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National Geographic Student Expeditions - A Deep Dive

National Geographic offers a remarkable array of summer programs for high school students. These programs provide a unique opportunity for you to experience hands-on learning and travel the world before applying to university.

In this blog, we will cover the three types of National Geographic Student Expedition summer programs - the Exploration, Photography, and University Workshop programs.

So, whether you're passionate about exploring the world, honing your photography skills, or delving into academic pursuits, there's a National Geographic Student Expedition program tailored just for you.

Let’s dive into a more comprehensive review of these programs. We will cover their primary offerings, eligibility requirements, prestige, and costs!

What are the National Geographic Student Expeditions?

The National Geographic Student Expeditions offer high school students an immersive journey across multiple locations and ecosystems across the world, and provide you with a hands-on experience before you apply to college. These programs, led by experienced National Geographic Explorers and trip leaders, provide a unique opportunity to delve into specific areas of interest, such as photography, climate, technology, or wildlife conservation. You will be expected to actively engage in hands-on projects guided by their chosen themes, collaborating with local experts and peers through workshops and excursions. These experiences foster creativity and learning, allowing students to produce meaningful outputs they can use to demonstrate their motivations and skills to college admissions officers.

The diverse team of Explorers and leaders, including photographers, scientists, writers, and educators, serve as role models who have dedicated their careers to making a positive impact on the planet. Some noteworthy Nat Geo Experts include Ice Core Scientist Alison Criscitiello, Geographer and Glaciologist Dr. M Jackson, Marine Ecologist Salomé Buglass, and Biologist and Filmmaker Dr. Tierney Thys.

At the program's end, you will leave having driven meaningful change or created projects that you can add to your portfolios for college admissions. National Geographic Student Expeditions provide a summer adventure that fosters personal growth and a deeper understanding of the world's complexities.

How are the National Geographic Student Expeditions structured?

The National Geographic Student Expeditions offers various exciting program categories, including exploration, photography, and university workshops. Each has its unique features and provides valuable learning opportunities. Let’s have a look at each:

The National Geographic Student Expeditions Exploration program offers outdoor adventures through the lens of an On Assignment endeavor. Participants choose from Focus Areas like climate, conservation, anthropology, and more. Supported by experienced leaders and a National Geographic Explorer, students engage in practical tasks and outings, showcasing achievements with peers and communities.

Here’s a look at some focus areas with their previous trips and assignments:

  • Wildlife Conservation: Exploring Tundra ecosystems, Ecuador's conservation strategies, and Namibian wildlife.

  • Climate & Geology: Exploring global climate shifts and geothermal energy through Iceland’s glaciers.

  • Anthropology, Culture, & Tradition: Delving into Sámi culture, Norwegian heritage, and Thai communities.

  • Marine & Tropical Conservation: Collecting underwater data, preserving Gulf of California ecosystems, and contributing to whale shark research.

Throughout the program, students gain knowledge, practical skills, and global perspectives, sharing insights and experiences with their peers and communities.

Usually, the number of students on each trip ranges from 14-24, with 2-3 leaders.

The Nat Geo Student Expeditions Photography program is designed to enhance students’ photography and video skills in a structured setting. Seasoned photographers and National Geographic Explorers lead the program and offer a unique blend of classroom learning and hands-on experience.

Students focusing on Photography participate in daily photography tutorials, interactive critique sessions, and practical field assignments.

Those who choose the Film & Video focus learn the art of visual storytelling, scripting, equipment handling, editing, and presentation. Working in small production teams, students get to create short films with guidance from accomplished photographers, filmmakers, and Explorers.

Both programs culminate in showcases of students' work, with photography students exhibiting their original photos and video students presenting their self-produced films.

Usually, the number of students on each trip ranges from 18 to 50, with 3 to 8 leaders.

Based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus, the National Geographic Student Expeditions: University Workshops program offers high school students a chance to explore global issues through tech. The program revolves around the fusion of technology, engineering, and exploration. Students also get to evaluate extensive datasets to propose solutions for real-world problems.

The program has a few key themes:

  • In Engineering the Future, students delve into novel technologies and engage in robotics and engineering tasks. They propose and present projects aimed at addressing local community concerns.

  • Technology for Remote Exploration explores how technology empowers scientists to investigate remote areas.

  • Innovations in Robotics & Artificial Intelligence cover robots and AI's moral implications.

The end of the program involves a project proposal presentation to peers, National Geographic Explorers, and leaders.

Usually, the number of students in each session ranges from 40-50, with 6-8 leaders.

Is it prestigious? Is it competitive?

While there isn't publicly available data regarding the acceptance rate of the National Geographic Student Expeditions, it is not that selective. Participation in the program comes with a significant fee, the admission process is not explicitly competitive, and the program accepts applications on a rolling basis rather than having strict criteria or deadlines. This can lead to a perception of lower prestige than fully-funded research opportunities or paid summer internships. If you're aiming for a prestigious summer experience, you may want to explore fully-funded immersion programs, research fellowships, or government-sponsored mentorship initiatives as viable alternatives.

Where are the National Geographic Student Expeditions held?

The University Workshops are held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus.

On the other hand, the Exploration and Photography programs take participants all over the world - there’s at least one program in each continent (except Australia).

Who is eligible to participate?

The National Geographic Student Expeditions are open to all high school students from Grades 9-12.

Participants must be 14 by the program start date.

Costs involved in applying and participating

There is an application fee of $200.

The tuition varies based on the program category:

  • Exploration: Ranges from $7,690 to $8,990 (airfare not included)

  • Photography: Ranges from $ 6,490 to $ 8,590 (airfare not included)

  • University Workshops: $6,490 (airfare not included)

A limited number of scholarships are available for students as well.

Dates and Deadlines

The National Geographic Student Expeditions have rolling admissions and will accept applications until a program is full.

The programs occur between the last week of June and the first week of August each year.

Program durations vary based on the category:

  • Exploration: 10-22 days

  • Photography: 9-12 days

  • University Workshop: 10 days

Pros and cons you should keep in mind

As you contemplate participating in the National Geographic Student Expeditions, assessing the program's advantages and disadvantages in light of your priorities is essential. Here are a few pros and cons for you to consider:


  • You will get the chance to participate in experiential learning: National Geographic Student Expeditions offer hands-on learning experiences that go beyond textbooks, allowing students to gain practical knowledge and skills in fields like photography, climate, technology, and wildlife conservation. This concentrated learning will expose you to a wide array of new information, empowering you to delve into more advanced and diverse subjects upon college enrollment.

  • You will receive expert guidance: Participants are mentored by experienced National Geographic Explorers and trip leaders, including photographers, scientists, and educators, providing valuable insights and inspiration. The National Geographic Explorers are leaders in their respective fields actively engaged in pioneering research. This connection offers the potential for mentorship and the expansion of your professional network, valuable assets as you progress in your career. Establishing relationships with such Explorers is an invaluable experience that should not be overlooked.

  • You will gain a global perspective: These programs provide a unique opportunity to interact with diverse cultures and environments, broadening students' global awareness and understanding. This interaction introduces you to novel viewpoints, learning approaches, and cultures. Establishing new connections, both personal and academic, can be as valuable as any other aspect of the program.

  • You will get a chance to build your portfolio: The projects and assignments created during the program can enhance college applications and resumes, showcasing a student's dedication to exploration, conservation, and creativity. For those interested in photography and film, this could be especially beneficial.


  • The programs come with a substantial cost: While the prestige of National Geographic and the experience is undeniably valuable, the expenses associated with the program, covering accommodations, meals, and activities, constitute a significant financial commitment that might outweigh potential benefits, even with scholarships.

  • You will have to navigate an intensive schedule: The programs can be intensive and may require students to dedicate a significant portion of their summer break, potentially limiting other summer activities or employment opportunities. The pace may feel overwhelming, leaving limited room for reflection or rest. The schedule will be time-intensive, and some programs include heavy physical activities. It's essential to have coping strategies to address challenges, setbacks, and high-demand circumstances before you travel.

  • Moderate selectivity could limit its impact on college applications: The Nat Geo Student Expeditions maintain a relatively lenient selection process, leading to a higher acceptance rate than other competitive programs. A smaller percentage of admitted students might ultimately enroll due to the associated costs. Consequently, many colleges may not view the program as a distinctive factor that sets you apart. Instead, it serves as a testament to your talent and initiative in pursuing your passions seriously.

Here's what past participants have to say about their experiences!

Domenica Bayas, a tenth grader from Ecuador who participated in an Expedition to India said she learned a lot from expert photographers and was able to photograph places like the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas as seen from Ladakh.

Claudia Reid, a rising senior from Alabama participated in an Expedition to Nepal where she engaged in community projects like building irrigation systems, cementing a goat pen, and teaching English to the children.

Our Review

National Geographic Student Expeditions presents an unparalleled opportunity for high school students to embark on an enriching journey of experiential learning. The program's pros include hands-on education led by renowned National Geographic Explorers, fostering a deep understanding of subjects like photography, climate, technology, and wildlife conservation. Participants benefit from exposure to diverse cultures and personal growth, gaining valuable life skills and independence. Additionally, the program allows students to create impressive portfolios that can enhance their academic and professional futures. However, there are cons to consider, including the significant cost and time commitment required. This might limit access for students with financial constraints or other summer commitments.

For high schoolers, the best-suited program type depends on your interests. Photography and film enthusiasts may thrive in Photography-focused expeditions, while those passionate about climate change, anthropology, or marine and wildlife conservation can choose Exploration programs aligned with their interests. As a third option, Engineering & Robotics at the MIT Campus (University Workshops) is ideal for those interested in STEM and eager to explore the forefront of AI, robotics, and engineering.

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: National Geographic logo



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