National Student Leadership Conference – Is it Legit?

February 29, 2024

nslc is the national student leader conference legit

So, you just opened your mailbox to find an official invitation from the National Student Leadership Conference (continue to learn if the NSLC is legit). They say that you’re one of the top high schoolers in the country, and that you deserve to expand your horizons at their summer programs. You see that there are summer sessions held at places like Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Yale University. This seems very impressive! As a high school sophomore, those just happen to be your dream schools. You think that, perhaps if you attend this program at one of those colleges, it will increase your chances of being accepted when you actually apply. You start dreaming little dreams of walking around New York City in your power blue Columbia sweatshirt and you start imagining that you will meet a professor who will change your life at Yale. 

But is this at all realistic of what will happen at the National Student Leadership Conference? Have you just been invited to one of the most prestigious events for high schoolers in the country? Will paying $5,000 and attending this summer program change the course of your life forever? 

The short answer is: who knows? You can certainly attend, learn many things, make friends, and have an enjoyable time. But if you’re thinking that there is some kind of secret key for your future success contained in any one of these programs, that’s just not the case. 

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The long answer requires an understanding of this type of summer program, what you’re paying for when you send your money to them, and what you can expect as you consider attending this summer program—or others like it. 

In this article, we’re going to explain to you:

  • What the National Student Leadership Conference is 
  • How much it costs
  • The NSLC acceptance rate 
  • If the NSLC is a wise choice for you and your family 
  • Other things you can do to boost your resume outside o the NSLC

Let’s get started. 

What is the National Student Leadership Conference?

According to their website, the National Student Leadership Conference, NSCL, is “an immersive pre-college experience that prepares students for life beyond middle and high school, allowing them to study in university classrooms, learn to navigate a campus, and experience living with roommates.”

With nearly 40 different program concentrations—from aerospace to theater, from marine biology to international diplomacy—you can choose your area of interest and essentially practice what it might be like to study in that field on a real college campus. It could be a fun way to practice being in college before you even go. You go and live at a university for a couple of weeks. Plus you get to know new people, take classes, and do leadership training exercises. 

NSLC states that each of its programs contains leadership training that is “designed to teach skills that can apply to all areas of life.” 

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Transferable skills are always a plus. Whether those skills are transferable in a more institutional way is a different question. 

There is a way that you can get one college credit that may or may not transfer to where you eventually go to college. The college credit is earned through a relationship that the NSLC has with American University. But, attending the NSLC and taking the program courses should not be perceived as a way to earn a wealth of college credits before you show up to your own university on the first day of school. 

How Much Does the NSLC Cost? 

If you’re navigating around the NSLC page searching for a “Tuition and Fees” page—you’re not going to find it. The costs for each individual NSLC program are in fact listed under the Dates and Location page, and you have to click on the name of each program to see a breakdown of the location, dates, and a price tag of that program. 

So, depending on what type of program you’re interested in, the cost is going to vary. However, based on the most recently provided information on the program website, you can expect to pay anywhere from $3,800 to $4,100 for the vast majority of programs. 

The least expensive program is Leadership and Service, which costs $2,995 and lasts for five days. Students can attend that program at either Georgetown University or the University of Miami. 

While most of the programs are in that $3,000–4,000 range, there is one outlier in terms of cost. By far the most expensive program on the list, the Medicine Intensive program is held at Northwestern University in Chicago. Students can attend one of two sessions in 2024, from June 23 – July 10 or July 17 – August 3. That program costs a whopping $6,795. 

So what do you get for that amount of money? 

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“Tuition covers housing and on-campus meals, plus course materials, academic expenses, trips, tours, activities, and off-campus event transportation. Travel costs to and from the program itself are not included, and students are individually responsible for expenses such as spending money for souvenirs, laundry, and off-campus meals,” according to NSLC. 

There are different ways to defer the cost of an NSLC experience, if that’s what you’re after. 

“Students demonstrating financial need, academic merit, and school or community involvement are encouraged to apply for a Summer Program Scholarship to offset their summer tuition costs,” the program website advises. People can certainly learn more on the NSLC website, however, they do openly state that the vast majority of scholarships run about $500–$1,000. This is important to keep in mind. Before you envision an immersive, educational summer at Northwestern University partaking in the Intensive Medicine program free of charge, remember that most scholarships from NSLC would cover only a fraction of that cost. 

What is the NSLC Acceptance Process Like/ NSLC Acceptance Rate 

Students often think that the NSLC is extremely prestigious because they may have been sent an invitation to apply. But it’s important to remember that these invitations are part of the NSLC’s marketing materials. The conference needs young people to want to come and sign up for the conference in order to make money. One way they can increase your desire to attend is by making you feel selected. 

But in reality, anyone can apply to attend the NSLC. From the program’s website: 

“We encourage all 6th-12th grade students who demonstrate academic excellence and leadership ability to apply to our summer programs. For high school programs, students must be between the ages of 14-18 and have completed at least one year of high school. Students may attend NSLC through the summer following high school graduation. For middle school programs, students must be at least 11 years of age and currently enrolled in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade.”

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Each program has a cap on the number of students that it will accept. Once that cap is met, the programs have individual waitlists. The NSLC touts a small student-to-instructor ratio, so the number of students admitted to each program is going to depend on how many instructors there are. But, again, they’re hoping to profit from a large number of students attending these fairly expensive programs. Therefore, your chance at getting accepted is likely high. 

You do have to put down a deposit when you apply. Additionally, the website doesn’t immediately state if that deposit is refundable if you don’t get accepted or don’t attend. 

Is the NSLC the Right Choice for You? 

There are a few things you and your family should consider when thinking about applying for and attending the NSLC. Following is a list of those considerations. They’re certainly not everything you’ll need or want to think about. But they might serve as a jumping-off point for you. 

  • What are your goals after high school? How would this program fit into those goals? 
  • Do you want to jump into college knowing exactly what you want to major in? Do you expect to stick with that major for the entire four years without giving yourself the opportunity to change your major? 
  • Have you taken high school courses that have helped you to understand what you are interested in studying in college? 
  • Are you nervous about living on a college campus? Do you want and need experience with a “dry run” on campus before attending college for the first time? 
  • How much disposable income do you and your family have available for this kind of experience? Is it affordable for you? 
  • How much disposable income do you and your family want to spend on this kind of experience? Could you put the money to use in a different way, for example, saving it for a semester of college? You could take the amount of money that NSLC charges for a two-week course and knock out a good portion of tuition at a smaller, in-state university or college. 

What Else Can You Do? 

There are a host of enriching, valuable summer programs that could help you figure out what you want to study in college. Check out our lists for programs in psychology, pre-law, STEM, and so many more. 

You can also explore our Find Opportunities Page that allows you to explore the very best summer programs in each discipline/region.

If you find that the NSLC is too expensive or you just don’t have the time or interest to do it, there are still plenty of ways for you to gain valuable experience that will help you determine what you want to do in your career and in your college experience. 

Here are just a few ideas to get you started: 

  • If you have a career in mind, contact local businesses or organizations and ask to shadow professionals in that field. This is a free experience. Further, many local organizations are happy and excited to have students interested in what they do. 
  • Volunteer with a group that does something like what you’d like to do. If you want to go into dentistry, for example, you could check out a program like So Others Might Eat (SOME), which does free dental cleanings in the Washington, D.C. area, and accepts volunteers. You don’t have to live in Washington, D.C. to find examples of volunteer organizations that do what you’re interested in. 

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  • Talk with your school guidance counselor, trusted teachers, parents, mentors, and employers to ask about what organizations might be right for you. 
  • Propose an internship to a local business or organization—or apply for high school internships that already exist. 
  • Get hired! Work a full or part-time job during the summer and get paid to learn skills that will apply to your future major and career. This could be something simple, like working in a daycare if you’re interested in education or training to be an EMT if you’re interested in medicine. 
  • Create your own business or organization! If you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit and a cause that you believe in, why not try organizing it yourself? That hands-on experience will teach you multitudes about what it means to apply yourself and teach yourself new things. This could be something like organizing a local clothing swap in your community to help your friends and classmates thrift for sustainable clothing or taking your crafting to the next level by starting an Etsy store or entering in local fairs and competitions. 

The point is, the possibilities are endless! You can absolutely go to NSLC. However, you can also engage the resources that are nearby to make your summers vibrant and full of learning. Good luck!