My son was “nominated” by his 3rd-grade science teacher for what both the teacher and we thought might be a nice opportunity – a week-long summer camp that focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The camp is put on by the “National Youth Leadership Forum” (or NYLF) and was called “Pathways to Stem.” The teacher let us know that they had “nominated” our son – and only our son because of his interest in the natural sciences – and then, a few weeks later, we received this really opulent package of information about the program (see scan below).

When we opened the package, we were simultaneously impressed and disturbed by the contents. There were lots of gold seals and what looked like official language and endorsements.

Shiny gold seal!

But then we saw the price for the camp and balked!

The price… and a payment plan? Why would a summer camp need a payment plan?

Yep, you’re reading that correctly: $2,195!

For a week-long camp?!?

Our son has been doing summer camps for a long time since both of us work. The most expensive summer camp he has done has cost just over $200 – for a full week (most are around ~$150 per week). Granted, that didn’t include room and board, but the tuition only option for this summer camp was still almost $1,700, which is over 8 times as much as we had ever paid for another camp.

I hate to admit that we actually spent a little time considering this as a possibility for our son as we should have immediately been more skeptical. As we thought about it, we considered that college admissions are competitive and wondered if this might be beneficial. But we both quickly realized that, as college professors, we wouldn’t care if a student had spent a week at some summer camp unless that camp had led them to do original research and publish a paper or create some world-altering invention. That… That would be an impressive camp. But what was being proposed for this camp wasn’t all that compelling (see the sample schedule in the PDF below).

Even so, as busy professionals, we didn’t really have time to look into this right away, so we kind of just sat on it for about two months until I had a free day one weekend to look into a little more. I’m glad I did.

As it turns out, the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) is part of a collection of camps and programs run by a for-profit company called Envision, EMI. The link we’d been giving in all of our paperwork (see the scans below) was to NYLFpathways.com, but that redirects straight to the main Envision website: envisionexperience.com. That was a little weird.

As I googled around, I found more and more information. Yelp actually provided some good starting places based on the reviews. From there, I ended up reading this very good (and amazingly balanced yet subtly critical) article in the New York Times. That article notes that there is no empirical evidence that such summer camps do anything for: (1) improving leadership or other skills in young people (they are too short and no one has tested their efficacy), or (2) improve the odds of young people getting into competitive colleges.

The Yelp reviews also pointed me to the Wikipedia article on the company, which has a very helpful section on “criticisms” of Envision, EMI. Not surprisingly, one of the main criticisms is that the company employs slick, high-pressure marketing techniques, like requesting that parents respond within 24 hours to reserve their child’s spot. Why do I have to respond in 24 hours?

This included card makes it seem like there is a reason to make a quick decision on this camp. There isn’t.

The other Wikipedia criticisms focus on how the company doesn’t deliver on its promises of an amazing educational experience.

The Yelp reviews had largely convinced me that this wasn’t the opportunity it claimed to be. The New York Times article sealed the deal. The Wikipedia section was just icing on the cake. Our son won’t be attending the National Youth Leadership Forum: Pathways to Stem summer camp. I’d much rather take the $2,195 and buy him a 3D printer (~$1,000 and $1,000 worth of supplies) and let him design and print 3D objects all summer long. That is a much better use of our funds.

Below is a scan of all the materials sent, from the various letters to the teacher, to us, and to our son, along with the promotional and informational materials and even some scans of the envelope (the seal on which is shown above):

NOTE: Throughout this blog post, I have not used the words “scam” or “fraud” or anything like that to describe the company or the camp. That is intentional. Technically, the company is delivering “a camp experience.” That the experience is less impressive than what the company seems to suggest does not mean this is a “scam” or a “fraud.” I have been very careful with my word choices here so as to avoid a lawsuit or libel claims. I think it is safe to say that this company offers summer camps that are WAY, WAY, WAY more expensive than almost every other summer camp we have considered for our son (the one exception is astronaut camp in Birmingham, Alabama, which involves some pretty hands-on training and is still just $1,000). For instance, here is a list of available summer camps (for summer 2017) in our area. None of them come anywhere close to the cost of Envision, EMI’s camps. Again, that does not mean Envision Experience, Envision, EMI, or the National Youth Leadership Forum are a “scam.” I think it would be more accurate to describe what Envision Experience offers as very expensive, possibly under-delivering camp experiences for people who really want their kids to succeed but may not realize that there is no scientific evidence these camp experiences will help their kids succeed.

 

46 Replies to “National Youth Leadership Forum (Envision Experience and Envision EMI) – Pricey Summer Camps of Questionable Quality?”

  1. My granddaughter got selected from her 3rd grade teacher being a proud grandmother I was happy but when I saw the price I decided to Google I’m not doing it

    1. I am actually attending camp now with my son he’s on day two and having fun! He said the food is fantastic as well. His teacher nominated him and knowing this teacher never led me to believe it was false. It’s a great program we are in the day program in Dallas now.

  2. Thanks for a very responsibly written overview. I was willing to spend the now $2500 for my 6th grade daughter, who is very bright and very intelligent. But I wouldn’t be showing my intelligence if I fell for their marketing scheme and for-profit program. I will definitely the spend the money on her in some way that is more beneficial to her (a 3D printer would be great, but I would probably have the most fun with it!). Perhaps a trip to Italy or France…Rome, Paris, the Colliseum, the Louvre. Thanks again.

  3. Thank you for your research. Sometimes as parents we get so caught up in the award or nomination preprinted with our child’s name that we don’t see what’s truly behind it. The unfortunate thing is to decide how to explain to our kids? This has to be the earliest life lesson for a child on how the world really works.

    1. This is, indeed, a good life lesson for kids – there are people out there who are good at taking your money. You have to be careful!

      1. My daughter received this letter today and called me while at work. She was so excited she couldn’t read it to me fast enough. She is in 4th grade and very bright, but as I have spent the last 30 minutes doing research, she also will not be attending. I agree with Emare that at this point, my biggest concern is how do I tell her that while I am so proud of her for being nominated, in essence, it’s really just a company trying to get our money.

  4. Good review. Thank you. I just passed this link along to our son’s teacher so that she can make other teachers at his school aware, as it sounds like this company specifically targets teachers. The positive thing is that even if NYLF is, in my opinion, “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” his teacher’s nomination of him is legitimate and very honoring. It gives us a great opportunity to talk with him about leadership, character, and the ways of the world. :-)

    1. Sharing this with his teacher is a good idea. Teacher’s need to know that NYLF is not quite what it claims to be.

  5. I hate that i fell for this program before reading it all. My son was so excited about being nominated and they gave me barely any time to decide yes or not. They continued to email me saying that he would lose the small grant they decided to give him and his spot. When i tried to cancel i was told i only get a partial pymt by a certain date and no refund a day later. I worked extremely hard to come up with the money, and was so disappointed when i talked to them and requested a refund and they told me there would be only 30% or none. so my son will be going to the one at wake forest university, but i will not fall for this again. i got another one for my older boys for different programs as well which is what caught my attention, as i went into the programs they all came back to the same site.

    1. Sorry that you found this too late.

      The fact that they are difficult when it comes to refunds is more evidence that these camps are all about the money. :(

      1. Yes…i agree with everything mentioned here. I tried to request a refund after raising the camp location was Queens not Manhattan like originally mentioned. They couldn’t care less and had the nerve to suggest MTA even though I had no problem finding the path; but getting to work on time wouldve been impossible. My daughter — nominated while in 5th grade– did it. It’s done but I ignored the “alumni” invitation with no 2nd thought.

  6. My granddaughter was nominated by her teacher also and I was so proud until I saw the cost. More than that I was shocked at the trickery involved in the payment phase of this program. I had decided not to bite, however, a third party thought it was impressive and decided to make the down payment. We talked about enrolling her into the off campus program but, was duped into the on campus experience by enrolling after the 24 hour timeline. This was supposedly the only space available. After the payment was made, the marketing agent then informed the paying party that the deadline for refunds has passed. Now were stuck. Im upset just writing about this. My next letter goes to someone who can do something about this. Who? The Library of Congress maybe? Im so upset!

    1. Hi Angela. If you’re interested in complaining, I would suggest lodging complaints with one or all of the following: the Better Business Bureau (either where you are located or where NYLF/Envision EMI is located), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (federal level), or a state consumer protection bureau (some states have these; not all do).

      Additionally, if you want to raise additional concerns about the company, you could post negative reviews on: yelp, google maps, or other places online.

  7. I’m so glad I came across this article. I’ve been beating myself up for months that we couldn’t give my daughter this experience. Especially after we missed the “deadline” and they offered her a $500 grant. Not only is the camp itself very expensive, but we don’t live anywhere near any of the locations. Therefore, we would have to buy her a plane ticket and one for either myself or her dad. Plus hotel for whichever one of us went. They do pressure you to reserve your child a spot quickly, but I just looked and only two of the ten locations are full. Thanks for doing the research I should’ve done and writing this!

  8. Hello, I find these comments unilateral and not necessarily fair. My child enrolled in the Stanford Law intensive trial program for 10 days and it was amazing because she learned tons. Her small group of like-minded kids were led by a very smart young lady already accepted to Stanford Law School this fall. 10 current Stanford Law professors gave these rising high school seniors and juniors lectures twice daily followed by group discussions inside Stanford classrooms. My daughter shared a nice Stanford dorm room with another wanna-be lawyer girl. The program was very well run and is listed for an eighth year on the Stanford Law School website. Some Professors even gave these kids their personal emails and cells for inquiries. Yes, it was very expensive at over $4,000 for 10 days. That’s over $5,000 including plane tickets. I almost balked. Yes, Envision is for profit to provide an educational service. But one year of college at Stanford is almost $70,000 and that is not even the Law School. Although Envivion offers no loans, credit card companies and even some banks do offer educational loans. To call Envision a scam is as unfair as calling Delta or United a scam for charging 3x to 10x for their first class tickets over coach. I do agree that international traveling or other cheaper programs can also be very beneficial to kids’ developments but the educational experiences will be vastly different. For example, on the last day of the program, my daughter’s cohort went to San Francisco Supreme Court and argued a case in front of Stanford Law professors and retired judges. Winning or losing the real case, the experiences were immensely helpful for the kids. My child decided not only wanting to become a lawyer, she now dreams to become a US Chief Justice. Of course there are other kids, a few perhaps, who hated working 10-12 hours a day for a trial case and decided lawyering is not their calling. Either way, kids could find out what they want early on. Imagine a kid finishing Law School at 25-26 years old with total student loans of $300,000, and then deciding not wanting to be a lawyer? Yes, this Envision movie preview is expensive but at least kids can decide if they want to spend (or waste) 100x more time and money to see the actual full-length movie. One final thought – trustpilot has more comprehensive, less unilateral pros/cons reviews than Yelp or google or BBB. We all love our kids so much and would eat less, sleep less, or even suffer to enhance their life and future. Therefore, we owe it to them to do comprehensive research before quickly jumping to conclusions. My research says Envision has been there for over 30 years, and is currently run by a leadership with impeccable experiences and reputations; otherwise schools like Stanford Law or Yale would never let them return another summer to tarnish their impeccable reputation, correct?. Is this company perfect? Absolutely not! But if your are looking for a first class ticket for your child on a fast track “movie-preview” experience, there’s nothing like it out there. Good Luck!

    1. Agree with you Evan. My son loved the Stanford experience as a rising Senior and it really helped him narrow his college application selections. He also needed the experience of being far away from home in a college setting to see how things would really be for him in the coming years. Worth every dime if you can afford it. I will be sending my daughter this summer.

  9. Sounds as if Eric works for either Envision and/or Trust Pilot, doesn’t it?

    I took the short route, and called the Secretary of State and the Depart of Defense. Neither of these endorse this company. Additionally, they it was clearly, despite the information in the packet, regarding which Officials have spoken in the past that it was misleading at best as no sitting DOD, DNI, SECNAV, FBI, CIA or DHS official has ever participated despite the claims made in the marketing materials. Finally, it was stated that there are far less expensive programs that provide students with more real world experience. For example, our son will be attending a four week camp at [best engineering school on the east coast] next summer. He applied for a scholarship, and was awarded it. The entire four weeks is covered. He is very excited for his future. The Secretary of State went so far as to say that if hey were interested in recruiting our son, they would do so in person while he is in college…and it won’t cost a dime. Research is so valuable!!

  10. All great comments and different point of views. I can see that someone with a high school student might consider paying a hefty amount for a week of summer camp which might help students decide on their career path. In my experience I have to say I was definitely impressed that my 8 year old daughter was nominated for this program. You are all correct, they make it seem like this is such an honor and such a exclusive opportunity. Kudos to their marketing team! I glanced over the documents and didn’t read all of them right away, the price definitely didn’t motivate me to jump right in and make plans to see how I could’ve paid for this “elite” program.
    I also have two other daughters and it seemed unfair to them to spend close to $2,500 in a week of summer camp for their baby sister and not on them as well. Specially after I told my 14 year old that I could not afford the $4800 dollars needed to sign her up for Club Volleyball; but that is another sad story. I definitely will not be paying for this, I trust that my daughter is a bright child and I will find other opportunities for her that do not require this huge expense.

  11. Thank you so Much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! You are so much appreciated for your research and posting the findings!!!!!

  12. I know 3 families who attended the NYLF Pathway to STEM and the Stanford Law Program and all spoke very highly of the program. One even said that what her child learned in school didn’t compare to the knowledge and experience of the program. I don’t think you should knock the program because it’s for profit and has a hefty tuition. As a parent, you have to decide what programs and experiences you want to expose your child to. I don’t see any harm in the Envision Experience!

    1. There are so many less expensive programs that are probably better…my child attended them. Very gifted and intelligent. Graduated at 15 Valedictorian. Graduated with a VS in Chemistry summa cum laude at 19. If you have more money than sense…send your child!

  13. Funny…just got the exact letter today approximately a year since you did and I had the same thought process. From “Wow this looks impressive” to “what?? $2300 dollars!?!”. I immediately got on the interwebs and your review was one of the 3-4 I read. Agree..while perhaps not a scam its a incredibly expensive science camp. Thanks for saving me over 2 grand.

  14. Thank you for the information. I think you were very fair.

    We got an invitation in the mail today for my 9 year old. I can see the benefit of a program like this for a high school student, and in 6 or 7 years I may be willing to pay for a camp by this same company for my son, but the idea that my 3rd grader will get $2000 worth of benefit from a 5 day camp is pretty hard to believe. He’s not going to network or make any major career choices (and shouldn’t), so the benefits that I think could be very important and worth the money for a high school junior are completely missing for an elementary school student.

  15. Got the package of promotional materials (invitation) today. Wow is it impressive! This is for my 3rd child. She’s bright, and her teachers adore her…but she’s no prodigy. I emailed her teacher right away to see if this was even legitimate. Haven’t heard back from her yet, so I started googling…

    Well, I think we’ll tell her it was an honor to even be nominated :) Which is true, really. I wish every child could have a teacher that thinks they’re amazing!

    And I know this post is a yr old, but my oldest child did the NASA camp in Huntsville last summer and it was AMAZING! She did Aviation and this summer she’s doing Space. She’s also a teenager who has shown interest and aptitude in this field for several years, so it was easier to accept the price tag! She had a blast—it was a very fun camp!

  16. Thanks for your review and insights. I echo the sentiments of a lot of these folks; it is a good opportunity, but at too high a cost. I have a couple friends whose children have attended, one on more than one summer, and they do agree that while the experience is good, it is worth it to research programs closer to home and at other universities, etc.
    Honestly, they are just very proactive on their marketing, and I’m sure they work hard to support the budget to be able to have that good marketing. It’s perpetual, I guess. Kudos for a professional presentation, and thanks to her teacher for the nomination. We’ll be looking in other directions.

  17. WOW…thank you so much for sharing your research! I too received the invitation for my 5th grader. I found the invitation to be very appealing, as well as the contents, outside of the tuition plans. I did experience sticker shock. After reading the enclosed, I was leaning towards coming up with the tuition fees following some research. I am so glad I came across your review, along with other reviews listed here. I will do a little more research on this program. This review was the first that I read in the start of my research. It is definitely an eye opener. If I do not decide to enroll in the Envision program, I will take a portion of the money and find a summer program that will actually benefit him in his later education years.

  18. Wow!
    thanks so much for the research. I was excited for my daughter, being nominated, but the price looked steep for a camp. Luckily I have a smart wife and she had reservations about this. We’re glad we came across this post before signing up. I can’t say that there’s cons or if this camp is worth it or not, but reading from your post and other comments from various resources, it doesn’t look beneficial, especially for the time and money.
    I am sure there are educational camps out there for less and will still develop children. I think the 24hr rsvp was strange. They also called my wife to try and convince her? We thought if it is so prestigious, one wouldn’t really need to call. Anyhow, we will use our money for something else.

  19. Thank you so much for your research! We were skeptical and you saved this family a lot of money.

  20. Thank you for your review. This has been very helpful and confirms the information that I looked up to.

  21. As a school counselor that has worked with kids from seniors in high school to kindergartners, I have received all types of letters to “nominate” kids to these kinds of camps. The letters have all went in the trash ! These companies use the pressure that society puts on parents to provide this type of ” ultimate ” experience. Put the money in a college account !

    1. I have been reading all these reviews and they all have been an eye opener. Thank you all for taking the time to do these reviews. Mr. Baxter, thank you so much!! your comment made me realized that I shouldn’t feel rushed nor pressured to come up with the money in such a short notice.

  22. (((Thank you!)))
    I don’t need to read the NY times article, YELP reviews or anything else…
    Your ‘critique’ both informative & sensible. This letter might make it in her keepsake book and possibly garner a congratulatory mention in our church newsletter. Otherwise, I’m choosing astronaut camp!

  23. Thanks so much for the informative review. Some say good marketing, I say deceptive. What is presented as an honor based on academic achievement– is really just one more high dollar camp angling for business. I wondered even more when my son mentioned another child, with not very strong academics, had received the same letter. My son was really excited about this and so were we until reading the whole call in 24 hour thing and then seeing the price. I can think of a thousand great learning experiences, including more targeted camps and definitely traveling abroad, which would cost the same or less than this program. Shame on Envision or pathways or whatever they call it, it feels deceptive to me. When I called to inquire and said it sounded like just another camp and was very expensive–the woman on the line at what sounded like the kind of noisy call center you expect from robo-calls was rude and dismissive. They think I would trust people like this with my child….for a week?? Not a chance.

  24. Glad to come across the article…I was excited for my son however I felt the price was very steep at this time since I am also preparing to send one kid off to college soon soooo…thanks again

  25. Yes, some parents wish to believe the marketing materials that their child has been nominated. My son was nominated two years ago for his “performance on the PSAT” though they don’t know how he performed. Anyone can call and if you have $2,500 available your child could also go to this camp that will “possibly help them be accepted at top colleges and universities.” They have no actual affiliation with the university, such as Stanford, so thought they were in Stanford classrooms in the summer I highly doubt that Evan is correct at the number of Stanford law professors affiliated with this program. There are much better camps run by many universities and other non-profits that are more reasonably priced and provide a great experience. This is all about pandering to well of parents.

  26. Our son just finished the Pathways to Stem program and it was very well done, he learned a lot and he loved it. It’s interesting that many on this thread are upset that they receive the letter as a marketing piece but I found nothing wrong with that as marketing is how you get enrollment.

    While the cost may be viewed as steep, this seemed to be a way to keep class sizes down and created more interaction between students and with instructors. This also resulted in kids who really wanted to learn attending the camp.

    It truly was educational and it placed our son in a learning environment with like minded students. The nomination process is a gimmick but our son was proud of the fact that his teacher thought enough of him to do so.

    Unless you’re in the Northeast (we reside in the Southeast) there don’t seem to be many opportunities like this so we are grateful that he attended, had a fun learning experience and made some new friends along the way.

    1. Curious as to which location he attended and the age of your child? My just turned 11 year old is supposed to attend next week and he will be over 4 hours from home. No concerns about the cost, but I have read a lot of negative reviews that past few days In regards to safety, supervision, bullying. Any thoughts/insight?

  27. I received the letter and whether it was marketing or not she was still thought of by her teacher. My child has anxiety and being close to choosing colleges I knew this experience would be worth every penny as she talked of staying close to home. I would prefer for her to venture out! She technically is in Day 2 and I have heard nothing but great things from her. She is doing things she wouldn’t do on a normal basis. Her mind is set on something in law but she doesn’t know what. If this experience can help her narrow it down before she enters college this will be money well spent. I don’t want her going to college to change majors. That will cost well more than $2500.
    Ofcourse I didn’t like the high cost but I knew this experience would be an eye opener for her. And if my son wanted to go I would send him too!

  28. I wish I’d seen your article several months ago. They targeted my 9 year old son through his teacher. By the description provided, we thought we ought to provide my son the opportunity. It was at San Francisco State, week-long, $2000 for the class, and over $1000 for a hotel (didn’t want him in the dorms for a week). Bottom line, highly underwhelming. I thought the kids would be introduced to the topics you mention at a much higher level, given they were at a university with enormous resources available. Their “tech” was team-building a “robot”. Both my kids built a much more sophisticated robot in Mad Science, a week-long camp at a fraction of the cost. Their final presentation was a scripted, mock murder trial in which they convicted two defendants (actually got a confession) on ridiculously ambiguous evidence which I suspect none of the kids in the class even understood. The cafeteria food was awful. There are a number of local classes for kids that I think are far superior to this camp.

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