By participating in student council, students have a leg up on their peers—but the NASC Distinguished Student Leader Program can take this advantage to a whole new level.

This rigorous skills-based program offers the highest level of national student recognition bestowed by NASC. At Lancaster High School in New York, the Leadership Academy incorporates this program into its curriculum-something the school deemed necessary when they realized students were lacking in practical skills, such as writing a professional email, talking on the phone, or addressing an envelope.

Mark Skowron, coordinator of student affairs and co-director of the Leadership Academy at Lancaster, appreciated the program’s ready-made, high-level curriculum and how it fit with the skills the school was trying to teach. He says that often the program pays off enormously once students are in college or part of the professional world. To date, 104 Lancaster students have earned the prestigious recognition.

You don’t need a structured leadership class in place to make this program work. In fact, students don’t even need to complete the program to take advantage of its lessons. If your students are interested in completing the process, study these program basics, along with tips for guiding students along the way.

>Students in grades 9–12 who are in student council, enrolled in a leadership class, or serve in a leadership role with another school club or team may apply. (The school’s NASC affiliation must be current.) It is free to students.

Where can students find an application?

An application and related materials may be downloaded from via the Distinguished Student Leaders menu item.

When is the application deadline?

There is no annual deadline—applications may be submitted as they are completed. It may take up to four weeks for NASC to notify students of the results, so applicants should plan accordingly if they wish to include the distinction on college/scholarship applications.

What criteria does NASC consider?

Students must complete numerous tasks focused on building leadership knowledge and skills, write an essay, create a leadership portfolio, and get two letters of recommendation—one from their adviser and one from the principal or other administrator.

How much time does it take to complete the required work?

Often it takes at least one or two semesters. For younger students, the process may be longer. At Lancaster, students start as sophomores and finish by June of their junior year so certificates are received in time for the college admissions process.

How much work is required of advisers?

Advisers review applications and write letters of recommendation. “It’s really on the student to do,” Skowron says. “As teachers, we read over their answers, but we don’t sit there and hold their hand and do it for them. … You’re probably doing 90 percent of these things already.”

What do students receive as an NASC Distinguished Student Leader?

Students get an official letter and certificate from NASC and NASSP, along with a sample press release for local media. Exclusive personal insignia items are available for order.

What happens if a student doesn’t meet all of the criteria?

Students can reapply after a six-month period, during which they can strengthen areas of weakness or gather missing evidence.