Model UN: Ideal Extracurricular for the Future International Relations Major
Extracurriculars are an integral part of the high school experience. While many students think of grades, standardized test scores, and academic achievements as the backbone of their college applications, at many selective colleges, extracurricular activities are an increasingly important piece of the puzzle, since most applicants are academically qualified for admissions.
Casual participation, however, is not enough to set you apart when it comes to extracurriculars. In order to truly shine, you need to participate in activities to which you’re truly dedicated. By finding activities that you’re passionate about, you’ll be able to engage in them over a prolonged period, demonstrating your commitment and sometimes building up to increased leadership or recognition.
For some students, it’s easy to find an activity that you’re passionate about pursuing. You might have a sport you’ve played since childhood or a long-standing interest in the visual arts. For other students, you may pursue Math Olympiad or a specific language club.
If you have an interest in international relations, your options will be fewer, but you aren’t out of luck completely. Model UN provides the opportunity to learn more about international relations through education, collaboration, and simulated UN sessions. If you are interested in learning more about Model UN, including what exactly participating in it entails and how you can get involved, read on.
What Is Model UN?
Model UN is a group that allows students to participate in mock United Nations sessions regarding real world international issues. The group was founded in 1920 and was originally named the Model League of Nations, but it changed names when that organization was succeeded by the UN.
Model UN exists worldwide, though there is some variation from country to country regarding how students participate and prepare. It also exists at various age levels, starting in middle school. For the sake of clarity, this article will focus specifically on how Model UN functions at the high school level in the United States.
Model UN is usually run as an extracurricular activity through an established high school team, but this is not the only way to get involved. There are also some independent teams, particularly in the case of homeschool students.
Model UN clubs generally meet regularly throughout the school year to discuss and debate important global issues. Sometimes, teams will prepare for smaller Model UN exercises within their own school, while other times teams will prepare for larger regional, national, or even international conferences.
The culmination of the Model UN experience is a simulation of the United Nations General Assembly. In these simulations, students take on the roles of ambassadors from UN member states to debate current issues on the organization’s agenda. These debates include speeches, resolutions, negotiations, and conflict resolutions. All are carried out according to the Model UN conference rules.
What Is a Model UN Conference?
Model UN Conferences are often the most exciting feature of the Model UN experience. At these large, inter-school events, each school’s team represents a particular country and debates various issues in the best interests of that country. These conferences vary in size, but the largest are usually held over a period of consecutive days and are hosted at large hotels or conference centers. They become truly social events, with participants having plenty of time outside of the simulation to get to know one another.
The first stage in participating in a Model UN conference is preparation. This generally starts before you even register for the event. Before you registert, your team will need to decide which countries it is most interested in representing. Countries are usually assigned on a first-come first-serve basis, with schools listing their preferences when they register for the event.
Choosing a country is not a decision to be made flippantly. Some countries have more responsibilities than others, so you will need to take into account the experience level of your team and the scope of the conference. You may be more comfortable taking on a more significant role at a state or regional conference than you are at a large national or international conference.
While there are 193 countries to choose from along with numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools most commonly compete for the 15 countries on the Security Council, especially the five permanent members with veto power: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. New or less experienced teams often select mid-sized countries, which still play a significant role in debates without being overwhelming. No matter how large or small the country you represent, you will still have one vote in the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, and most other UN committees and agencies. For this reason, it’s worth remembering that even the smallest countries play an important role.
The Model UN Resources site recommends that teams consider the following when selecting a country to represent:
- What would your group like to learn from this experience?
- Which countries would help to enhance this learning experience?
- How does each country fit into the group’s course of study? For example, an advisor wishing to teach a course on economic development may wish to choose a developing or newly-developed economy.
- How much of a challenge does each country pose for the group?
- How familiar are the students in the group with each country or region you are considering?
- Are there enough participants in the group to represent the countries you have chosen? Most conferences provide a matrix that lists the minimum and maximum numbers of delegates needed to represent each country. You may have enough members to represent just one country or several.
Once you have officially been assigned a country to represent, you will need to research the pertinent issues to be discussed at the conference. The Model UN Resources site provides some research tools to get you started, along with a Model UN Preparation Guide.
Before a conference, participants are given specific topics or problems that will be addressed, which provides them with plenty of prep time to research and draft positions on these issues. Your team is often required to submit a position paper showing that you have a clear understanding of the dealings of your country, as well as its position on the issues that are being discussed at the conference. You can find more information about position papers along with a sample position paper available in the Model UN Preparation Guide.
At the conference, delegates from the school’s team split up to participate in different committees, where they debate and defend their country’s position and eventually draft resolutions. Depending on your role on your team and your team’s role in the conference, you might be responsible for writing and delivering an opening speech, compiling a research binder, or writing a resolution.
During the conference, delegates will take turns delivering speeches, participating in debates, and working with allies to draft resolutions to important global issues. After the presentation of resolutions, the committee votes on whether or not they want a resolution to be passed.
At the conclusion of some conferences, special awards are presented to delegates who particularly stand out for the quantity and quality of their participation, compelling public speaking skills, or leadership in the committee.
Because there is no single international governing body for Model UN, different conferences will abide by slightly different sets of rules and take slightly different formats. If you are competing exclusively in the United States without international competitors, you will likely only encounter the United Nations Association of the U.S.A. (UNA-USA) rules and format, though it never hurts to check in advance.
If you go on to participate in international conferences, you can most likely expect the The Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) or the The United Nations Guide for Model United Nations (UN4MUN) format and rules. While these are similar to the UNA-USA format and rules, there are some significant differences, though none should be too jarring if you are already familiar with UNA-USA and know about the changes in advance. You should always know what kind of format and rules you’ll be expected to follow well in advance of any conference.
Why Should I Join Model UN?
Model UN is a well-recognized and well-respected extracurricular activity. For students with an interest in history, political science, government, law, or similar fields, Model UN can help you to highlight those specialized interests on your application. If you are interested in pursuing international relations or learning more about parliamentary procedure and the interests of foreign countries, Model UN will be a great fit for you.
In addition, Model UN offers the opportunity to hone relevant skills that easily translate to success in the classroom. Throughout your participation in Model UN, you will research, write, present and debate. You will also practice and perfect your public speaking skills.
Finally, Model UN offers a fun social dynamic. Through participation in larger conferences, you’ll meet interesting people who share your interests and may even become lasting friends.
If you are interested in international relations or are considering a career in government, Model UN is a great choice. Not only will you gain insight into the workings of the United Nations, but also if you can sustain your participation and build your skills, you’ll come out with an impressive extracurricular to match.
How Can I Improve at Model UN?
There are many ways to become a better team member and leader for Model UN. The most valuable is simply continuing to be an active participant at Model UN conferences. Be sure to stay actively engaged, asking questions from more experienced participants if you don’t understand what is happening.
There are also several online resources that you can refer to if you want to improve your written work or fine-tune your research. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the Model UN website, especially the Resources for Students link that includes valuable tools for beginners and experienced team members alike. The website Best Delegate also includes some great tips for preparing for conferences, including their guide to 15 Things Every Delegate Should Have in their Research Binder.
Finally, be certain to check out the CollegeVine post, How to Win Best Delegate in Model UN. Here, we review Model UN’s Best Delegate award and outline some strategies for achieving it, including how to compromise effectively, communicate articulately, and assert leadership skills respectfully.
If you’re a student who’s beginning to think about the impact of extracurriculars on your college applications, or you’re just starting to consider which extracurriculars you should focus on during the remainder of your high school years, check out our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
For more information about extracurriculars and opportunities for students interested in government or politics, see these CollegeVine posts:
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.