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College Admissions: National Youth Science Camp

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


I heard about National Youth Science Camp (NYSC) through a friend of a friend of a friend in 2009 and applied without much of an idea what it was. I figured it was an outrageously long shot anyway: while I was good at science, I hadn’t done publishable research or won any major competitions. So I was surprised and excited when I got the news that I had been accepted. As it turned out, NYSC was three fabulous all-expense-paid weeks at camp with other brilliant teenagers from around the world.

We “woke up in the morning where the rhododendrons grow” (that’s the wake-up song) and threw around Frisbees before the flag ceremony and breakfast. A morning lecture by a visiting guest---anyone from an NYSC alumnus to a MacArthur grant winner---was followed by a seminar session, during which small groups explored a topic of choice for several days. My favourite seminars investigated the mathematics of origami and behavioral economics. The afternoon included elective time, when campers and Staph (so spelled because of their “infectious enthusiasm”) led non-science-related lessons on everything from folk dance to bossa nova singing. During dinner, campers entertained each other with musical performances. (My rendition of “To keep my love alive” was a definite hit.) 

Every weekend, we went on excursions. Backpacking, white-water kayaking, outdoor rock-climbing, mountain biking, and Civil War re-enactment were all options in 2009. The backpacking trips varied in length and difficulty, and campers were entirely responsible for navigation. My group one weekend nearly missed our pick-up and ended up walking several extra miles because our map was outdated! (It showed the trail back on the wrong side of the river.) Near the end of camp, we also took a less rugged trip to Washington D.C., where we saw the sights and lunched with Senators and the U.S. CTO.

There's one feature of camp that I liked but that may be a turn-off for some teens: it's in the National Radio Quiet Zone. That means no cell service. There’s also no internet around, except on a few computers accessible during free-time. You have to spend your days interacting with your fellow campers. It’s not really as hard as it sounds---other than for sending a weekly assurance of my health and happiness to my parents, I didn’t even use the computers. There were so many interesting talks and activities and trips during camp that I never caught myself pining for Facebook.

Of course, the best part of NYSC was the people. My fellow campers and Staph (mostly NYSC alums) were all friendly and passionate, undaunted by steep hikes, fast-flying Frisbees, or close brushes with dry ice. One camper and I sang through all of Les Miserables together over the course of camp. A Staph member gave me singing lessons during free time. I brought an entire suitcase full of books to camp (don’t do this!) and loaned them to other delegates, then discussed them. One of the Mexican delegates and I still visit each other and exchange hand-written letters and souvenirs from our travels. (She was actually so inspired by NYSC that she has secured grant money and started a smaller version of the same thing in Mexico.)

If you are a high school senior and all of this sounds like your idea of fun, you should definitely apply to NYSC by the March 1st deadline. Two delegates are chosen from each state (in addition to the international delegates). You need to have passion for science, but as my example proves, you don’t need to have won any major awards. Accomplishments in mathematics, science education, and engineering can also count towards your application. It is both free to apply and free to attend the camp---the foundation even covers your travel to and from West Virginia.

Only high school seniors are eligible, so you can’t use camp to burnish your college résumé. And that’s a good thing---it means camp is full of people who really want to be there and are excited by science lectures as well as kayaking trips. If you plan to pursue a science career, are available to attend June 17 through July 11, 2015 and want to meet like-minded science enthusiasts, apply now!

Jodi Walder-Biesanz is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC, which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at [email protected].

Ilana Walder-Biesanz is a 2013 graduate of Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. She has an MPhil from Cambridge University and is currently in Munich, Germany on a Fulbright research grant. Contact her at [email protected].


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