Is the National Student Leadership Conference Worth It?

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What’s Covered:

 

You received an invitation saying you were nominated to attend the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC). It feels like an honor — and, perhaps, an excellent opportunity to hone your leadership skills, explore a career, and impress colleges.

 

Does NSLC really fulfill this promise? How selective is it? And, at the end of the day, is it really worth it?

 

What is NSLC?

 

Established in 1989, NSLC is a program focusing on career and leadership skills for high school and middle school students. High schoolers live on college campuses across the United States, while middle schoolers can participate in the residential program or commute.

 

Affiliated universities include:

 

  • American University
  • Fordham University
  • Georgetown University
  • Georgia Tech
  • Northwestern University
  • Rice University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • UPenn Veterinary Medicine
  • Yale University
  • There is also a Boston location not affiliated with a college

 

Opportunities for attendees include hands-on simulations, leadership training, field trips, and coursework while taking advantage of behind-the-scenes tours and listening to guest speakers who are professionals in their field. They focus on topics in areas such as:

 

  • Business
  • Government & Law
  • S.T.E.M.
  • Art & Design
  • Leadership & Community
  • Computer Science

 

Each program lasts between six and 18 days.

 

What Do Students Gain from NSLC?

 

Connect with other students.

 

NSLC is an opportunity to meet students with similar interests who are driven enough to spend part of their summers learning and cultivating career and leadership skills. Friendships may well persist past high school.

 

Network with professionals.

 

Through the program, you’ll meet industry professionals and experts. You’ll have the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at a future career and potentially make lasting connections with leaders in a field you admire.

 

Explore careers.

 

Sample a career that interests you, whether that’s aerospace, architecture, entertainment management, game design, international business, law, theater, veterinary medicine, or one of many other options. You’ll learn about the field and gain real job skills early on.

 

Get a taste of college life.

 

While living on campuses, you’ll discover and get a taste of college life. You’ll get to see what the school classrooms are like, sample the dining hall food, and explore the surrounding area. This can help you understand whether a college is a good fit for you, and also help you become more independent as you live away from home.

 

For an extra fee, you may even have the option of earning college credit.

 

How Impressive is NSLC?

 

Before we evaluate the impressiveness of NSLC, it’s important to define the tiers of extracurricular activities. In the admissions process, activities are broken down into four tiers, with Tier 1 representing extracurriculars that are rare and exceptional, such as receiving a national award. Tier 2 is still highly-impressive, but slightly less rare  — an example would be getting selected for state orchestra, or being elected student body president. Tier 3 is for leadership roles that are more common, such as being a club treasurer. Tier 4 represents participatory activities, such as volunteering or being a member of a sports team.

 

If you want to attend top 20 colleges, you should aim to have at least one or two Tier 1-2 activities, with a mix of Tier 3-4 activities to demonstrate and round out your passions.

 

NSLC purports to be a Tier 1 or 2 activity, noting that students must be nominated to attend. But in reality, the program actually doesn’t require a nomination as a prerequisite — students can apply themselves, and as long as they have a decent academic record, their chances of acceptance are quite high. Moreover, nominations go to thousands of students annually. Ultimately, the program is far less selective than you might imagine, making it more of a Tier 3 or 4 activity. 

 

As a rule of thumb, the most impressive summer programs are highly selective, such as Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), Research Science Institute (RSI), Clark Scholar Program, and Economics for Leaders (EFL). Another measure of impressiveness is the cost of attendance; many top programs are free to attend. NSLC is neither free nor selective, so it’s not a super impressive program.

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Is NSLC Worth the Money?

 

Another drawback of NSLC is that it’s very expensive. For high school students, the 18-day programs range from $5,495-$5,795, the nine-day programs run from $2,995-$3,295, and the six-day programs are $2,595. 

 

Given the high price tag, many families find that NSLC isn’t worth the investment. However, if it doesn’t present a financial burden to your family and there’s a program that truly interests you, it can be beneficial. (Just keep in mind that it won’t give your application much of a boost.)

 

There are other ways to get similar leadership experience, such as the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) and Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), which are a bit more selective and less expensive.

 

Self-driven activities are also a good bet, especially during the pandemic, when in-person extracurriculars are far more difficult. “Self-driven” means any activity you do outside of an organized club, initiative, and so on. For example, you might start a blog about fashion history, tutor kids online, or run a half marathon for charity — all of which demonstrate desirable skills and independence.

 

How Strong is Your Extracurricular Profile?

 

Colleges seek strong extracurricular profiles in addition to academic credentials. In fact, for some institutions, your extracurricular activities are even more important than your grades and standardized test scores.

 

Using CollegeVine’s free chancing engine, you can find out your real chances of admission to more than 500 colleges across the U.S. We use both qualitative factors like extracurriculars and quantitative factors like your academic profile to estimate your likelihood of admission. Plus, we’ll give you tips to boost your chances!

 

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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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