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Yale International Relations Leadership Institute (YIRLI) - Should You Apply as a High Schooler?

If you love participating in Model United Nations and engaging in debates and public speaking, then today’s blog post is for you. Participating in leadership and international relations programs can not only help you advance your knowledge of geopolitics and your oratory skills, it can also significantly enhance your college application. These programs showcase your initiative, leadership skills, and global awareness, making you stand out as an applicant almost regardless of where you choose to apply. Today’s blog takes a look at Yale’s International Relations Leadership Institute, and what you stand to gain from participating in it.

What is YIRLI all about?

The Yale International Relations Leadership Institute (YIRLI) is a week-long, residential, intensive summer institute, designed to equip high school students with a deep understanding of international relations and leadership skills. At YIRLI, you can expect to engage in intensive workshops, discussions with experts, and hands-on projects that simulate real-world international challenges. The program also focuses on enhancing critical thinking, public speaking, and teamwork skills. By the end of YIRLI, you can expect to have a solid foundation in international relations and be better prepared for your future academic pursuits thanks to your improved reasoning and communication skills.

How is YIRLI structured?

YIRLI takes place from July 30th to August 4th, 2024. Over the course of the week, you can expect to attend:

  • Public speaking workshops

  • Mentorship sessions

  • Research workshops

  • Model United Nations workshops and committee sessions

  • Multiple speaker sessions

  • Student life at Yale panels

  • A tour of the UN Headquarters

While it only lasts a week, the YIRLI program is both comprehensive and immersive. Past speakers at YIRLI have included a Special Advisor to the US State Department, a White House Senior Advisor, authors, activists, research fellows, lawyers, historians, and political strategists. You will then get to apply their insights and your learning in exciting simulations of UN debates under the auspices of the three Model United Nations sessions hosted over the week. The program takes place on Yale's campus, and you’ll not only have access to its world-class facilities, you’ll also get to tour the campus and understand from current students what life at Yale is like. To conclude your experience, you will also be responsible for delivering your submission for the YIRLI Global Impact Challenge, a group project where you’ll be working on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. By the end of the week, you can expect to leave with:

  • A sharper understanding of international relations and geopolitics.

  • Stronger debating and communication skills.

  • Richer exposure to how the United Nations works and their Sustainable Development Goals.

  • A strong, valuable network of Yale students and faculty.

  • A deeper understanding of college life.

How much does YIRLI cost?

The program fee is $2,000, covering tuition, accommodation, and meals. Financial aid is available for eligible students, and you can indicate your need for it during application.

Is it prestigious?

For its close association to Yale, the roster and calibre of the speakers it invites, the intensity of the program and its paid nature, we rate it as moderately prestigious. While YIRLI only lasts a week, it offers both phenomenal learning experiences and good networking opportunities. Alumni of YIRLI benefit from the crash course in geopolitics, communications and critical thinking that it provides and go on to pursue fields like politics, diplomacy, and international business. The program's reputation for excellence can help enhance your profile, making you a standout candidate in college applications and beyond.

Who is eligible for YIRLI and how do you apply?

To apply for YIRLI, you must:

  • Be a high school student entering the 11th - 12th grades aged 16-18.

  • Be a new applicant. If you’ve participated previously, you won’t be eligible to apply again.

While the applications for YIRLI 2024 are currently closed, here is how the application process typically works:

  1. You’ll need to complete the online application form.

  2. You’ll have to answer the following three short answer prompts:

    1. Your personal statement. (50 words)

    2. If you had the opportunity to interview a world leader or influential figure, who would it be and what question would you ask them? Why is this question important? (50 words)

    3. Share an example of a cross-cultural experience you've had and how it has influenced your approach to collaboration and understanding in an international context. (100 words)

  3. You’ll also need to submit the following two essays:

    1. Why do you want to participate in YIRLI 2024? How will you contribute to this program? Include your experience with international relations and/or Model United Nations. (200 words)

    2. Share an experience that pushed you out of your comfort zone. How did you adapt to the unfamiliar circumstances, and what personal or professional growth did you achieve as a result? (300 words)

  4. Lastly, you’ll need to record a 90-second video to the following prompt: Highlight a global issue that you believe is often overlooked. How has it affected you, your community, and the broader world? Propose innovative solutions or initiatives that can raise awareness and drive positive change!

  5. Submit the $20 application fee.

For 2024, the key deadlines were as below, so you can expect similar for 2025:

  • Application opens: January 1st

  • Application deadline: March 31st

  • Notification of acceptance: May 1st

Pros and Cons to consider


  1. You will receive solid exposure: YIRLI invites notable speakers from across the world with a wealth of experience in everything from government, to education, business, politics and diplomacy. You’ll get to listen to, learn from, and interact with them live.

  2. You can access solid networking opportunities: Aside from the aforementioned speakers, you’ll also get the chance to network with current Yale students and professors, as well as your own classmates.

  3. The program offers a rigorous, practical pedagogy: You’ll get to engage in MUNs and intense workshops that help you develop real, practical skills.


  1. Admissions can be competitive: A YIRLI application asks for a lot, and it's reasonable to assume that admissions are fairly competitive.

  2. Lack of transparency of financial aid availability: While the program states that financial aid may be provided, its magnitude and availability is not specified and may prove to be a barrier.

  3. Limited learning opportunities despite the intensity: Since YIRLI only lasts for a week, there’s only so much that you can learn from it versus a longer program.

  4. It comes with geographic restriction: Requires travel to Yale, which may not be feasible for all applicants.

Our review - should you apply?

The Yale International Relations Leadership Institute is a pretty solid opportunity for high school students passionate about global issues and leadership. It provides a rigorous and enriching experience that preps you with analysis, reasoning and communication skills that will come in handy regardless of what career path you choose to pursue. It also provides exposure to some truly learned minds that are sure to expand your own horizons. If you’re able to physically attend the program and can afford the fees, you should strongly consider applying.

If you’re looking for a competitive mentored research program in subjects like data science, machine learning, political theory, biology, and chemistry, consider applying to Horizon’s Research Seminars and Labs

This is a selective virtual research program that lets you engage in advanced research and develop a research paper in a subject of your choosing. Horizon has worked with 1000+ high school students so far, and offers 600+ research specializations for you to choose from. 

You can find the application link here

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re interested in further developing your skills by conducting in-depth research in international relations and related fields, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs 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: Yale logo



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