Based on the questions in my in-box, I guess it is that time of year again—time for letters notifying students of their nomination for National Youth Leadership Forum programs and the summer experiences you can elect to join.

First, National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) programs are legitimate.  This is not a scam, but this program is no more recognized than other organized summer-camp program.  The letter makes it seem as if NYLF is the only way your child can receive this type of recognition and enrichment.  I’ve had many students over the years attend the summer programs and I think they can be great enrichment experiences for students, but I would encourage you to shop around.

Just so you understand the nomination process—teachers, counselors, and deans are sent nomination forms.  Many list top students and send them back to National Youth Leadership Forum. Some programs also get mailing lists from the SAT, PSAT, ACT, PLAN, etc.  Once they have compiled names they send their promotional materials to the student telling them they have been nominated for the program.

Yes, it is a nice to recognize top students.  However, I feel as if the marketing materials overstate the prestige.  Hundreds of students at each high school are nominated to participate; it is not an exclusive opportunity.

Colleges like to see students develop their interests.  National Youth Leadership Forum programs are one way to do this.  Unfortunately, the programs are often limited to a week to 10 days and cost more than many other camps.  Personally, I like to see students participate in programs that also enhance their knowledge of the college experience and/ or show their own creativity and willingness to develop their interests independent of an organized program.

You might want to compare the National Youth Leadership Forum offerings to the programs offered by different colleges.  If one can participate in a two-week college program for the same price, he or she will also gain an appreciation for dorm and college life.

Another great summer opportunity is to create your own opportunities, which shows even greater initiative.

I can’t say whether the National Youth Leadership Forum program is right for your family.  I have known students in the past who have participated and loved it.  I do think there are other less expensive options that will provide extra enrichment and experience in the field.  Understand that this is just one of many options for your student.

[Update: We discuss the National Youth Leadership Forum programs and other options on the January 26, 2015 episode of The College Prep Podcast.  The discussion begins around 22:20 minutes.  You can listen on iTunes (episode 27) or online here.]