Are you passionate about chemistry? Then you should read this blog because we outline some of the top chemistry competitions for high school students.
Why compete in a chemistry competition?
One of the best ways to showcase your abilities is to compete against other people interested in the same field. If you’re able to win, this has a high signal for you in the college admission process. It’s also a great way for you to go deeper into an area of your own interest and learn!
How prestigious is winning a competition? Does it help in college applications?
Depending on the competition, winning can be a very significant extracurricular boost. Usually winning a competition falls under the academic achievement or awards section of an application. If you’re looking to study chemistry in college, showcasing your knowledge through a competition can help you stand out against other chemistry applicants. ,
We've compiled a list of 10 competitions perfect for any chemistry enthusiast, ranging from fellowships to olympiads at the national and international levels to innovation challenges.
10 High School Chemistry Competitions
USNCO is considered one of the most prestigious chemistry competitions in the US. It invites 1000+ students every year and assesses students on their knowledge of broad chemistry topics, chemical theories, and models, as well as students' problem-solving skills in the lab.
The competition is spread across 4 tiers, with students first appearing for local/regional-level rounds, and moving up to the National Level, as well as the International Level. Before the latter, the top 20 finalists from the National Round are invited to Study Camp, where finalists are prepared and tested, right before representing the country at an international level at the International Chemistry Olympiad, or IChO.
Tip: Here are a few excellent resources to help you prep for your Olympiad, school exams, or even entrance tests for college!
March 1-31 Local Exam
April 15-23 National Exam
June 4-17 Study Camp
July 16-25 International Chemistry Olympiad
Application Deadline: Vary from state to state, applications usually close by March end.
Location: Vary for every local event
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $300, recognition, and awards
Eligibility: Open to all US-based high-school students
Organized by StemCo, ChemiCo is an Olympiad-style competition open to high school students from all over the world and tests them based on basic concepts from your general secondary school chemistry syllabus.
This includes topics such as stoichiometry calculations, the chemistry of reactions, the periodic table, atomic structure, chemical bonding, and experimental chemistry.
The competition is held in the following languages - English, Russian, French, Portuguese, and Romanian, and has seen entries from 5,000 + from over 40 countries so far.
Tip: You can check out sample questions that will help you prepare for the competition as well as school tests!
Dates: 19-28 February
Submission Deadline: 28 February 2023
Prizes: Cash prizes, certificates, awards
Eligibility: Open to all high school students
Hosted by the Chemical Educational Foundation, You Be The Chemist challenges you on your knowledge of basic concepts in chemistry, as well as lab and reasoning skills. You first compete, in a team of 3-4 students, for a virtual Regional Challenge, that includes timed MCQs and short-answer questions.
You are also expected to create a video essay based on each year's theme. If selected for the state and national finals, you will compete with teams from other states for scholarships, interact with scholars and industry leaders, and build on your passion for chemistry.
Dates: The National Challenge will take place on June 13, 2023, deadline for the video submission is on March 6, 2023
Application Deadline: January 31, 2023
Location: The National Challenge will take place in Houston, TX. Regional and state-wise locations may vary. There is also a virtual participation option.
Prizes: Scholarships and awards
Eligibility: All high school students based in the USA are eligible for this challenge
A challenge aimed at fostering innovation in the field of sustainable chemistry, ISC3 hosts its annual innovation challenge, open to all high school students. As part of the challenge, you are to develop a solution to problems the agricultural industry faces, with the help of concepts in chemistry.
You will be asked to submit your entry in two stages - the first must include an online template that asks for a brief description of the innovation, the business perspectives, and the team itself.
Once shortlisted for the second stage, you will be asked to provide more details about each of the above aspects. You must focus on the following subtopics in the sphere of agriculture (you can find a complete list here) -
Dates: April 3 - September 2023
Application Deadline: April 3, 2023
Prizes: Cash prizes of 15,000 EUR, awards, support, as well as visibility for your innovation across ISC3 channels.
Eligibility: All high school students can participate
Organized since 1991, the National Science Bowl is a coveted, highly competitive competition that aims to encourage students to excel in math and science. The Bowl sees 1000+ students participate every year, and tests students on their knowledge of chemistry, energy, Earth science, physics, biology, and math.
For the sections on chemistry, you are advised to refer to sample questions from past years, as well as prescribed textbooks - Chemistry, by Steven S. Zumdahl, and Organic Chemistry as a Second Language by Klein (see more tips here).
To participate, you must participate in regional rounds, which you can look for here. In teams of 4-5 students, you must be the regional winner to be invited to the Science Bowl Finals in Washington D.C.
Dates: Regional Events dates may vary, National Finals are held from April 27 - May 1, 2023.
Application Deadline: Registrations close 3 weeks before the date of the regional event.
Location: Varies from state to state, finals are held in Washington D.C.
Prizes: Cash prizes, scholarships
Eligibility: All high school students can participate
A program that looks for the brightest minds in STEM to support and guide, the Davidson Institute hosts its annual Fellows program for high-achieving students. Winning teams are awarded prizes of up to $50,000 to support future research work or academic advancement. To apply for the Fellows Program, you must submit original work that covers any of the following criteria -
an exceptionally creative application of existing knowledge
a new idea with high impact
an innovative solution with broad-range implications
an important advancement that can be replicated and built upon
an interdisciplinary discovery
a prodigious performance
another demonstration of extraordinary accomplishment
You must enter in teams of not more than 2 students, and submit work that is at, or close to, college graduate level in terms of depth, understanding of the subject, and quality of presentation.
Past projects have included innovations like developing a promising therapeutic option for highly aggressive cancers and a way to amplify existing chemotherapies.
Submission Deadline: February 15, 2023
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $50,000, the title of a 'Davidson Fellow'.
Eligibility: All high school students under the age of 18, who reside in the US can apply
Tip: The program invites applications across various subjects, you can check out guidelines for Science submissions here.
ISEF is the world's biggest pre-college STEM competition. It invites entries from thousands of high-school students every year. To participate at Regeneron ISEF, you first must participate in a local or regional-level fair, and based on your performance, will then be shortlisted for the ISEF program that calls finalists from all over the country to present their innovations, research, etc. in a hybrid format. ISEF is extremely competitive, with a 2-5% acceptance rate at qualifying fairs.
You participate by presenting original research work that has been going on for no longer than 12 months - be it in the fields of organic, inorganic, material science, etc. Some subcategories you can present your research in Chemistry for include analytical chemistry, computational chemistry, environmental chemistry, inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry.
Working on chemistry-related research projects, and being a shortlisted finalist to present at ISEF is a prestigious opportunity. The ISEF also provides a great way for you to build a network with like-minded, passionate young students such as yourself.
We’ve covered everything you need to know about ISEF in this guide!
Dates: Local and regional events take place throughout the year but usually conclude by April. The ISEF Fair will take place from May 13-19, 2023.
Application Deadline: Varies from state to state
Location: Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center - Dallas, Texas
Prizes: Special Awards such as tuition scholarships, summer internships, and scientific trips, as well as cash prizes of up to $75,000
Eligibility: All high-school students with a strong passion for research in science, math, and engineering can apply
If you've carried out independent scientific research and are looking for a platform that helps you develop your research, presentation, and analytical skills, you should consider applying for the Regeneron STS, one of the country's most prestigious science competitions. One note is that this is for seniors and so would not be a competition for your to explore if you’re trying to build a profile for college (it would come after getting in!)
STS receives nearly 1900+ applications each year and shortlists about 40 of them to the STS Final in Washington D.C. for a public presentation. Getting shortlisted for this presentation is nothing short of public recognition of your potential when it comes to research in chemistry, and is an excellent addition to your resume.
If you're passionate about a career in research in the field of chemistry, STS is an excellent opportunity for you - winners receive support and sponsorship for future research in chemistry.
We've covered everything you need to know about Regeneron STS in this guide!
Dates: June 1 - March 14, 2023
Application Deadline: November 9, 2022
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $250,000, and all finalists are awarded a trip to Washington D.C., and are taken on scientific field trips, mentorship sessions, and more as part of their prep program.
Eligibility: All US-based high school seniors can apply
The ExploraVision challenge is hosted by Toshiba/NSTA and invites high school students to work on real-world problem-solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision has seen entries from over 450,000 students from across the US since its first edition in 1992.
As part of the challenge, you are expected, in a team of 2-4 students, to pick a current technology, conduct research on how it can be improved, and present your thoughts on how it might look in 10 years.
You can draw from your knowledge of chemistry, tech, physics, and AI, to name a few, and present, along with your idea of tech in 10 years, its development steps, pros & cons, and obstacles.
Tip: Here are a few examples of past projects that you can take a look at!
Submission Deadline: January 31, 2023
Prizes: Winners receive -
Up to $240,000 in savings bonds
An expense-paid trip to Washington, DC in June for
ExploraVision Awards Weekend for each national winning
Students and their parents/guardians
A technology/science-related gift
Eligibility: Open to all high school students studying in the US and Canada.
Participating in Chemistry competitions is an excellent way to hone your skills, network with industry leaders and like-minded students, as well as refine your research aptitude, right before college! We have also compiled other competitions in biology, computer science, and economics!
If you can’t decide whether you want to pursue entrepreneurship or pure chemistry, this innovation challenge lets you use your skills from both fields!
The CONRAD Spirit of Innovation Challenge invites students from across the globe to look for complex global issues and solve them using innovative, holistic solutions.
You can choose to work in any of the following spheres for 3 competition rounds -
Aerospace & Aviation,
Cyber-Technology & Security,
Energy & Environment,
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World,
Health & Nutrition, and
Oceans: The Plastic Problem.
This is a great way to come up with a product-oriented solution which involves chemistry and also test how you’d create a business around it.
You are exposed to a community of thousands of budding entrepreneurs, researchers, and innovators from all around the world, and are provided with the opportunity to hone your business analysis, presentation, design thinking, and ideating skills.
Along with these skills, you also hone your ability to think scientifically, approach a problem using a robust scientific method, and come up with actionable solutions firmly rooted in chemistry concepts that you've learned on the way. The competition has seen some of the most innovative solutions to issues like cybertech, aerospace, energy, and the environment!
Here’s a winner from the 2020 Conrad Challenge - Nexkap aimed to repurpose tobacco, the kind found in cigarettes, into a product that would cure ailments. The team then created an anti-inflammatory, plant-based skin cream utilizing tobacco seed oil as the primary active ingredient,that can treat basic skin ailments such as eczema, sunburns and acne.
You can read more about Nexkap here!
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research in chemistry, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Also check out the Lumiere Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.