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National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC): Should You Participate?

The NSLC is a summer program that provides career-focused leadership conferences for select high school students (as well as some middle schoolers), providing hands-on training and networking opportunities with professionals in various fields. Students will attend seminars and workshops to learn about the skills and knowledge required for their fields of interest; program activities might include classes, lectures, guest speakers, or field trips, and are held on college campuses across the country. NSLC ultimately aims to help students become significant leaders in their fields of interest.

Logistics of NSLC

NSLC offers 31 programs in six main categories:

  1. Art and Design

  2. Business

  3. Computer Science

  4. Government and Law

  5. Leadership and Community

  6. STEM

These programs typically last for one to two weeks, and are currently hosted on 12 university campuses:

  1. American University (Washington DC)

  2. Columbia University (New York, NY)

  3. Duke University (Raleigh-Durham, NC)

  4. Georgetown University (Washington DC)

  5. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)

  6. Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)

  7. University of California-Berkeley (San Francisco, CA)

  8. UCLA (Los Angeles, CA)

  9. University of Miami (Miami, FL)

  10. University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Philadelphia, PA)

  11. Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)

  12. Yale University (New Haven, CT)

How can you apply to NSLC?

Everyone in grades 6-12 is eligible to apply. To apply, you’ll either need to be nominated or apply on your own. Then, you’ll need to fill out a short application form, estimated to take about 15 minutes. You’ll select the program and date you want to attend, and then put down a full payment or deposit towards your tuition (if not accepted, your payment will be refunded). Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, so students are encouraged to apply early to increase their chances of acceptance. NSLC looks for students with “academic excellence and leadership ability,” so be prepared to demonstrate those qualities in your application.

What are the Pros/Cons of attending NSLC?

The NSLC is a popular program, offering immersive programs at 12 prestigious universities. It is certainly a unique opportunity to further your high school education, but whether or not to join NSLC depends on what you think will help you the most in the run-up to college. Below we list the reasons to participate and the reasons to reconsider:


1. Explore your career interests

NSLC provides you with early opportunities to explore career paths that you think you might be interested in. You will gain an awareness of what this job entails, what background is needed, and what skills are required. You will speak to professionals in this field, and participate in various activities to gain hands-on experience; for example, building a computer program or writing a book review. This will help you make informed decisions about your future career; if you have a fantastic time in your program, great! Now you know that this is a path to explore further and you can spend the next few years developing your passion, already equipped with some experience and knowledge. Colleges will be impressed by the early steps you have taken. If you realize you don’t enjoy what this career entails, that’s also great! Now you know that you should dedicate your time to exploring other fields. Either way, getting experience in a field of interest is always worthwhile!

2. Build leadership skills

The NSLC is specifically focused on leadership training and developmental skills that will be helpful in any career path. Through various workshops and lectures, you will learn how to become more effective leaders and communicators. You can then take this further and apply your leadership skills to your everyday life. Who knows—joining NSLC might give you the confidence to run for track team captain, a confidence that you lacked previously. As leadership is one of the traits colleges most highly value, joining NSLC is a fantastic way to show that you’ve already been trained and taken the steps to try and become a better leader.

3. Network with professionals

During the program, you’ll be given the opportunity to meet and network with professionals in your field of interest. There is no better way to get your foot in the door than to meet the right person! If you are truly interested in this field, having a handy list of contacts will certainly help you establish yourself in the future. You’ll be able to contact them even after the program and ask them for advice: what were the steps they took early in their career? What would they recommend for a college program? What do they like and dislike about the industry? NSLC is a wonderful opportunity to meet various experts and professionals. You’re not only given the chance to learn from the best in the field; you’re also given the chance to add them to your network and continually learn from them.

4. Experience college life

Because the NSLC programs take place on various college campuses, as a high schooler, you’ll get the opportunity to be introduced to collegiate life early on. You’ll be able to get a glimpse of what it’s like to attend university. This is especially helpful if your program takes place at a college you’re interested in; for example, if you hope to attend Yale University in the future, this is your chance to really explore the campus, eat its food, get to know what it’s like, and determine whether or not you feel like New Haven is the right fit for you.

5. Meet like-minded peers

Since NSLC attracts high-achieving and motivated students from all over the country, you’ll be given the chance to meet, befriend, and connect with like-minded peers. After spending two weeks with students who are both diverse in background yet similar in interests, you’ll likely return home with new friends. These friendships will give you a new community that you can turn to for advice, support, etc. It might be especially helpful if you and your friends remain interested in the same field—this means you can work together towards pursuing that career.

6. Earn college credit

Through NSLC, you can earn up to three college credits, which is the equivalent of one typical college class. This could be of high interest to colleges when reviewing your application; it shows you already have experience in college courses while in high school, particularly college courses in your field of interest. However, you should be aware that the option to earn college credit comes with an extra fee and that not all colleges will be able to accept these credits. This leads us to our cons list!


1. Cost is on the higher side

Even though its programs are short in length, the cost of attending NSLC is high. For an 18-day program, the cost is around $6,500. This includes housing, all on-campus meals, course materials, activities, etc. Students are also responsible for the cost of travel to and from the program. For a 9-day program, the cost is around $4,000. If you want to earn college credit, this requires an additional $875 per credit hour. These high costs may be difficult for many high school students to afford, and may not be worth it for a relatively short program.

2. Limited options

While the NSLC offers programs in a variety of fields, it doesn’t have everything. This means it might not have what you’re looking for, in which case the benefits it offers would carry much less weight for you.

3. The NSLC programs offer broad overviews (as opposed to immersive experiences)

Because of its short length, there is no way for the specific NSLC programs to go into too much depth into any career path. This means students are only given broad overviews of what it’s like to work in a specific field. There are many other summer programs that offer much more targeted education and experience in specific fields. For example, there are programs all about investigative journaling, about mechanical engineering, etc. If you are sure this is a field you’re interested in, attending one of these more specialized programs could be much more beneficial towards understanding this career path than the shorter and broader experiences NSLC could provide you with.

4. NSLC isn’t very exclusive or prestigious

Despite the wording on its website, the NSLC isn’t an incredibly selective program. This is given away by the fact that any student can nominate themselves, and they require a tuition deposit before your acceptance to reserve your place. There’s also the fact that the application process is very brief. All in all, although NSLC is a worthwhile opportunity, attending the program doesn’t show any exceptional academic or leadership skills when compared to more prestigious programs. This level of prestige is something to keep in mind when applying to college, but don’t count it out too fast—you might find the learning experience of NSLC to outweigh any costs.


NSLC is a strong program for anyone with a budding interest in learning more about a field and developing better leadership skills. We encourage you to weigh the costs and benefits within your specific situation and determine what will be best for your future!

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about a specific field and are interested in doing in-depth research with a top PhD as your mentor, then you could consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online program for high school students, founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Amelia is a current junior at Harvard College studying art history with a minor in economics. She’s enthusiastic about music, movies, and writing, and is excited to help Lumiere’s students as much as she can!

Image source: NSLC logo



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