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The National Youth Leadership Forum: Should You Go?


Have you heard of the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF)? Perhaps you've heard that attending the NYLF is a great way to improve your chances of getting into top colleges, and you're wondering if that's true or not. Spoiler: If you're considering NYLF because you think it's prestigious, you'd be dead wrong. Keep reading to find out why.

This guide will explain what NYLF is, what its benefits and drawbacks are, and how you can decide whether or not you should participate in it.


What Is the National Youth Leadership Forum?

The National Youth Leadership Forum is a group of summer programs designed to introduce select high school students to different careers and help prepare them for college and future jobs.

NYLF is owned by Envision EMI, a for-profit company that creates and runs numerous other youth leadership programs such as Lead America, the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and the National Young Scholars Program. A program similar to NYLF is the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC). Like the National Youth Leadership Forum, NSLC runs programs for high school students that are focused on specific career fields, but NSLC has more of a focus on developing leadership skills.

During NYLF, students either live in college dorms at different campuses across the country, or they stay at hotel in Washington DC, depending on the program. Students attend lectures and events and may also take field trips.

NYLF markets their programs as a way to give students the knowledge and experience they need to succeed in college and their future careers. The National Youth Leadership Forum offers six programs for high school students: medicine, advanced medicine and health care, business innovation, national security, law and CSI, and engineering. I've briefly described each of them below.


NYLF Medicine

  • NYLF medicine programs are 9 days long.

  • They include lectures and meetings with prominent doctors, visits to a medical school campus, hands-on practice with diagnostic tools, and lectures on health care careers.

  • Offered at nine schools: UCLA, UC Berkeley, Emory University, UNC-Chapel Hill, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Maryland, St. John's University, Rice University, and Tufts University.

  • Costs $3,695 to $3,795


NYLF Advanced Medicine & Health Care

  • NYLF advanced medicine programs are 10 days long.
  • They cover the same information as regular NYLF Medicine programs but are a day longer and therefore go into some subjects in more depth.

  • Offered at Johns Hopkins University.

  • Costs $4,875-$4,995


NYLF National Security

  • NYLF programs in national security are 6 days long.

  • They help prepare participants for careers in defense, intelligence, and the diplomatic corps. Participants meet with members of the military and federal agencies, visit places such as the Pentagon and U.S. Naval Academy, and learn how to employ a crisis decision-making process.

  • Offered at the University of Maryland.

  • Costs $3,045-$3,295


NYLF Law and CSI

  • Programs are 6 days long.

  • Students are taught about careers in legal and forensic science fields. They'll hear lectures from prominent lawyers and members of the FBI, visit a courthouse or laboratory and interact with professionals, and take part in a Supreme Court Simulation where they learn about the judicial process and how to argue effectively.

  • Students stay at a hotel in Washington DC.

  • Costs $3,045-$3,245


NYLF Business Innovation

  • NYLF Business Innovation programs last 7 days.

  • Students will learn about careers in the business world and take part in business workshops and compete in a corporate simulation.

  • Offered at Yale University.

  • Costs $3,475-$3,725


NYLF Engineering

  • NYLF Engineering programs last 8 days.

  • Programs focus on multiple engineering fields, such as sustainable design, robotics, and web design. Students in this program develop their own digital model and learn about innovative engineering technology.

  • Offered at Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, and UC Berkeley.

  • Costs $3,895-$4,195



  • NYLF Explore STEM programs last 7 days.

  • Program has a multidisciplinary focus that exposes students to various STEM fields, including programming, medicine, civil engineering, robotics, and forensics. Students work together on projects like a mock mission to Mars to learn the ways that STEM fields collaborate to solve real-world problems.

  • Offered at eleven colleges across the U.S.

  • Costs $2,845-$3,145


How Do You Apply to NYLF?

The first step to applying for an NYLF program is to be nominated or nominate yourself.

You may have heard of NYLF because you were nominated as a potential candidate for the program. You can be nominated by a teacher, leader from a youth organization, counselor, or through certain talent development programs.

Being nominated only means someone thought you might be a good fit for the program, but it doesn't get you special privileges, and it isn't required to attend NYLF. If you haven't been nominated, you can still nominate yourself and apply for the program you are interested in on NYLF's website.

Applying only requires submitting some basic information about yourself and your school. Once you have entered that information you are able to reserve a spot and put down a deposit for the program of your choice.

After you enroll, you will receive a confirmation e-mail that will direct you to a website with all the information you need to participate in an NYLF program, such as program updates, pre-conference assignments, and a travel checklist.


How Competitive Is NYLF?

The National Youth Leadership Forum markets itself as a program exclusively for top students. However, there are no admission criteria for NYLF. Anyone who is currently a high school student can register for and attend an NYLF program. You don't need to have a certain GPA, extracurriculars, or leadership experience.

NYLF emphasizes the fact that students must be nominated as a way to show its "competitiveness." However, these nominations are sent to thousands of students each year, often regardless of their academic abilities, as a way for NYLF's parent company, Envision, to increase the number of students participating in and paying for its programs. Additionally, being nominated is not required to attend NYLF. Any high school student can nominate himself or herself and automatically be eligible to enroll in an NYLF program.

Despite NYLF's claim to be a prestigious organization that only selects top students and leaders, the reality is that the program is open to all high school students as long as they are willing to pay the costs.

NYLF programs can have benefits, which I discuss in more detail in the following sections, but it's important for students and their parents to know that neither being nominated for NYLF nor attending one of its programs proves any academic or leadership skills on the part of the student, and colleges won't be particularly impressed by it.




What Are the Benefits of Participating in NYLF?

There can definitely be benefits to attend an NYLF program, and I've listed some of the most important of them below.


Benefit 1: Learn About Particular Careers

One major benefit of attending an NYLF program is that you can choose a program in the field you want to work in, such as medicine, law, or diplomacy, and gain hands-on experience in that field.

For example, if you participate in the NYLF Medicine program, you will observe and speak to doctors, learn about new medical technology, and participate in medical simulations, similar to what actual med students do. These experiences can help you gain skills you can use later on in college and your career, and they give you a taste for what a future career in that field might be like.

You may find that you actually don't like medicine as much as you thought you would but instead discovered another career field that you find really interesting. It's much better to learn this now than halfway through college because switching your major can sometimes delay graduation.


Benefit 2: Form New Relationships

Each NYLF program includes lectures by industry professionals. These guest lecturers, who are often leaders in their field, speak with students about their career path and the industry in general. Hearing lectures from people in a specific career field gives program participants the opportunity to learn more about what a certain career is like and have their questions answered by someone who has a lot of relevant experience.

Students also often form personal relationships at NYLF programs. After spending several days together, many participants return home with new friends who are often interested in the same careers as they are. After the program ends, these friends can provide advice when you are looking at different colleges, majors, and jobs.


Benefit 3: Experience College Life

Participating in an NYLF program can also introduce you to college and the collegiate life. Most NYLF conferences take place on college campuses, with students housed in college dorms.

Participating in a program where you live on campus can be very helpful for students who may not know much about college and want to see what it will be like while still in high school.

There is also the option of receiving up to two college credits from your NYLF experience. However, students interested in earning college credit should be aware that the credits are pass/fail, they come with an extra fee, and not all colleges will accept credits earned at an NYLF program.


What Are the Drawbacks of Participating in NYLF?

Despite the benefits of NYLF, they are often not the best investment. I've listed some of the major drawbacks of these programs below.


Drawback 1: Programs Are Often Short

NYLF programs are between six and ten days long. While this may be long enough to introduce you to a subject and give you some hands-on experience, it's very difficult to gain much in-depth knowledge in such a short time.

Students looking for thorough and detailed knowledge of a particular job or career field will likely not be able to gain the amount of information they'd want from an NYLF program. The short program length can also make it difficult to cultivate strong relationships with both program mentors and other participants.


Drawback 2: Costs

Despite their short length, NYLF programs have high price tags. Including required program fees, an NYLF program costs between $2,845 and $$4,995 to attend, depending on the program chosen.

This program fee includes two meals a day, housing, transportation during the program, and materials. It does not include lunch, transportation to and from the program site, and college credit fees. Paying several thousand dollars for a short program can be difficult for many high school students and their families.

NYLF does offer some limited scholarships and tips for fundraising to help offset costs; however, students should expect to pay the entire program fee. As a for-profit organization, Envision is running these programs to make money, so they need nearly all students to pay the full price.

It's possible to have the same or similar experiences to those of an NYLF program for a fraction of the cost. This option is discussed in more detail in the following section.



Drawback 3: Not as Exclusive as Marketed

The National Youth Leadership Forum markets itself as a competitive program that only invites and accepts top-notch students. However, Envision, the company that runs NYLF and many similar programs, is a for-profit company. Their goal is to maximize profits, so they want as many students to enroll in their programs as possible.

In 2009, Envision hosted Presidential Youth Inaugural Conferences that claimed to offer students the opportunity to attend exclusive events in Washington D.C. Over 15,000 students paid to attend this event, and many were surprised at the number of participants and felt that Envision wasn't prepared to handle such a large number of students. Many also felt that Envision didn't provide access to all the events they promised students would be able to attend. Numerous students and parents filed complaints, and Envision ended up settling a lawsuit and promised to pay up to $17 million in vouchers to attendees of the conference.

While NYLF emphasizes the fact that students are "invited" to attend, any student can apply to NYLF without receiving an invitation. In fact, there is no longer any GPA, leadership or academic achievement requirement needed to attend. Any current high school student who can afford the program fee can attend an NYLF program, making it not competitive or prestigious at all.



Participating in NYLF is not as prestigious as they want you to think it is.


Should You Participate in NYLF?

So how useful is NYLF? The short answer is that it depends on why you're interested in attending. Some people find NYLF programs fun and useful while others see them as expensive resume padding.

There are good reasons for participating in the NYLF and reasons that are not as strong. Think carefully about why you are interested in attending and read on to help make your decision.


Good Reasons to Attend an NYLF Program

  • You want to learn more about a specific career field.
  • You want to meet students with similar interests.
  • You want to prepare for college.

An NYLF program can be a good way to learn about a specific career and gain hands-on experience in it. Attending an NYLF program also gives you an opportunity to meet other students who are interested in the same career field. Sometimes these connections can become lasting friendships. Also, if you are curious or a bit apprehensive about college and want to experience things like living in a dorm and eating in a dining hall, you can do this at an NYLF program.

If you are able to afford an NYLF program and one or more of the above reasons interest you, then you may want to consider looking more seriously into enrolling.

However, be aware that NYLF programs are not the only way to achieve any of the above goals. If you are unable to attend an NYLF program, there are numerous other ways to have similar experiences. Students who want to learn more about a specific career can do an internship or job shadow, those who want to meet students with similar interests can join a club or volunteer, and those who want to experience college can visit a school they are interested in. Many colleges offer overnight stays in the dorms to students who are thinking about attending that school.


Weak Reasons for Attending an NYLF Program

While there are certainly strong reasons to participate in an NYLF program, there are also reasons that you should not use to justify attending. I've discussed several of these weak reasons below, and, for each reason, I've given an alternative solution that you may want to consider instead of an NYLF program.


Weak Reason 1: You Think It Will Impress Colleges

The truth is that having an NYLF program on your resume or college application is not any more impressive than other extracurricular activities, such as participating in the school tennis team or math club. In fact, it may even appear less impressive because you had to pay to participate and weren't accepted based on any skills or knowledge you had.

Colleges don't need to see that you participated in the NYLF in order to decide whether you are smart or a potential leader; they can discern those things just by looking at your grades and extracurricular activities. This is especially true since there are no requirements to participate in NYLF other than being a high school student and being able to afford the program fee.

Alternative Idea: Gain expertise and leadership experience through your extracurriculars. If you are looking to increase your chances of getting into college by having strong extracurriculars, choose activities that relate to your interests and allow you to obtain leadership positions.

Sticking with an extracurricular, no matter what it is, and acquiring more responsibility is more impressive than a short-term NYLF program because it gives schools a better idea of your interests and abilities. If you need help deciding on what activities to do, we have a list of hundreds of extracurriculars for you to browse!


Weak Reason 2: You Want an In-Depth Look at a Certain Career

While NYLF programs can teach you more about a particular career and give you the opportunity to hear lectures and participate in hands-on activities that relate to it, the programs are simply too short to provide thorough knowledge of a certain career.

Alternative Idea: If you are really looking for a way get comprehensive knowledge on a career, consider doing an internship. Internships are generally several weeks to several months long, and doing one will give you much more time to learn what a particular job is really like day-to-day.




Weak Reason 3: You Want to Network With Professionals

The web page for each NYLF program contains a list of prestigious guest speakers who have given lectures to previous program participants. While these guest lecturers are often leaders in their field and very knowledgeable, you shouldn't sign up for an NYLF program thinking it will give you the opportunity to network with them and potentially get an internship or job.

Most of the guest lecturers simply give their presentation and answer questions afterward, with pretty much no opportunity for students to speak with them one-on-one.

Alternative Idea: If you are interested in getting to know professionals in a certain career field personally, consider an internship or job shadow. Both of these options offer more opportunities for getting to know current workers, and by working directly with them or observing them, you will be more memorable than if you were simply sitting in the audience. This will make those professionals more likely to remember you in the future and possibly recommend you for future jobs.


Weak Reason 4: You Want to Earn College Credit

While it is possible to earn college credit during an NYLF program, this should not be a primary reason for you to enroll. Through the NYLF, students can earn two pass/fail college credits if they pay an extra fee of several hundred dollars.

Most college classes are three credits, so receiving credit for the equivalent of less than one class will not help you graduate college any sooner or give you much of a head start. Additionally, many colleges do not accept these credits because they didn't take place in a classroom environment and were earned over a short period of time.

Alternative Idea: Take classes at your local community college or a nearby university. You can also concentrate on AP/IB classes. If you are interested in earning college credit, you can often earn more credits for much less money by passing AP or IB exams (which many colleges accept as college credit) or by taking classes at a community college.



In short, the National Student Leadership Forum can provide useful and interesting opportunities for high school students, but it is not better or more impressive than other extracurriculars.

While NYLF programs can give participants the opportunity to learn more about certain careers, meet new and interesting people, and experience collegiate life, there are multiple other ways for students to achieve each of these experiences, such as by joining a school club or doing an internship.

NYLF programs cost several thousand dollars and this high price tag, along with the fact that the programs last only a few days, should deter people who are interested in gaining in-depth knowledge or developing close relationships. Although NYLF claims to be prestigious and competitive, any high school student can enroll in one of its programs, and colleges do not find participating in it to be any more impressive than a normal summer camp or extracurricular.

If you can afford it and think that an NYLF program would be useful to you, then consider attending one; many past participants have spoken positively about their experience. However, if you cannot or would rather not participate, don't worry about it hurting your chances of getting into college or finding a job. There are plenty of ways to get the same benefits that NYLF offers that are likely closer to home and much less expensive.


What's Next?

Why are extracurriculars so important? Read our guide to learn what extracurricular activities are and how they can help you get into your dream college.

Thinking about taking AP classes? Learn which AP classes are the easiest by reading our guide.

Want to know what a great extracurricular looks like? Check out these 4 amazing examples of extracurriculars for college applications.



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Christine Sarikas
About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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