NSLS: Pyramid Scheme or Elite Leadership Institution?

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Who hasn’t heard of honor societies? They promise to reward you when you work hard for them and become eligible. While some of these honor societies are genuine, others are fraudulent. It’s up to you to research the one you want to sign up with so that you don’t fall victim to fraud.

The National Society of Leadership Honor Society (NSLS) is one of the most popular honor societies in the US. It targets college students and promises scholarships if they can join the movement and impress. Like you, many people don’t know whether or not NSLS is a pyramid scheme.

This article will educate you on all you need to know about NSLS. You’ll understand what it is, what it does, and whether or not it fits into the business that should be labeled a pyramid scheme.

What Is the NSLS?

nsls logo

The National Society of Leadership and Success is one of the many honor societies in the US. Gary Tuerack founded the organization in 2001. Its main targets are vulnerable and underprivileged college students. The organizations promise to help them become the best version of themselves, network with experts in their field, and get a life that would let them pay off tier student loans as quickly as possible.

The NSLS recruits its members using their fellow college students, which is why many students consider it a pyramid scheme. You’re required to pay a one-time sign-up fee of $95. After that, it’ll train you and require you to recruit your fellow students to be part of the community.

NSLS doesn’t offer you any pay for the work that you do. It refers to its members as unpaid interns. The compensation that the organization claims to give is a scholarship. You can apply for any Mission-Based Scholarships and grants, Need-Based Scholarships and grants, or the Stephen Covery Tribute Awards.

NSLS also mentions that it gives leadership and mentoring training for its members. You also get access to jobs & internships, community & events, and speaker series. You also get discounts from several companies for being a member of the NSLS.

Is NSLS a Pyramid Scheme?

NSLS ceremony

The best way to determine whether or not a business is a pyramid scheme is to see whether it fits into the definition of a pyramid scheme. According to the Security and Exchange Commission, a pyramid scheme uses new participants’ fees to pay money for existing participants to recruit new members. It went further to state that pyramid schemes are organizations that;

  • Doesn’t sell a genuine product or service
  • Promises its members a high return within a short period
  • Promises “easy” money or passive income
  • Doesn’t have any verifiable revenue generated from retail sales
  • Requires buy-ins before members can sign up
  • Have a complex commission structure
  • Places high emphasis on recruiting

While you can argue that NSLS possesses a few characteristics of a pyramid scheme, like not offering a genuine product or services and placing a high emphasis on recruiting, there are many others it doesn’t possess. For instance, it doesn’t promise its members a high return within a short period. It doesn’t give its members any form of financial compensation.

The scholarships that it offers annually are genuine, and many students have benefited from it. Also, you don’t have to buy any product when signing up, which isn’t typical of a pyramid scheme. Lastly, it has many famous members, including former presidents of the United States.

List of Famous NSLS Members

The NSLS has seen some remarkable individuals become part of its journey. Some of them are members of the organization, while others are part of its illustrious speakers who have been invited to address the organization’s members. That said, this section will list some famous people who have either been members or been directly affiliated with the organization.

  1. President Barack Obama (44th president of the United States)
  2. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Bodybuilder, philanthropist, and former governor)
  3. Emily Balcetis (Behavioral science and motivational partner)
  4. President George W. Bush (43rd president of the United States)
  5. President Bill Clinton (42nd president of the United States)
  6. Mehdi Hasan (Award-winning British-American journalist)
  7. Kevin Hart (Actor, comedian, and best-selling author)
  8. Daymond John ($6 billion global lifestyle brand creator and Shark Tank start)
  9. Jamie Foxx (Academy Award-winning actor and Grammy Award-winning musician)
  10. Bill Gates (Co-founder of Microsoft, Philanthropist)

Below is a comparative analysis table that contrasts NSLS with traditional leadership programs.

CriteriaNSLS (National Society of Leadership and Success)Traditional Leadership Programs
Structure– Primarily university-based chapters that follow a step-by-step program for personal development.
– Membership is obtained through nomination and a fee.
– Emphasizes leadership training and personal growth workshops.
– Can vary from academic courses to corporate training programs.
– Often have a more formal curriculum.
– It may involve application processes and can sometimes be more exclusive.
Networking Opportunities– Large national network with chapters across various campuses.
– Offers events, speaker series, and regional leadership retreats.
– May provide more industry-specific networking.
– Often include conferences, seminars, and mentorship programs.
Cost– Membership fee required, with additional costs for conferences or premium services.
– Fee structure is upfront and standardized.
– Costs can vary widely from free workshops to high-priced executive training.
– Fees are typically correlated with the level of accreditation and length of the program.
Recognition/Certification– Provides a leadership certificate upon completion of the program.
– Some educational institutions and employers recognize the society.
– Traditional programs may offer certifications, diplomas, or even academic credits.
– Usually widely recognized professionally and academically accredited.
Curriculum– Focus on goal setting, success broadcasting, and leadership skill development.
– Utilizes online modules, live broadcasts, and interactive project work.
– May have a more comprehensive and in-depth curriculum.
– Can include extensive coursework, case studies, and hands-on leadership practice.
Outcome and Benefits– Aims to build leadership skills that can be applied in various life scenarios.
– Emphasizes the development of soft skills and personal growth.
– Often aimed at improving career prospects and leadership within a specific sector.
– May offer more tangible career advancement benefits like higher salaries or promotions due to the skills and networks developed.
Personal Development– Provides a broad framework for personal development, adaptable to various fields.
– Encourages self-paced progress with a supportive community.
– More likely to offer tailored programs to individual needs or industry-specific requirements.
– Personal development may be structured in the context of career advancement.
Criticism/Controversies– Some claim it is a pyramid scheme due to its membership fee and nomination process.
– Debate about the actual value and recognition of the leadership certificate.
– Criticism may focus on the cost-to-benefit ratio or the relevance of the curriculum to modern leadership challenges.
– Rarely accused of being a pyramid scheme due to academic or corporate backing and transparency.

Does NSLS Look Good on Resume?

Of course, you should optimize other aspects of your resume to be as good as possible. Employers fancy applicants with experience with volunteer work or have notable clubs and organizations.

NSLS induction ceremony
The NSLS Induction Ceremony held in the Lakeview room of the library on the campus of Utah Valley University (Erik Flores, UVU Marketing)

A leadership honor society like NSLS is a good one to add to your resume. If you have a good reputation there, you’re telling your employers you possess strong leadership and communication skills, which most employers cherish.

You have to know how to include it on your resume if you want to make it impress employers. It shouldn’t be your primary quality or skill. Employers will value it more if it only complements your other skills.

However, you shouldn’t only join NSLS because you want to improve your resume. You should carefully study their vision and ensure that it aligns with yours. It will help you do your best and succeed in the organization when you finally join.

Avoiding Honor Society Scams

NSLS might be legitimate, but there are more scam honor societies than you think. They’re lurking around campus, looking for unsuspecting students that will fall into their trap. Some impersonate real honor societies and hope that an ignorant student will fall victim.

It could be you if you don’t know how to identify and avoid honor society scams. This section will educate you on some tips on identifying the scams so that you can avoid them.

1. Unclear Principles and Goals

One of the surest signs of a fraudulent honor society is if they have vague or unrealistic goals. If they’re not making their principles and how they hope to achieve them clearly, it’s best not to sign up with them.

For instance, NSLS said that it will hone your leadership skills and help you become the best version of yourself through training, and that’s what it does.

2. Little or No Campus Presence

Most online societies market to students, and school campuses are the best place to do that. If the honor society you want to join has a poor standing on campuses, they’re most likely a fluke.

3. Information Isn’t Readily Available

Reputable honor societies are proud of their achievements and are quick to display them for anyone who wishes to see them. They’ll also tell you about general information on their site. If you discover that you can’t find many helpful details on the brand’s website, it is most likely a red flag.

4. Fake Emails

You might be lying on your bed and get a random invitation from a “legitimate” honor society. Before you get excited, understand that there might be a scammer behind that link waiting for you to input your details so that it can pounce.

Therefore, you should run a few checks on the mail, like checking for spelling and grammatical errors, addressing you with a generic greeting, or the email has an attachment.


NSLS isn’t a pyramid scheme. It’s one of the most reputable honor societies in the US. Most people think it’s a pyramid scheme partly because of its mode of conducting business and because they fail to read and understand the aims and objectives of the organization.

You should understand the goals of any honor society you want to join. That way, you can make better decisions and have realistic expectations when you join them.


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