Circuit Break: How to Transition from High School to College Model UN

by Ashley on October 17, 2012


As Asher Roth once said, “I love college MUN.” Well, possibly that’s not a direct quote, but regardless, for many college freshmen, continuing their Model United Nations path on the collegiate circuit is a great way to make a large university seem smaller, and to meet like-minded individuals with similar interests.

Having been an avid participant in Model U.N. in high school, I did what any college MUN-hopeful did: put all my gavels on a shelf in my undersized dorm, cut all my conference T-shirts into “bro tanks”, tried to use my unmoderated caucusing skills during sorority recruitment, and got excited for my first MUN meeting of the semester.

However, one thing I and many other delegates learned is that there’s a notable difference between high school and college MUN. The topics are considerably more in-depth, the delegates are of higher caliber, and the flow of debate is unpredictable. “It’s like entering into your first crisis committee,” says one user on the Best Delegate forums. “You can prepare for weeks and study for countless hours, but you’ll never be able to predict every crisis or control how each delegate will react.”

As a freshman, I’ve thus far only attended one conference on the college circuit. However, upon speaking with collegiate delegates from a variety of schools, we’ve composed the following list of recommendations:

  1. Come in with an open mind. New team members, delegates, ideas, and philosophies will bombard you upon entering the college circuit. Embrace them! College is all about new experiences and experiencing diversity.
  2. Don’t focus on how your high school ran its club. Almost undoubtedly, your college team will have a much different manner in how it operates, especially since most teams are student-run and don’t function under an adviser.
  3. Don’t underestimate delegates who didn’t do MUN in high school. While there will be highly advanced delegates in every conference, there will also be people completely new to MUN. You were a beginner once as well, and if you quickly earned success as a delegate, then it’s obviously possible for others to do the same. Also, many of these students may have done Speech & Debate, Mock Trial, Junior Statesmen of America, Model Congress, or other activities available at their high school and have highly transferable skills.
  4. Don’t expect to be successful just because you gaveled in high school. While you should be proud of your accomplishments throughout the high school circuit, it will only be detrimental to your performance to come in expecting to continue that pattern. The collegiate circuit will possess delegates of the highest quality, some of whom have taken entire semester-long classes on the subject you’re debating. Competition is tenfold of what it is in high school.
  5. Resolutions will be different, and you have to plan accordingly. Working papers are given much less leeway because they’re expected to be more realistic, with concrete and tangible solutions. Additionally, they’ll be considerably shorter. “The largest conferences may still have long resolutions due to merging,” says KFC, “but I’ve found that at most of the mid-sized and smaller conferences, the resolutions were rarely longer than 10 operative clauses. It’s much less common to see the 30+ operative clauses—many of which were creative but not entirely realistic—that were done in high school.” For those who participate in crisis committees, resolutions won’t even be the default format for writing solutions.
  6. Know your topic thoroughly. While this should go without saying, in high school it’s often easy to only scratch the surface of your topic (that is, reading the Wikipedia page and the background guide) and still get awards. In college, there are students studying these topics in class or even writing a thesis about it. Remember that there’s no particular age limit in college: there may be students thirty years old who will have vast and in-depth knowledge on the topic at hand, not to mention years of experience in learning about it.
  7. Be social and approachable. On a circuit in which delegates’ knowledge and intelligence is of the highest degree, you must be sociable in order garner support. Chairs will notice the distinction between power delegates who, despite their intelligence, only shoot down ideas and make loud speeches, and the delegates who display leadership and work well with others. “College is less about the content of the discussion and more about how well you can lead the committee than high school,” says Amy O’Halloran, Best Delegate Media Associate. “It’s a leadership competition.”
    Likewise, college conferences exist on a much more personal level. For the first time, I found myself introducing myself as “Ashley” rather than Sudan or China, because in college most delegates acknowledge the benefits of establishing professional relationships with other schools and delegates.
  8. Don’t think you can get away with the stunts you pulled in High School. Power strategies only do so much due to repeated interaction. A power delegate could get away with being abrasive in high school, because normally they would only compete against the same delegates once and didn’t have to work with them again at later conferences. The college circuit is much smaller, and you’ll interact with the same universities and students several times throughout the season. Your reputation can and often will precede you.
  9. Manage your time. High school background guides and research tips will go out long before the conference; in college, you’ll have much less time to research because they’ll be up only a few weeks before. Combined with the fact that you’ll undoubtedly be much busier in college, time management is crucial to researching.
  10. Get used to crisis committees. If you’re competing on what Best Delegate calls the “World Division” circuit, then you’ll be doing crises for most of your collegiate MUN career. In college MUN, individual crisis notes and directives are vital for competition, and the ultimate goal of gaveling. Concomitantly, crisis committees require a different set of skills, such as interpersonal interaction, a capability of reducing thematic strains, being cognizant of your portfolio powers, being able to alter the flow of events, participating more and relying less on research, and intense analytical skills.
  11. Get to know your teammates and officers. First and foremost, remember this: winning awards will not also win the respect of your fellow teammates. “To be noticed, I had to be successful and I had to make the effort to get to know the leaders of my University’s club,” says one Best Delegate Forum user. “Not having the crutch of knowing every person in the club was definitely weird because after establishing who I was as a person and a delegate during my high school career, I had to go through the same exact process in college.”
  12. Don’t feel obligated to “compete” in order to stay involved in MUN. Some students decide to never make the transition as delegates, but still stay involved by participating as staffers. Model U.N. is first and foremost a learning experience, and many college MUNers choose to give back by helping high school students have a positive experience with Model U.N. in the form of staffing high school conferences.

Transitioning from High School to College MUN may seem like a daunting process, but with the right attitude, the evolution can be smooth. My personal recommendation would be to become as involved as possible, even if it’s just promoting your team on campus or spending a Wednesday night playing kickball with some team members. Ultimately, college MUN is like anything in life: you get out what you put into it.

What do you think? Did anything help you make the transition from High School to College MUN? Do you have any recommendations? Leave your ideas in the comments below!

This article was written with the intention of compiling a multitude of ideas about how to successfully transition from high school to college MUN, and takes from several Best Delegate resources, with special attention the Forums page entitled “Making The Transition: High-School to College MUN” which can be found here:

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Ashley, for the great perspective in this article!

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