National Youth Leadership Forum (Envision Experience and Envision EMI) – Pricey Summer Camps of Questionable Quality?

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
Shiny gold seal!

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

summer camp price scan
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, but that redirects straight to the main Envision website: 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?

card insert that suggests a need for urgency
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.


16 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

  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!

  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. :-)

  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. :(

  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!

  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!!

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