For high school students with a passion for technology and programming, coding challenges offer an exciting and intellectually stimulating way to put their skills to the test, learn new concepts, and prepare for future academic pursuits in the tech world.
Below, we’ve put together a list of ten fantastic coding challenges tailored specifically for high school students. These challenges are not only fun and rewarding but also provide a valuable opportunity to expand your coding knowledge, enhance problem-solving abilities, and gain a competitive edge in a technology-driven future. Plus, excelling in these challenges can significantly bolster your college applications, showcasing your commitment to computer science and your ability to tackle complex problems, ultimately setting you apart in the highly competitive college admissions process. Whether you're a coding enthusiast or a beginner looking to explore the world of programming, this list has something for everyone.
Prize: Medals and the opportunity to advance to the next competition level
Challenge Dates: First competition happens in mid-December
Registration Deadline: Rolling (make an account through their website to participate)
Eligibility: High School Student
Difficulty Level: Very difficult (5 out of 7398 made it to the platinum round and scored full points)
The USA Computing Olympiad (USACO) is a highly prestigious and competitive programming competition designed to identify and nurture the top coding talents among high school students in the United States. The format of USACO consists of multiple rounds, each increasing in complexity. It begins with the "Bronze" division, which introduces participants to fundamental coding problems, and progresses to the "Silver" and "Gold" divisions, which present more challenging algorithmic and problem-solving tasks. The highest tier, the "Platinum" division, is reserved for the most exceptional young programmers, tackling advanced problems that rival collegiate-level challenges. The competition is renowned for its focus on algorithms, data structures, and creative problem-solving, and it draws on a wide range of real-world scenarios.
The competition narrows down from thousands of initial participants to a smaller, elite group of high-performing students. The selection process is highly competitive, with only a fraction of participants making it to the highest Platinum division. USACO has served as a launchpad for talented young programmers, helping them gain recognition and access to elite educational and career opportunities.
We have covered this opportunity in detail here.
Location: Virtual but if selected as a Top Team, you will be invited to the culminating event at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Prize: Invitation to the culminating event at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
Challenge Dates: Deadline of December 13
Registration Deadline: September 27
Eligibility: Teams may be a middle school team or a high school team. The minimum team size is 5 students and 1 Lead Teacher. There is no maximum team size. Teams must be led by a sponsor or educator (i.e., Lead Teacher) from an informal or formal U.S. education organization.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
The NASA App Development Challenge is a remarkable and highly engaging competition that invites participants to create innovative mobile applications utilizing NASA's extensive resources and data. This challenge serves as a means for NASA to harness the creativity and expertise of the wider tech community while also offering a platform for individuals and teams to showcase their programming skills and ingenuity. Participants are tasked with designing apps that address real-world problems or promote space exploration and scientific discovery. The format of the challenge typically involves several rounds of submission and evaluation, culminating in the selection of winning applications. The focus lies on creativity, functionality, and the effective use of NASA's data, making it a thrilling opportunity for developers to contribute to space science and technology.
In terms of selectivity, the NASA App Development Challenge typically attracts a diverse group of participants, including students, software developers, and tech enthusiasts from around the world. The competition encourages innovation and creativity, making it accessible to both experienced developers and those new to app development. The selection process often involves rigorous evaluation by a panel of experts who assess the functionality, utility, and originality of the submitted apps. Be sure to read through the ADC handbook for full details.
Prize: 10 Awards are available. Winning teams receive an invitation to visit a NASA center or facility for a special Space Apps Winners Trip.
Challenge Dates: October 7 at 9 AM - October 8 at 11:59 PM
Registration Deadline: July
Eligibility: Everyone is eligible to participate
Difficulty Level: Very difficult (Over 220k registrants for 10 prizes)
The NASA International Space Apps Competition is a global innovation challenge that encourages problem solvers and creative thinkers from all walks of life to collaborate and address challenges related to space exploration and Earth science. This annual event, organized by NASA, invites participants worldwide to work together on a variety of space-related projects, from developing software applications to designing hardware solutions. The competition's format typically spans a weekend, during which participants form teams and tackle specific challenges posed by NASA and its partners. These challenges encompass a wide range of topics, including space technology, Earth science, and space exploration, offering a diverse array of opportunities for participants to showcase their skills and creativity.
In terms of selectivity, the NASA International Space Apps Competition is known for its inclusivity, welcoming participants with a broad spectrum of backgrounds and skill levels. It is designed to engage a diverse community of problem solvers, including students, engineers, designers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. The competition is open to anyone interested in space exploration and technology, making it accessible to both seasoned experts and those new to the field. While the competition is not known for extreme selectivity in terms of participation, it's extremely difficult for teams to win. The teams that excel in developing innovative and impactful solutions have the chance to win accolades and recognition from NASA and its partners, showcasing their problem-solving abilities on a global stage.
Prize: Various prizes including digital certificates and t-shirts; Finalists have the opportunity to visit Google headquarters
Challenge Dates: Varies
Registration Deadline: N/A
Eligibility: Students aged 13-17
Difficulty Level: Fair
Google Code-In is an open-source development competition tailored for young, aspiring coders and students between the ages of 13 and 17. Organized by Google, this annual event offers an opportunity for participants to engage with and contribute to various open-source organizations and projects. The competition typically spans a couple of months and provides a diverse array of tasks, including coding, documentation, design, quality assurance, and more. Participants select tasks that align with their skills and interests, and they work with experienced mentors from the open-source community to complete these tasks. Google Code-In focuses on fostering collaboration, community engagement, and the development of essential coding skills, while also nurturing a new generation of open-source contributors.
In terms of selectivity, Google Code-In is structured to be inclusive, aiming to provide opportunities for young students to become acquainted with the world of open source. It is relatively accessible to participants with varying levels of programming experience, from beginners to more advanced coders. While it may not be highly selective in terms of participation, those who excel in completing tasks and demonstrating their commitment to open source have the chance to earn various prizes, including certificates, swag, and the opportunity to become finalists and visit Google's headquarters.
Cost: $5000 team registration free
Prize: Various cash and scholarship prizes
Challenge Dates: Early January to April
Registration Deadline: December
Eligibility: 2-15 membranes (ages 12-18)
Difficulty Level: Difficult
The FIRST Robotics Challenge, often referred to as FRC, is a prestigious international competition that combines the excitement of sports with the rigor of science and technology. Founded by Dean Kamen, this annual competition brings together high school students and mentors to design, build, and compete with large-scale robots. Each year, FRC announces a new challenge with specific game objectives that the participating teams must solve by designing and constructing a unique robot. The competition format typically spans a six-week build season, during which teams collaborate to create their robots, followed by regional, national, and international events where the robots are put to the test in thrilling head-to-head matches.
In terms of selectivity, FRC is renowned for being inclusive and welcoming to students from a wide range of backgrounds, experience levels, and abilities. Teams come from diverse communities and educational settings, including schools, community organizations, and even homeschooled groups. While the competition encourages collaboration and learning, it is not typically considered highly selective in terms of team participation. However, the selectivity comes into play in terms of how well a team performs during the competitive events. Winning awards and recognition in regional and national competitions can be quite competitive and a testament to the dedication and skills of participating teams.
6. HPE CodeWars
Location: TBA but also can be completed virtually
Prize: There is a prize pool for raffle winners along with an award.
Challenge Dates: March 2nd
Registration Deadline: Rolling
Eligibility: Students between the ages of 13 through 18. Teams of the size of 2 to 3 people and an adult sponsor. Sponsors can be sponsors to a max of three teams.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
HPE CodeWars is a highly competitive and engaging annual coding competition that draws the participation of high school students from across the United States. Organized by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), this event is designed to challenge and stimulate young minds in the field of computer science and programming. HPE CodeWars typically spans a full day and involves a series of coding challenges that participants must tackle individually or in teams. These challenges range in complexity, covering a wide spectrum of topics, from algorithms and data structures to software development and debugging. The competition not only fosters an environment of healthy competition but also encourages collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving, crucial skills for success in the tech industry.
In terms of selectivity, HPE CodeWars is open to a wide range of high school students interested in coding, from those with little to no prior experience to those with advanced programming skills. While the competition features challenging problems, it is inclusive, catering to participants with varying backgrounds and skill levels. Teams and individuals compete at different levels based on their expertise, and prizes are awarded to top performers.
Location: Stanford’s campus
Prize: Variety of Prizes offered, TBA. Previous years have included Raspberry Pis, Nintendo 3DSes, and Ipad minis.
Challenge Dates: Mid-April
Registration Deadline: March
Eligibility: High School Students in the Bay Area, teams of max three people
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Stanford ACM's ProCo competition for high school students is an exceptional opportunity for young coding enthusiasts to test their problem-solving and programming skills in a challenging and intellectually stimulating environment. The format of ProCo typically involves a series of coding problems and challenges that participants must tackle within a specified time frame. High school students, either as individuals or in teams, can participate in this competition, giving them a chance to work collaboratively and demonstrate their coding skills. The problems presented in ProCo span various computer science domains, covering topics like algorithms, data structures, and software development. This competition not only provides a platform for high school students to apply their coding knowledge but also encourages the development of critical thinking and innovation as they seek creative solutions to complex problems.
Winning ProCo as a high school participant is a significant achievement and can serve as a testament to one's coding skills and problem-solving abilities. The selectivity underscores the competition's importance in providing a platform for talented young coders to showcase their abilities and engage with like-minded peers in a supportive and competitive atmosphere.
Challenge Dates: June
Registration Deadline: December
Eligibility: Grades 7-12
Difficulty Level: Fair
The Technology Student Association (TSA) Coding Competitions are highly regarded events that offer middle and high school students the opportunity to showcase their coding skills and problem-solving capabilities. The format of these competitions is designed to challenge and engage young technologists in a variety of coding tasks. Participants typically face a series of coding problems that encompass a range of programming languages and topics, from algorithms and data structures to software development and application design. These challenges are structured to encourage creativity, innovation, and analytical thinking, making them ideal for students interested in pursuing careers in technology, computer science, and related fields.
The competitions usually culminate in a final round where top-performing individuals or teams are recognized and awarded. By engaging in TSA's Coding Competitions, students gain hands-on experience in coding, problem-solving, and critical thinking, building essential skills that are highly relevant in the ever-evolving world of technology and computer science.
Cost: Must be an elementary, middle, or high school student. Please check if your school has registered for the competition.
Prize: Certificates and cash prizes
Challenge Dates: Multiple rounds with the first round ending March 15
Registration Deadline: December 31
Eligibility: Must be an elementary, middle, or high school student. Please check if your school has registered for the competition.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
The American Computer Science League (ACSL) is a renowned organization that conducts an array of computer science and programming competitions for students at various levels, from elementary school to high school. The ACSL competitions feature a format that challenges participants with a series of problems that span a broad range of topics in computer science, including algorithms, data structures, and software development. These problems are designed to stimulate critical thinking, creativity, and logical reasoning, and participants can submit their solutions individually or as part of a team. ACSL competitions occur multiple times throughout the year, and participants have the flexibility to choose the contests that align with their interests and skill levels. The format is structured to provide students with an engaging and educational experience that not only helps them develop strong coding skills but also prepares them for potential careers in computer science and technology.
In terms of selectivity, ACSL is generally open to a wide range of students interested in computer science and programming.
Location: MIT’s campus
Prize: Various (First place winners have a choice of Nintendo Switch Lite, Apple Watch SE or AirPods Pro 2)
Challenge Dates: One weekend in September
Registration Deadline: July 28
Eligibility: High School Students
Difficulty Level: Moderate
HackMIT Blueprint is an innovative and engaging hackathon-style competition hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This annual event presents a unique format that challenges participants to devise creative, practical solutions to real-world problems. Hackers at Blueprint often collaborate in small teams to design software applications, hardware solutions, or innovative technological projects over the course of a single weekend. The competition is designed to foster an environment of rapid innovation and problem-solving, encouraging participants to bring their coding, design, and engineering skills to the forefront. The format of Blueprint reflects MIT's ethos of pushing the boundaries of technology and innovation, and it offers hackers a dynamic platform to bring their ideas to life.
In terms of selectivity, HackMIT Blueprint is known for its high level of competition and selectivity. The competition typically attracts a diverse pool of participants from all over the world, including students and individuals with a broad range of coding and technology backgrounds. Due to its reputation and the high caliber of participants, gaining entry to the event can be competitive. Blueprint organizers often evaluate applications based on participants' experience, project ideas, and demonstrated technical skills. While the competition is selective in terms of admissions, it fosters a spirit of collaboration and learning, allowing participants to showcase their talents and innovate alongside like-minded individuals who share a passion for technology and creativity.
Bonus - A research program for high schoolers in AI
The Veritas AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here.
The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience.
$1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program
$4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship
$4,700 for both
Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here.
Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023.
Program dates: Various according to the cohort
Program selectivity: Moderately selective
Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.
Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest.
One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you would like to dive further into computer science, you should also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Jessica attends Harvard University where she studies Neuroscience and Computer Science as a Coca-Cola, Elks, and Albert Shankar Scholar. She is passionate about educational equity and hopes to one day combine this with her academic interests via social entrepreneurship. Outside of academics, she enjoys taking walks, listening to music, and running her jewelry business!
Image Source: USACO logo