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Answers to the following questions designed to help parents understand what model UN is, what your son or daughter is doing, and how model UN is beneficial.

Model United Nations can be complicated and confusing, especially for parents of high school students who may not get the “best” answers from their sons or daughters. Add in a mess of Model United Nations specific jargon, and parents may underestimate the educational power that Model United Nations can have. The goal of this guide is to help parents better understand the activity known as Model United Nations.

What exactly is Model UN?

Basic Explanation of Model UN:

At a MUN = Model United Nations young students step into the shoes of a diplomat for a couple of hours during the conference.

The core idea is to simulate the debates of real United Nations bodies, like the Security Council.

In the role of "delegates“ you will get the chance to debate current political issues and social problems according to the rules of a real UN debate. During the MUN, the participants do not state their own point of views, but represent the position of a country’s government. While trying to find common ground and elaborate on possible solutions for the issue at hand, the delegates work in groups to draft a Resolution according to actual UN-Resolutions.

Through this experience, young people have the great chance to live diplomacy at first hand, develop an understanding for the dynamics within the work of the United Nations and learn how to negotiate and compromise. Model UN is a form of simulation-based education. Students are assigned different roles to interpret and role-play with other student participants. These roles can vary from pretending to represent a single country to a political figure.

When a group of students engages in this type of role-playing, it is referred to as a simulation or committee. Committees can range from 10 students to over 400 students in a single room debating an assigned topic. Examples of topics include Small Weapons and Light Arms, Nuclear Non-Proliferation, and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Students taking part in Model UN committees are referred to as delegates.

The goal of a Model UN committee is to produce a document written by the students to address the topic. These documents are referred to as Draft Resolutions.

Model UN conferences are made up of several of these breakout sessions, or committees. Committees can be simulations of UN bodies, regional inter-governmental organizations, national-level cabinets, and many more types of simulations.

When someone says they “do Model UN,” they could be referring to a number of different Model UN activities. They could be doing research and preparing for a Model UN committee. They could mean they are competing in a Model UN committee. They could be organizing a Model UN conference. They could be training other students and teaching them how to “do Model UN.” When you hear a student say they “do Model UN,” ask them specifically what they are working on.

How does Model UN benefit education?

Model UN has a wide range of educational benefits for students. More so than many other extra-curricular activities, Model UN strengthens 21st Century Learning Skills, educational hard skills, and emotional soft skills. While not exhaustive, I see Model UN benefiting students in the following areas.


To participate in Model UN conferences, students often have to submit a “position paper” to the conference prior to its start. A position paper outlines the research and policies a student has developed before the conference. The best position papers demonstrate understanding of the historical context, analyze current solutions, and propose new policy. During the conference, students must write “draft resolutions,” UN-styled white papers that provide guidance and solutions for the issue being discussed.


At its core, Model UN is a solutions-based debate activity. Throughout a Model UN conference, students will give speeches in front of as many as 400 people. In smaller committees, students may be in front of smaller audiences, but they will speak at a much more rapid, impromptu pace. Effective oral communication is critical in formal debate settings and unregulated lobbying periods.


The best students at Model UN develop an intuitive ability to rapidly construct and deconstruct arguments. Students must synthesize complex sets of information and develop novel solutions while debating with other students whose role-play positions may run counter to their own.


Media literacy and critical analysis are the cornerstones of Model UN research. Finding relevant, trustworthy informational sources and analyzing articles are commonplace in Model UN.


During conferences, Model UN elevates leaders by giving them a platform to demonstrate and practice team leadership. Student leaders must rally up to 30 other students to write a single document and then potentially merge their paper with another bloc. From an organizational standpoint, Model UN teams typically name ‘head delegates,’ or captains to help train and coach other students.


Model UN forces students to balance between hard line negotiating and open collaboration. Role-playing as countries gives context to debate, setting positions that students must follow regardless of personal opinions.


Model UN committees ebb and flow, jostling student emotions between elation and frustration. Bouncing back from setbacks during debate is key for success. On a larger scale, learning how to react to losing an award is equally critical for student development.


After participating in Model UN for a number of years, high school students pick up a large amount of topic-specific knowledge that will benefit their future studies, from developmental economics and micro-financing to educational policy designed to reduce racial tensions.

What are Model UN Conferences?

Model UN conferences are a group of organized breakout-style committees. Committees can be small and specialized simulations, or large and broad simulations, like the General Assembly. Conferences can be hosted by high schools, colleges or universities, or other organizations. They can be hosted on school campuses, conference hotels, and conference centers, or even online. Finally, conferences can be a few hours on one day or as long as five days with over 20 hours of debate time.

What is my Son/ Daughter actually doing at Model UN conferences?

Preparation for a Model UN conference begins weeks before the start date. Somewhere between two and eight weeks prior to the conference, students will receive their “assignments,” that is, the committee in which they will be participating and their role-play for that committee. For example, a student could be assigned to represent the United Kingdom in the United Nations Security Council with three topics: The Civil War in Yemen, Cyber-security, and the Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti.

Using the previous example, it will be the job of the student to research the United Kingdom’s policies and apply them to those topics. Over the course of the conference, they will debate with the other fourteen members of the UN Security Council (played by other students and moderated by a member of the conference staff) to pass draft resolutions on each of the assigned topics.

This process can be frustrating and exhausting. Some larger conferences have over eighteen hours of total debate time with some sessions lasting four hours at a time. Over the course of several days all of the student participants, or delegates, will be in conference rooms participating in role-play debates.

At the conclusion, many conferences will give out awards to recognize the efforts of certain delegates. Though there are no universal criteria or award names, conferences typically award one “Best Delegate,” first place, one or two “Outstanding Delegates,” second place, a number of “Honorable Delegates,” third place, and several “Verbal Commendations.” Model UN awards can be contentious and are subjective to the conference staff.

What are Model UN Awards? Why are there awards? Do they Matter?

Many Model UN conferences will give out awards to recognize multiple students per committee. There is no universal policy for choosing award winners, nor is there a universally accepted number of awards or types of awards. For these reasons, awards in Model UN have become a contentious issue. Some in the community believe conferences should stop giving out awards, as they may distract from or belittle the educational experience, while others defend awards as positive motivation for student participants.

Regardless of your opinion on Model UN awards, they can be a driving force for many students who participate in Model UN. Awards from the largest conferences in the US, such as those hosted by Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown, are seen by some students as pinnacle achievements.

Conferences typically give out the following tiers of awards: Best Delegate, represented by a gavel

Outstanding Delegate

Honorable Delegate

Verbal Commendation

Some other awards that conferences give out include Best Position Paper, Best Debater, Best Novice Delegate, Best Draft Resolution, Diplomacy Awards, and more. Some conferences choose not to give out awards. Conferences that do choose to give out individual awards will many times give out school awards to recognize performance by teams.