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Why Teens Should Attend the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC)

3 minute read

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The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) is a well-established global high school pre-college program held at 13 college campuses around the U.S. (including Yale, Berkeley, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern) that has been around since 1989.

How to prepare for NSLC

You can choose to focus on one of over 30 different career fields. (There is also a smaller NSLC middle school program for students interested in animal science, engineering, health care, or U.S. history and government.) The sessions range from one to two weeks.

NSLC is a selective program in that there is an admissions process, and most students are nominated by a teacher, counselor, or NSLC alumnus and invited to attend. But don’t be discouraged by this “nomination/invitation” component because you can also just nominate yourself and apply on a merit basis. Try to get your application in by February 1st at the latest because even though applications are accepted on a rolling basis, they close as soon as sessions are filled up (usually by late March). Now that you know what NSLC is, let’s explore why you might want to attend it. 

Exposure to very specific, individualized career tracks

While high school and many academic summer programs give you experience more broadly in subjects such as math, science, business, or the arts, NSLC has much more specialized programs within these categories – such as International Diplomacy, Marine Biology, Game Design, Data Science, Film Production, Fashion Management, and Journalism –, taught by specialists in those fields. Even within these subcategories, some programs allow you to specify your interests even further, giving you a chance to deep dive into your favorite subject.

Work directly with distinguished faculty and expert guest speakers 

NSLC often invites experienced professionals, educators, and experts in their respective fields to mentor and guide students. For example, past guest speakers for the NSLC Aerospace program include Secretary Michael B. Donley of the U.S. Air Force; the President of the National Academy of Engineering, Dr. C.D. Mote, Jr. and Mr. Barry Green, the Assistant Director of Engineering at NASA Goddard and the Journalism program have featured Pulitzer Prize winning correspondents and photographers. Interacting with such accomplished individuals provides valuable insights for how to pursue your career path and inspiration.

Leadership training specific to your field

Some of the skills you need to be a leader in journalism will naturally differ from the skills you need to be a leader in engineering. As such, NSLC tailors its leadership topics to the specific career program you will be engaged in. That said, some leadership soft skills are rather ubiquitous. Public speaking, intrapersonal communication, conflict resolution, personality styles, and group dynamics are all covered in every program.

Get a feel for campus living and behind-the-scenes tours

NSLC is an in-person, residential program hosted at 13 different college campuses around the U.S. No matter which program you choose, you will still get a feel for life away from home in the dorms with fellow participants. Off-campus tours and trips are designed to be both fun sightseeing activities and opportunities to see professionals in your chosen field at work. For instance, the NSLC Acting Intensive goes to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, Top of the Rock, and Radio City Music Hall. NSLC’s Biotechnology program at American University goes to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Food & Drug Administration, Capitol Hill, and the Smithsonian, among other places. Check your desired program for specific details.

Meet like-minded peers from around the globe

NSLC gathers students from all over the world, allowing you to interact and collaborate with a very diverse group who, despite their different backgrounds and experiences, share a passion in your chosen field. This networking opportunity can lead to lifelong friendships and chances to exchange ideas and perspectives.

Chance to win scholarships and awards

The NSLC awards eight merit-based scholarships to outstanding National Student Leadership Conference alumni to attend one of their host universities. Each recipient gets a $20,000 scholarship distributed in $5,000 increments over four consecutive years. The NSLC also created a special fund to provide students with seed money for service projects in their communities. Grants from the fund are available to National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, and National Student Council chapters. Awards range from $500 to $2,500 and help fund projects that you think will help create the greatest good for your community.

Earn college credit

NSLC partners with American University to offer a supplemental online course that augments your NSLC program’s area of study and counts as one college credit. The online course is self-paced and you can access the classes at home before or after your in-person NSLC session. 

Receive a solid letter of recommendation

The closer you get to applying for college, the more the importance of a glowing letter of recommendation becomes apparent. NSLC has a dedicated page for letter of recommendation requests, and they only ask that you submit your request at least two weeks before your college submission deadline. Completing the NSLC program is also a noteworthy addition to your resume. It demonstrates initiative, leadership potential, and commitment to a specific goal, qualities which college admissions officers and potential employers like to see in promising candidates.

Final thoughts about participating in a National Student Leadership Conference summer session

NSLC is included on our best leadership programs for high school students list and it is considered to be an honor to attend this program. However, it is a pricier option and not as competitive as the fully free programs on that list. Tuition for the NSLC programs run between $2,895-$6,995 (not including travel costs), which may be prohibitively expensive for some. Limited need-based NSLC summer program scholarships are available (with a strict mid-March application deadline), and NSLC also supplies support for student fundraising. Most programs run about 9 days, which may be too short of a time for those seeking a truly immersive summer program. However, we really love it based on the wide range of career options that are represented, variety of campuses and hosting institutions, inspiring guest speakers, field trips, and the diversity of students from around the world.

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