Do Certain Colleges Value Model UN More Than Others?

by KFC on November 30, 2010

One of the goals of Best Delegate is to help high school students use Model UN to get into college. We released a free e-book, How Model UN Can Help You Get into College, wrote 10 Tips on How to Write your College Application Essay, and talked about 5 Ways to Show Leadership in Model UN.

Several days ago, Ryan and I were having a discussion about college admissions and college rankings when I brought up an interesting question: Do certain colleges seem to value Model UN more than others?

University of California, Los Angeles

Part of my inquiry was derived from a 2009 press release I saw from my alma mater, UCLA, where Model UN was mentioned next to many other prestigious accomplishments of admitted students:

UCLA, the most popular campus in the nation, with 55,676 freshman applicants, announced today that it had admitted 12,098 prospective freshmen for fall 2009.

Among them were 175 student body presidents; more than 150 National AP Scholars; 400 most valuable players in their sports; nearly 900 outstanding musicians; almost 300 Eagle Scouts and Girl Scout leaders; more than 200 black belts in various martial arts; some 500 Science Olympians; about 500 recipients of book awards from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and other universities; more than 150 Model United Nations delegates; more than 150 recipients of Rotary Youth Leadership Awards; and 3,000 who indicated they were captains of their sports or academic teams.

UCLA seems to value Model UN. But does it value it more than USC? How about when we compare the University of Chicago with Northwestern? Or Michigan State and Illinois-Chicago against their respective state flagship rivals? And how do Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Penn stack up against each other?

When we take two similar-caliber universities and compare their Model UN programs, we can see big differences:

University of Chicago

Case A: The University of Chicago (ranked #9 in the 2011 US News Rankings) has a powerhouse Model UN program with a gigantic high school conference, one of the top crisis-based college conferences, one of the best travel teams in the college circuit, and leadership in UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms Chicago program. Neighboring Northwestern University (ranked #12) has a mid-sized high school conference that is only in its seventh year in existence.  

Case B: The University of California, Los Angeles (ranked #25) is also one of the top Model UN programs in the country with a large high school conference, a growing college conference, a strong travel team, and leadership in UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms Los Angeles program. Cross-town rival the University of Southern California (ranked #23) only has a small travel team.

There are also multiple examples where the state’s flagship public university does not have the premier Model UN program in the state:

Michigan State University

Case C: Michigan State University (ranked #79) has one of the largest high school conferences in the Midwest, a competitive travel team, and active participation in UNA-USA’s Global Classrooms program, while the flagship University of Michigan (#29) focuses on hosting a mid-sized high school conference.

Case D: University of Illinois-Chicago (ranked #143) hosts a large high school conference, fields a competitive travel team, and helped found the Model UN Development Organization, while the flagship University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign (#47) operates a smaller high school conference, a recently-started college conference, and travels locally.

Finally, let’s take a look at the very top of the US News Rankings where several Ivy League institutions and their peers reside:

Yale University

Case E: Harvard (ranked #1), Yale (ranked #3) and Penn (tied for #5) have developed mega-sized conferences and elite travel teams. Simply put, these three universities have some of the top Model UN programs in the world. Comparable universities such as Princeton (ranked #2) and Stanford (tied for #5) have strong Model UN programs, but they haven’t developed to the extent that Harvard, Yale, and Penn have in terms of conference size at the high school and college levels (Stanford doesn’t have a college conference) and competitiveness and funding of their travel teams. Why is that the case?

Do certain colleges value Model UN more than others and therefore accept more students with quality Model UN experience? Or do these colleges with strong Model UN programs simply have a more conducive environment to MUN? Regardless, they are all looking for leadership experience and that means you need to be able to communicate your accomplishments and experience in your application, essay, and interviews.

For help with your college essays or to learn more about which universities have top Model UN programs, email us at   

Do you think certain colleges value Model UN more than others? Let us know in the comments!  


Editor’s Note: Today is the deadline for students applying to the University of California system. Best Delegate wishes good luck to all those who are applying!

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  • Harry G.

    You forgot to mention Georgetown in your list of “powerhouse” school examples (local comparison to American who have a HS conference compared to success of GTown on collegiate circuit, NCSC, and NAIMUN).

    Yes, but not directly. Schools with more well-known political science programs, I believe, tend to have stronger programs because there is a large student body to pull from that is very interested in MUN. As well the scholarly resources are very large as well.

    • KFC

      I purposely left off Georgetown as well as several other Model UN powerhouses. I believe Georgetown’s case can be partly attributed to its connection with its School of Foreign Service which could provide talented delegates, resources/funding, and scholarly support like you alluded to. That has to at least in part explain its strong and comprehensive Model UN program compared to its US News rankings peers e.g. Notre Dame, Emory, etc.

      I also didn’t compare Georgetown with its DC rivals GWU and American because Georgetown is ranked above them and is expected to have a stronger Model UN program; the argument focused on similarly-ranked colleges but with disparity in Model UN programs.

      For Chicago-Northwestern and UCLA-USC, it’s less apparent why that disparity exists.

      • Amy


        So that you’re aware, Georgetown’s Model UN traveling team gets very little help from the university. Furthermore, its two Model UN conferences (NAIMUN, the largest student-run MUN conference in the world, and NCSC, another top crisis conference) are completely independent from the university.

        I think you’re right not putting Georgetown on the list of MUN-centric colleges, because to be frank, Georgetown does pretty much all it can to take down our International Relations Club at every opportunity, both financially and in terms of access to benefits. Each of our delegates has to pay a hefty sum to attend conferences, other than the lucky ones who are awarded partial or full scholarships. In all, if high school students are looking for a school that will emphasize MUN with pride, Georgetown isn’t it. That said, our team kicks @$$, and we have only our amazing student body to thank for that! If you’re looking for a great MUN program, Georgetown’s got it, but don’t count on MUN to get you in to Georgetown in the first place.

        -Amy, Georgetown ’11

        • KFC

          Amy, this is really interesting — and very surprising — insight into the Model UN program at Georgetown. One would think such a successful program has to have some university support.

          Then again, I’m not totally shocked. You bring up a good point in that many Model UN programs operate independently from their university. Reflecting back on my experience at UCLA, the university-MUN program relationship evolved several times during my four years there from being sponsored to being independent.

          It’s unfortunate to hear how Georgetown attempts to “take down” the IRC but I’m glad to know that Georgetown has the students that are willing to put the effort into building a world-class MUN program there (complete with an annual report!).

  • Andrew Roush

    Thanks for the post, KFC. Lot of great stuff to keep in mind as we build our TexMUN team at UT-Austin.

    Any chance on a follow-up regarding how universities support their teams?

    • KFC

      I would love to see some more input into this, especially from very well-established programs like Harvard, Georgetown, West Point, but from others as well. I know many other colleges have strong university support; I was very impressed with the resources provided by the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs to Georgia Tech’s Model UN program when I blogged about GTMUN.

      We’ll do some research and interviewing and see if we can add a post on university support to our How to Build a Top Travel Team series.

      *Open to all* – please leave a comment or email us if you’d like to share or be interviewed.

      • KEG

        Well, I’m not sure how it is now, but when I was an undergrad at UC-Davis, we had *no* support from the university: not even a faculty advisor. As far as I can tell, the success of that program today has everything to do with the contributions and efforts of the student leadership team.

  • Miles Greengard

    Much appreciated. Nice to see MSU get credit in the ultra competitive MUN world.

    Minor point; Michigan State and University of Michigan are two completely different systems. U of M is a flagship of the U of M system (two satellite campus in Flint and Dearborn). MSU is the flagship of the MSU system, one former satellite campus that was spun off into a separate university, and agricultural extensions in all 83 counties.

    It’s important to note, as it’s a battle that is being fought as MSU is trying to extend it’s applicant pool to Texas and California, where the differences between the U of State system and State U System are noticeable. MSU and UM are both excellent institutions of higher education, both being members of the prestigious AAU collection of universities, and the PH.D dominant CIC.

    Either way, MUN prepared me fantastically for both law school, and social interactions with a wide range of people. No matter where you choose to attend, make MUN a part of your college experieince; Go Green, and Go MUN!

    • KFC

      Thanks Miles for the clarification. In fact, the University of California system and the California State University system are also two completely different systems and therefore I wouldn’t have been correct either in comparing campuses from the two systems as flagship and satellite.

      However, what I’m trying to convey here is that each state has a formally or informally designated “flagship” university — typically its highest-ranked, research-oriented campus — and that a lower-ranked public university in the same state can more than hold its own when it comes to producing Model UN delegates and consequently future leaders.

      • Miles Greengard

        I understand. To take this full circle to Harry’s comment, I think it comes down to a school’s political science department. Anyone in the state will tell you that MSU is the dominant political science, pre-law, or IR school in the state; as such, it makes sense it would have a stronger MUN program.

  • KFC

    Using the 2010 US News Graduate Political Science rankings as a proxy for the strength of the undergraduate political science department, it explains some of the cases above:

    U.Chicago is ranked #11 while Northwestern is #21.
    UCLA is tied for #11 while USC does not appear on the list.

    However, we see the following that significantly weaken the argument that it all comes down to a college’s political science department:

    Michigan State is ranked #28 while Michigan is ranked #4
    U.Penn is tied for #28 while Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale all place in the top 5

    North Carolina, University of Rochester, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State all rank in the top 20 and above colleges such as Texas, UC Davis, Emory, University of Washington, and Cornell the same rankings, yet I would argue that the latter set have stronger MUN programs than the former.

    • Kaitlynn Colbert

      Hey KFC,

      I’m actually this year’s Secretary-General for MSUMUN (MSU’s high school run conference).

      A few things to add to your comments above. While, MSU’s political science department is ranked #28, the ranking leaves out the MSU residential college, James Madison (, which is the university’s small public policy school for undergraduates. MSUMUN and IRO (our college competitive team) are both housed in James Madison, which ranks much more competitively than MSU’s political science department. In fact, MSUMUN’s staff has almost no political science students.

      Also, a note on funding, MSUMUN is actually a 501(c)3 corporation. Very little of our funding comes from the University itself.

      Let me know if you have any more questions!

      • KFC

        Hey Kaitlynn,

        Thanks for sharing this. I think the Model UN community needs a platform to publicize the strengths of its university and Model UN programs. Otherwise the typical reader (myself included) would jump straight into the political science department rankings without realizing that some schools have specialized public policy or international relations schools that are completely separate from the political science department.

        Your explanation also helped me theorize why Penn is ranked #28 in political science yet has a powerhouse Model UN program: many of the staffers and delegates are actually students in their competitive undergrad business major at their Wharton School.

        One last request — let us know when MSUMUN posts its itinerary so we know when to publicize the conference for you! Good luck!

    • Alex

      I think it’s also important to realize you’re talking about graduate rankings, whereas the better MUN programs are strictly undergraduate affairs. It’s also important to look at not just political science, but related majors like Global/International Studies. I know the NRC rankings for political science at my university are pretty underwhelming, but our MUN program is very strong and growing.

      • KFC

        Alex — that’s a good point and Kaitlynn mentioned something similar above. Actually, the MUN program at my alma mater, UCLA, could be described as more closely affiliated with the International Institute on campus rather than the political science department.

  • Asad Ramzanali

    I saw an internal presentation that highlighted UCLA applicant attributes and MUN delegates was on the second slide. They definitely value the program as UCLA has had an increasingly international lens of viewing college applicants.

    • KFC

      Asad, thanks for the insight. This definitely helps the argument that certain colleges value Model UN and in particular the example of UCLA doing so.

  • http://TheCircuit Ross

    Gtown is a major collegiate powerhouse.

  • Wilfredo

    I think it is not only ‘involvement’ in NMUN that attracts the attention of an admissions official; applicants expand on the rigors and work required of the program including and not limited to intensive research, academic writing, and immersion in and understanding of a culture.

    • Kathy Pham

      As a current high school senior, I would agree with Wilfredo with this point. Model UN participants know the value of hard work, and it apparently shows when college application season rolls around.

      During my high school freshman and sophomore year, I wasn’t particularly challenged with the history and English classes I had, but with ModelUN, I gained some invaluable research skills and learned how to compose strong analytic papers. Formerly, I was the person to shy away from public speaking, but MUN really pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone. I don’t believe I’ll continue competing when I reach college, but I would enjoy organizing high school conferences!

      • KFC

        Hi Kathy!! I remember you reaching out to us last year! Great to see that you’re still involved with Model UN and have gained much from it. I too was a very shy person to begin with and developed my public speaking skills from MUN.

        Good luck with your college apps! Email us at if you’re interested in more advice or info on which colleges organize high school conferences!

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  • Victor

    I have been thinking about this and I am wondering if you guys think the prestige or performance of a university’s Model UN team has any affect on college admissions? Do college admissions staff consider Model UN any more than any other extracurricular activity?

    I am not sure that Model UN has any particular baring on admissions staff. What do you guys think?

    BTW Speaking of U of Illinois-Chicago, they just won a number of awards at AMUN for the representation of Palestine! Cha-ching!!

    • KFC


      Do college admissions officers consciously want their university’s Model UN team to do well? Of course, but they want every other extracurricular activity on campus to be a stellar and robust experience too. Colleges are looking to fill a class with well-rounded individuals and that includes admitting students who demonstrated exceptional performance in Model UN (in addition to strong academics) in hopes that they will bring that talent to the university’s MUN team — or perhaps its Speech & Debate or Mock Trial teams. On the same note, students with exceptional performance in related activities will also be admitted for a similar reason; students who have positioned their extracurricular strength as academic competition are relatively interchangeable, especially since not every high school offers Model UN.

      To answer your question… Yes, I think Model UN can be a valuable factor in college admissions if you make it one of your highlights, but it’s probably impossible to determine if a MUN specialist would make a better applicant than anyone else without looking at the rest of the applicants’ profiles.

  • Sharron Clemons

    I think it is not only ‘involvement’ in NMUN that attracts the attention of an admissions official; applicants expand on the rigors and work required of the program including and not limited to intensive research, academic writing, and immersion in and understanding of a culture.

  • Anonymous

    Where’s William and Mary? It has one of the most consistently talented teams in the US and the World, coming in 2nd at last year’s WorldMUN. WMHSMUN is also one of the best high school conferences in the nation.

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  • Anonymous

    Along with not mentioning William and Mary… you talk about only Harvard , Yale, Princeton and Penn when talking about the Ivy League- Columbia and Cornell have travelling teams and also host both collegiate and high school conferences. They may not be the “mega-conferences” you cite Harvard and Penn for, but none the less they have developing programs that provide ample opportunity for leadership and success on the circuit.

    • KFC

      I’m aware that W&M has a great Model UN program but I’m not sure what you want me to compare W&M against. The cases were meant to compare similarly-ranked schools against each other.

  • Caitlin

    Wow. I am quite surprised that Georgetown does not give MUN the support it deserves. This is unfortunate to hear because I want to attend Georgetown and participate in MUN. I am currently the president of my high school’s MUN club. Hopefully I will be able to attend Georgetown because I would love to build a successful MUN that will be recognized by the school. You would think a school in DC would care more about this topic.

  • Michael Luo

    I’m not sure where you got that impression but Georgetown is one of the top MUN schools in the country. Its high school conference (NAIMUN) is the largest in the country, and its college conference and travel teams are among the most highly respected.

    (This coming from a Penn student.)

  • Aidan Milliff

    UChicago is now part of the #5 tie that you quoted for Stanford. The school would be more accurately compared in terms of its admissions selectivity, its MUN organizations and its overall culture to other “Ivy Plus” Schools.

  • Aayush Sharma

    does the indian colleges accept the mun certificates?

  • Eashwar Nagaraj

    I have attended over 20 conferences with lots of wins and EB experiences. How do I reflect this experience effectively on my college application?

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