Every year thousands of students around the nation receive letters congratulating them for the honor of being nominated to attend a youth conference. A “lifetime advantage” and “valuable addition” to their résumé is also promised.
The company that organizes these conferences, a direct-mail powerhouse called the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, runs an alphabet soup of such conferences it says are attended by 50,000 students a year. It solicits recommendations from teachers and alumni of previous conferences, and it culls names from mailing lists, that they purchased annually, for which the council paid $263,000 in 2006 alone, according to its last filing with the Internal Revenue Service, before it gave up its nonprofit status.
The big promises in its mailings and the sheer volume of its business have gotten the company into trouble in the last few months. At least one lawsuit has been filed over its conference during the inauguration, and in February, after nearly 25 years in operation, it lost its Better Business Bureau accreditation. Parents paid $2,300 to $3,000 for students to attend the inauguration four-day program, a total of more than $40 million.
College admissions officers say they do not place much stock in participation in such conferences. The leadership conference is no more or less likely to enhance college applications than, say, soccer camp. That becomes a true honor and honors typically don’t come with a price tag.
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