Is NSLS A Pyramid Scheme? Best Answers

Is NSLS a pyramid scheme? It is not a multi-level marketing organization, let alone a pyramid scheme. You may, however, object to certain of the direct sales company’s tactics and their emphasis on recruitment practices. 

NSLS is the National Society of leadership honor society, claiming that its life goal is to help people become the best version of themselves. They claim to provide people with scholarships and networking opportunities if you sign up with them for a one-time sign-up fee.

This may convince you to feel the business is not a pyramid scheme. In reality, the corporation has said unequivocally that it is not a multi-level marketing business. However, some argue that it is like a pyramid scheme that exploits the underprivileged for their benefit.

NSLS is unquestionably smaller than other renowned MLM firms. However, I feel this makes it just as troublesome, if not more so. This is because it has not been subjected to the same level of legal accountability as most other MLM firms.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : Every MLM company is like. Source:
Every MLM company is like. Source:

This organization targets vulnerable and often underprivileged young individuals seeking to establish a foothold in the world of education. They often prey on recent grads who are anxious for income to pay off their college loans.

This direct sales business makes many promises. This includes getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and face-to-face talks with some of the world’s most influential experts in their respective fields.

However, these have limited long-term utility. In actuality, if you invest in them, you will spend far too much time pushing the firm’s agenda for little to no payoff.

In this guide, I discuss the sales methods used by NSLS and how much you can anticipate learning as an NSLS Member. I will also discuss my experience with the direct sales firm, its nomination criteria, membership benefits, and disadvantages.

I wish to expose the reality about NSLS so that you would reconsider falling for their claims. I didn’t have access to such information before joining up; therefore, by sharing my story, I aim to alter that.

This article is written by our Editorial Team at Incomepedia with the help of a former NSLS Member.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : If it is too good to be true, remember it's a pyramid scheme. Source:
If it is too good to be true, remember it’s a pyramid scheme. Source:

My Personal Experience

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been aware of multi-level marketing firms. After all, we’ve all got that one friend or a relative fascinated with organic products like doTerra essential oils. Plus, 99% of the time, it’s the same person who gets lured into an MLM.

I believe my preconceived notions about multi-level marketing firms hindered me from seeing NSLS for what it was: a lead generation company with an unrewarding marketing plan.

So, how did I wind up as a member of their team? I blame both my high school and my own ignorance. NSLS, you see, gave a presentation in my school hall at the commencement of my senior year.

A corporate Member from NSLS had created a professional Powerpoint presentation. They started discussing life for underprivileged students like me could be more than I thought.

They told me attending college without having crushing debt was possible for me, and life after graduation could be a garden of Eden for me. They encouraged me that if I became an NSLS member, I would be in with a chance to win hundreds of thousand dollars worth of scholarships.

They started with a brief introduction of how all I needed to do to become a member was to pay a one-time $95 fee and recruit members from my school to do the same. They described how NSLS offered young people around the country the chance to study in the best schools and learn from world leaders.

The pitch seemed pretty straightforward for the most part. Sign up yourself, sell NSLS to fellow students, and you’ll receive a scholarship. You’ll earn a respected degree and learn soft and hard skills, and your networking will ensure that once you graduate, there is a six-figure job waiting for you to seize.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS often targets high school students by hosting presentations on campuses. Source: Unsplash
NSLS often targets high school students by hosting presentations on campuses. Source: Unsplash

In my opinion, the presenter did an outstanding job communicating NSLS views to kids who were still half asleep at 9 a.m. I mention this because a dozen people signed up with NSLS immediately after the lecture ended.

I did not join NSLS at that time for two reasons. 

First, I wanted to focus solely on my studies. I truly believed at that point that achieving academic excellence was still possible and that I wouldn’t need any help from such college honor societies due to my academic standing.

The second reason was that I had more ambitious intentions for the future. I intended to attend college on a full scholarship, finish my degree and find a good job in the business world. I believed I had the leadership skills to make it as an entrepreneur. 

Why I joined

Those ambitions were abruptly crushed when I graduated a few months after the COVID-19 outbreak began. As you may be aware, every business on the planet earth suffered a significant setback between 2020 and 2021 from the pandemic. My aims of conquering the business world were looking bleak. 

Various scholarships throughout the country were pulled back or put on hold until the world could make sense of what we were going through, and my final grades were way below my expectation.

I went from being a cocky high schooler to being an unemployed adult. I couldn’t pay for college. And, I didn’t want to carry a crushing debt for the rest of my life. As a result, I swallowed my pride and joined NSLS to make the best choice I could at that time.

This online sign-up process through their website was surprisingly quick and easy. I paid the $95 fee, then conducted a phone interview with one of the local chapter leaders and underwent a three-session leadership training day. 

Within a week, I was off promoting the NSLS agenda on my own to other students I went to high school with. My savvy salesperson skills weren’t the best. But, I enjoyed playing the salesperson persona and increasingly believed in the institution’s promises.

At first, I thought I was learning a new skill, and my leadership potential was finally realized in the real world. I signed up and invited pre-inducted members to leadership conferences all over the country.

I even went to some community colleges and signed some fraternity members of Sigma Alpha Pi to become NSLS members so they could have a future at a real and prestigious college.

After a few weeks, this thrill faded due to constant rejections and ridicules from potential college students. I lost all my steam within a month. I dragged on for another three months as an NSLS member before resigning.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS members often struggle to promote the company’s agenda. Source:
NSLS members often struggle to promote the company’s agenda. Source:

Why did I quit? 

The first reason was that I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere. Despite spending over thirty hours advertising the company’s image and offerings, I could only sign up a few students.

I was receiving no baseline salary, and the promise of a scholarship due to which I signed up was looking vaguer. We weren’t told the criteria of how many signups we needed to get, what others were getting, or who was even getting them.

Whenever I complained to the company, a trained higher-up calmed me down, talking about how the organization was only there to help students be the best version of themselves. They even told me that I was on track, and if I kept the job up, I’d receive the news of my scholarship any day.

Looking back with perspective now, I think I lost a lot working for the NSLS Corporation as I could have earned far more money working elsewhere. I don’t think you should jump into this income idea without fully understanding what it entails.

So let’s examine:

  • NSLS’s Sales model.
  • Your potential gain as an NSLS Member.
  • The pros and cons. 
  • The various lawsuits NSLS has faced over the decades.

What is NSLS

NSLS is an American organization that, according to its website, provides a life-changing leadership program that helps students achieve personal growth and career success and empowers them to have a positive impact in their communities.

As of this writing, with 759 chapters, the NSLS currently has 1,652,850 members nationwide. The company recruits young people as members and gets them to promote their organization’s image and achieve maximum numbers of signups. 

The reward for this effort is a college scholarship.

The company typically offers these Members scholarship opportunities to some of the most prestigious colleges in the USA. This sales approach distinguishes the organization from multi-level marketing firms. 

As it includes a compensation plan in which reps rely only on the largest number of sign-ups to enjoy the benefit this organization promises.

NSLS describes itself as a dream supporters group. They think they develop leaders, assist people in reaching their goals, and benefit the world.

To become a member of an NSLS, you have to pay a one-time $95 fee, and in return, they make you their member with their incentives being college scholarships and discounts from various organizations a student needs.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS offers scholarships for upwards of $400,000 for underprivileged students. Source:
NSLS offers scholarships for upwards of $400,000 for underprivileged students. Source:


Gary Tuerack founded NSLS in 2001 to make it one of the biggest honors societies in the world. He wanted to develop more leadership resources. So, he created NSLS, commonly known as The National Society of Leadership and Success. 

He teamed up with supporting colleges, leading education organizations, and top speakers to develop a program that gives students continual motivation, support, and leadership training. 

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS showcases a list of prominent speakers. Source: NSLS
NSLS showcases a list of prominent speakers. Source: NSLS

They were provided in a way that is cost-effective for schools and actionable for students who want to become better future young leaders. 

Tuerack wanted to ensure that only his target audience of underprivileged kids could reap all the benefits of his organization. Hence he made it a members-only organization and established its national office in Miami.

NSLS, since its inception, has a nomination process online this is to ensure such organizations do not get exploited. Only fellow members of the organization can recommend you to become a new member.

More than 20 years later, the NSLS has reached over 1.5 million student members in all 50 states and awards scholarships yearly to help fund their dreams. 

The organization has grown significantly, adding more curriculum, digital programming options, and events to unite students in a community of success-oriented peers.

You can learn more about NSLS’s history and growth in the following Youtube video:

CEO and Staff

NSLS’s current CEO is Gary Tuerack. He was appointed to this CEO position in 2001 when he founded the organization. His second in command is Neil Khaund.

Neil Khaund is the President and CEO of The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS). He was appointed in 2021 and has over two decades of leadership experience in the NSLS.

Other critical leadership members include Asia Wellington, the organization’s chief people officer. Asia joined NSLS to make a difference, and She was previously responsible for directing organizational learning and talent development efforts at a major health system before joining the NSLS.

The final critical core staff member of NSLS is Tierney Wade. Tierney Wade is The National Society of Leadership and Success vice president. She is accountable for bridging the divide between the company’s ambitious ambitions and operational efficiency in her job. 

Tierney has spent the last 15 years assisting firms in the education market by bringing business concepts to life, with the last 11 being at NSLS.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : Gary Tuerack has been NSLS’s CEO since the organization's inception in 2001. Image source:
Gary Tuerack has been NSLS’s CEO since the organization’s inception in 2001. Image source:

NSLS has approximately 8,700 employees in North America, according to its LinkedIn profile. This excludes the millions of people who serve as the direct selling company’s Members. 

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS has approximately 1,578 employees. Image source: LinkedIn
NSLS has approximately 1,578 employees. Image source: LinkedIn

Is NSLS a Pyramid Scheme?

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : The NSLS members are classified as Unpaid Interns, yet they work close to 40 hours a week. Source:
The NSLS members are classified as Unpaid Interns, yet they work close to 40 hours a week. Source:

So is NSLS a pyramid scheme? Let’s check the Security and Exchange Commission’s definition of a pyramid scheme:

[a pyramid scheme is] an investment fraud in which new participants’ fees are typically used to pay money to existing participants for recruiting new members.

The SEC lists the main qualities of a pyramid scheme as:

  1. No genuine products or services are sold; 
  2. Members are promised high returns in a short period of time
  3. Members are told the business model allows them to make easy money or passive income
  4. There is no demonstrable revenue generated from retail sales
  5. Members must make a purchase to sign-up
  6. The business has a complex commission structure
  7. The business model places a high emphasis on recruiting

Why NSLS Isn’t a Pyramid Scheme?

NSLS doesn’t qualify as a pyramid scheme because it doesn’t possess some of the characteristics described above. This includes:

#1.  The Organization Offers Genuine Scholarships

NSLS offers a genuine scholarship. Every year more than $400,000 are distributed by them to thousands of students.

#2. You Cannot Make A Quick Buck With NSLS

NSLS is an educational, support/motivational organization, and nowhere do they mention earning quick money from them, which is a corner store for all pyramid schemes.

#3. They don’t Pay You. 

NSLS informs potential recruits that they cannot earn money under its business model. However, they provide scholarships and products discount on various companies for you for being an NSLS member. 

#4. One Time sign-up fee. 

NSLS does not have a monthly retainer attached to their services. Instead, you just have to pay a one-time membership fee which is standard practice in many legit businesses/educational organizations.

#5. No Purchase Needed After Sign-Up.

As mentioned earlier, you must once pay the signup fee to become a member. After that, you have no monthly, quarterly, or yearly charges. You are a member for life, and you don’t have to pay for anything else. 

Why Do People Think NSLS is a Pyramid Scheme?

People believe NSLS is a pyramid scheme for the following reasons:

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS encourages you to market them to your friends. Image source: Quick
NSLS encourages you to market them to your friends. Image source: Quick

You Have To Recruit People For Them.

The pay structure of NSLS differs from that of typical multi-level marketing organizations. Instead of basic pay, the firm grants you a scholarship and product discounts for demonstrating NSLS to potential consumers.

The Company Targets Young and Vulnerable. 

NSLS targets high school graduates for recruits. Such people fall for the company’s business model because they are unfamiliar with the working rights. As a result, they spend many months or even years with the company hoping to secure a big scholarship.

How Much Money in Scholarship Can You Earn from NSLS?

One of the major challenges for people completing their education is funding. The NSLS Foundation eliminates these challenges by providing scholarships and grants to individuals committed to building a better world.

NSLS claims that the NSLS Foundation awards over $400,000 each year to NSLS members through educational scholarships. As a member, you can apply for the following awards and grants:

  • Mission-Based Scholarships and Grants
  • Need-Based Scholarship and Grants
  • Stephen Covey Tribute Awards

Along with the financial scholarship, NSLS also claims to provide you with the following benefits.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : Crippling Student Debt is the primary reason underprivileged constantly fall for NSLS. Source:
Crippling Student Debt is the primary reason underprivileged constantly fall for NSLS. Source:

How to Earn NSLS Scholarship?

You can earn an NSLS scholarship by following the following steps:

  • Become an NSLS Member.
  • Join and contribute to your local chapter.
  • Get an adequate amount of signups for your chapter.
  • Receive a letter of recommendation from your chapter leader.
  • Apply and wait for the result announcement.
Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS members hoping to receive scholarship demonstrations. Source: Unsplash
NSLS members hoping to receive scholarship demonstrations. Source: Unsplash

3 Key Advantages of Becoming an NSLS Member.

Pro #1. College Scholarship

NSLS differs from other multi-level marketing organizations in that there is no monthly, quarterly, or yearly fee. All you have to do is pay a one-time membership fee. Furthermore, after you begin working for the organization, they will assist you in various ways. 

Among this support, the biggest standout feature is the ability to earn a partial to a full-ride college scholarship. With the help of NSLS, any underprivileged kid can dream of earning an education in some of the leading country’s educational institutes and that too without crippling debt.

Pro #2. Free Networking & Skills Training

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS offers free training for new recruits. Source: NSLS
NSLS offers free training for new recruits. Source: NSLS

New recruits are given free training by NSLS. This implies you can acquire some useful skills for free.

I should emphasize that this training is rather minimal. It usually consists of reviewing NSLS propositions and developing a brief pitch to offer to your friends and family. This strategy is simple, but it is also quite effective in introducing young people to NSLS.

Pro #3. Discount From Various Companies

NSLS dislikes being referred to as a multi-level marketing scheme because it doesn’t sell any product; it just asks you to recruit new members. Its sole income comes from membership fees.

Many people believe just the various discounts NSLS offers you is worth it.

3 Key Disadvantages of Becoming an NSLS Member.

Con #1. You’re Encouraged to Market to Friends

NSLS requests that you recruit new members. In addition, they train you on how to market NSLS to everyone around you. Family members, friends, acquaintances, instructors, and anyone in your network are all included.

This might be humiliating at first. You might not have much choice unless you understand how to play with cold leads.

Con #2. You Aren’t Paid A Basic Salary

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS members are technically unpaid interns. Source:
NSLS members are technically unpaid interns. Source:

At NSLS, you are expected to spend time with the organization when you become a member. You are expected to work 30-40 hours minimum a week. However, there is no compulsory pay for this role. Your role at NSLS is classified as a volunteer/non-paid intern.

This effectively means you will work like an employed person close to or full time. You will be expected to sign up people for the organization and generate revenue for them, but you will not be compensated for these efforts.

Con #3. Nothing is Guaranteed

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : The final and most significant con of becoming an NSLS member is that nothing is guaranteed. 
The final and most significant con of becoming an NSLS member is that nothing is guaranteed. 

Yes, you have a chance to get partial or full scholarships. 

Yes, they offer discounts on various companies’ products. And you have great networking opportunities that can potentially help your career. 

There is a chance. But, that ain’t no guarantee. 

Major NSLS Controversy.

NSLS has faced quite a few controversies since it was founded. This includes the following major ones they have gone through, which we have mentioned below:

  1. Deceptive recruitment techniques
  2. Frustrated/Annoyed Students Hit Piece

#1. Deceptive Recruitment Techniques Lawsuit

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS was featured in a hit piece by The Guardsman for deceptive recruitment practices. Source: The Guardsman
NSLS was featured in a hit piece by The Guardsman for deceptive recruitment practices. Source: The Guardsman

The Guardsman is a bi-weekly student newspaper. It was founded in 1935 by the City College of San Francisco. Although a mere student paper, this paper holds a lot of value in the eyes of students who are the main target of NSLS.

They wrote a hit piece in 2020 in which they called NSLS out for deceptive recruitment practices. 

They criticized them for false advertising; consequently, many students started to believe that NSLS was a pyramid scheme.

#2. Frustrated/Annoyed Students Hit Piece

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS was once again mentioned in a hit piece criticizing Honor Societies in 2022. Source: The Daily Nebraskan
NSLS was once again mentioned in a hit piece criticizing Honor Societies in 2022. Source: The Daily Nebraskan

The Daily Nebraskan is the University of Nebraska–Lincoln student newspaper. And just like the first brush with the bad press in 2022, NSLS suffered a similar scenario where they were mentioned among Honor Society scams.

Although NSLS wasn’t specifically declared a scam by the paper, being mentioned in the same breath as other scams definitely tainted their pure image. Plus, just like earlier, many potential student signups, for the time being, were put off by this report.

However, last time I check, NSLS still has over 1.6 million members as of 2022.

Final Thoughts

NSLS is unmistakably distinct from other multi-level promotional campaigns. They do not need you to pay a monthly, quarterly, or yearly membership fee as others do. 

However, they place a premium on your ability to acquire new members. These distinctions, however, may not always make it a suitable choice for many people.

I worked as an NSLS member for four months and helped many people join the organization. This number may appear to be reasonable for a recent high school graduate with no prior employment experience. However, these lessons did not lead to a college scholarship, and I also did not learn anything useful.

In actuality, even if I had worked in any other sales position, my earnings would have been approximately $4,000. That works out to around $250 per week for about 30 hours of weekly labor. Even minimum wage would have earned me something rather than the nothing I got from NSLS.

I definitely improved my sales pitching skills over time. However, I still found selling the company’s hazy benefits challenging. When nothing is assured, their benefits do not appear tempting. Hence, to conclude, if you decide to join the NSLS team, you should expect an uphill battle.

Is Nsls A Pyramid Scheme : NSLS is an exploitative honors society, but it is not a Pyramid Scheme. Source:
NSLS is an exploitative honors society, but it is not a Pyramid Scheme. Source:

Who Would NSLS Be a Good Fit For?

I feel NSLS may be an excellent fit for someone who wants to master the art of selling but has yet to find a job with a credible organization behind them. NSLS can teach you a basic sales presentation, how to network, and how to improve your communication skills, but you are free to dress it up with some rewriting.

You can absolutely put your sales skills to the test with NSLS. Just don’t expect to recieve a scholarship or their other benefits straight away. Although NSLS is not a pyramid scam, its business strategy is largely unrewarding for most of its volunteer members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does NSLS Offer a Discount on Various Products?

When you accept your membership nomination, you receive various NSLS-exclusive benefits to propel your personal and professional life forward.

Our members receive gifts and discounts at over 1,000 companies, saving them hundreds of dollars each year.

Can You Lose Money as an NSLS Member?

You aren’t likely to lose money as an NSLS member. This is because you aren’t required to pay a recurring sign-up fee. The only sales costs you need to bear are your one-time membership fee of $95.

Do NSLS Membership last forever?

NSLS members pay a one-time fee of $95 when applying to join the organization. The fee includes all membership benefits and partner discounts. Membership does not expire or need renewal.


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Our Editor-in-Cheif works as a strategist at a Fortune 500 financial institution. He brings depth into our content with 10+ years of experience in managing businesses and evaluating deals. He loves the combination of boring business concepts and interesting pop culture snippets. This site is run by a team from major financial hubs in New York, Hong Kong, and London. Find out more about us.

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