adviser, getting school approval, and recruiting new members. Once your chapter is up and running, you’ll also refer to the guide for information about collecting dues and electing officers. Finally, you’ll plan your chapter meetings and activities, and write a chapter constitution. This may sound intimidating, but the guide outlines the process and provides general guidelines for what must be included in a constitution, along with an example of a good one. 


Once you’ve officially started a chapter, you can use the Chapter Resources page for ideas about meetings, organization, and activities. Setting up your own JSA chapter is a relatively simple process, and it’s a great way to showcase your initiative and ambition.


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What Are the Primary Junior State of America Events and Activities?


There are three, large annual events for JSA chapters to participate in, and a flagship summer program that is highly regarded by many colleges. 


The three school year conventions are: Fall State, Winter Congress, and Spring State. These events are typically held at the regional level, so you can usually locate one that’s within driving distance. They typically take place over the course of a weekend and are located at a hotel, where the official convention and social activities will be held. To participate in the school year events, you must register through your local chapter of JSA, so you’ll need to be a member in good standing. 


School year conventions consist of a number of different featured events. These include debates, thought talks, keynote speakers, and political fairs. Students have the opportunity to engage in respectful political discourse with a diverse population of varying perspectives. At the end of each debate, students vote on “Best Speaker.” 


JSA is best known, though, for its summer programs. These three- to four- week long programs are held on elite college campuses and allow students the opportunity to take intensive college-level classes in topics like international relations and constitutional law. There are also AP courses like AP U.S. Government and Politics. In addition, students have the chance to meet members of the government, lobbyists, and other powerful decision makers. In 2020, JSA Summer Programs are available at Georgetown University, Stanford University, and Shanghai.


The three-week long programs at Georgetown and Stanford cost $5650, while the month-long Shanghai program costs $7500. There are scholarships for students who can’t afford to attend otherwise, and you can read about how to apply to them on the JSA website. Remember the guideline that summer programs are most prestigious if they’re free and selective. So, if you can win a scholarship, that would make your attendance at the JSA summer programs even more impressive.


To apply to the programs, students must submit school transcripts, letters of recommendation and essays in addition to an application. According the admissions FAQ, JSA is “looking for academically serious students who are willing to work hard and understand that they will be undertaking a serious summer of study and academic enrichment.”


If you’re interested in Junior State of America and thinking about pursuing higher education or a career in government, you might also be interested in these related activities:


How to Apply to the Senate Page Program

How to Spend Your Summer as a Prospective Poli Sci Major

A Guide to Girls and Boys State

Girls and Boys Nation-An Extension of Boys and Girls State


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.