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10 Great Debate Competitions for High School Students

Entering and competing in debate competitions before college can be a game-changer for your future. First off, debates help you become a better communicator and more persuasive, which is a big plus when colleges are looking at your application.

Debating skills not only get you in the door but will also aid you both in your college classes, and socially when networking for a future career.

Debate also teaches you how to research and analyze information efficiently, an extremely useful tool for university coursework and class readings. Debate is also a great way to learn how to work in a team and cooperate with others.

Besides academics, learning how to speak publicly will enhance your confidence when interacting with peers and professors, which is a huge advantage for college interviews and meeting new people. Entering debate competitions prior to attending university is a step you can take that will teach you to make strong, evidence-based arguments, while improving your goal of a higher education and setting you on a path to ace college and whatever comes next.

In this blog, we have covered 10 of the most popular debate competitions open to high school students.

The American Debate League was founded in 2014 with the goal of providing young people the opportunity to develop their speaking and literacy skills through debate training and competitions. The league itself hosts many national Speech & Debate Tournaments, where students register with their schools through this link. For high school students, however, the League hosts competitions in both the fall and winter. For both competitions, students will be expected to perform to the best of their abilities, and are tested on their public speaking, debate, and persuasive writing skills as they compete against other students virtually.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Graders

Registration: Fall Classic closes October 21st. Winter Classic closes December 9th.

Participation costs: No entry fees

Tournament Dates & Location: December 9th, Virtual

Part of what sets the World Schools Debating Championships apart from the others on this list is its global participation. More than 70 national teams compete annually in debate topics that range from international relations to economics and sports. As a participant, you will be competing against other students from around the world, and expected to have your own debate coach prior to the competition. The championship takes place each year in a different country and this year, the 36th annual World Schools Debating Championships will be held in Vietnam- allowing you the opportunity to travel to an amazing and beautiful country to compete. However, there is a competition fee of $330 that will cover all transportation, meals, and housing for the duration of the tournament.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: January 5 2023, to March 1 2023

Participation costs: $235 registration fee and $330 competition fee

Tournament Dates & Location: 18th July to 28th July 2023, in Vietnam

The National Speech and Debate Tournament, founded in 1931, is the largest academic competition in the world where students debate current events, voice their views, and share their stories. Registered students are required to compete in preliminary rounds in their respective events before being selected for the finals and only 2-7 finalists move forward with the national debate competition. After competing in rigorous qualifying tournaments, and debating in five days of prestigious national competition, the best of the best will be crowned champions in front of a live audience of thousands and tens of thousands more streaming the events online. Each year, the National Speech & Debate Tournament travels to a different major city across the United States, with the 2024 competition being hosted in Des Moines Iowa in June.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: March 15th to May 15th 2023

Participation costs: Entry fees are $110 per student. Partner events are $220

Tournament Dates & Location: June 11th-16th, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa

The Harvard National High School Invitational Forensics Tournament, held in Cambridge Massachusetts, is the largest and most prestigious high school speech and debate tournament in the country. As a participant, you will be given the opportunity to travel to the oldest campus in America and compete in Policy Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Public Forum Debate, Student Congress, and a variety of individual and duo speech events. Held every President’s Day Weekend (this year it will be February 17-19, 2024), 2024 will be the organization’s 132nd year, as it was founded in 1892. As a participant of Harvard’s National High School Invitational, you will not only visit Harvard’s famous and historic campus, but also be able to add this prestigious name to compliment your college applications.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: December 1st 2023 to February 9th 2024.

Participation costs: $100 entry fee

Tournament Dates & Location: February 17-19, 2024 at Harvard University, Massachusetts.

The Cosmos Championship is an international and virtual debating platform for high school students of all skill levels. Almost every week, Cosmos hosts several championship debate competitions (in an effort to accommodate all the regions of the world). Meaning, they offer you a weekly opportunity to improve your speech and debate skills. Cosmos offers two league classifications: The Intercontinental League and The International League. Along with two age groups who can participate in the competition: The Junior Age Group (13 years old to 15 years old) and The Senior Age Group (16 years old to 19 years old). As of 2023, The Cosmos Championship has had over 11,400 registrations from over 126 countries.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: N/A (year-round registration).

Participation costs: No Fee

Tournament Dates & Location: Virtual, year-round.

The World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championship is an annual international English language debating and public speaking tournament for individual high school-level students from all over the world. Participating countries/regions include Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, England, South Africa, Lithuania, Pakistan, Cyprus, Argentina, Botswana, Israel, India, South Korea, Zimbabwe, Germany, and more. Within the championship, there are four different debate categories: Debate, Impromptu Speaking, Persuasive or After Dinner Speaking and Interpretive Reading. As a participant, you will register for all categories, and will be marked for individual performance throughout the championship.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: Dates vary from region to region

Participation costs: No information is available, but you can expect a small registration fee

Tournament Dates & Location: March 26 – April 2, 2023, Virtually

The JW Patterson Tournament of Champions currently holds competitions in Policy debate, Lincoln–Douglas debate, Public Forum debate, Congressional Debate, Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, Informative Speaking, Dramatic Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Oral Interpretation, and Program Oral Interpretation. Something unique about the Tournament of Champions, hosted and operated annually at the University of Kentucky, is that this competition uses a bid system, in which placing high enough in nationally or regionally respected tournaments will earn you (the debater) a bid. There is, however, a requirement of two bids to compete.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: March 11th, 2024

Participation costs: $75 Registration Fee as well as individual fees for each entry.

Tournament Dates & Location: April 20–22, 2024, Lexington, KY

This competition would be a great choice for students living in, or around, California. Many speech and debate tournaments are either held on the east coast, or even internationally, but this competition is perfect for any west coast high school students. Participating in this tournament will also offer you a valuable opportunity to develop your communication abilities, critical thinking, and self-confidence. It also fosters connections with peers who share a passion for public speaking. Making this tournament an enriching experience that not only enhances academic and personal growth but also offers a platform for you to express yourselves, exchange ideas, and build lifelong skills that will serve you well in both your academic and professional future.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: March 31st, 2023

Participation costs: $150 registration fee

Tournament Dates & Location: April 21st to April 23rd in Carlsbad, CA

The NYU Clash of Scholars debate competition, an event that annually gathers some of the brightest minds in academia, is another great virtual opportunity for you to hone your speech and debate skills. In order to compete in this online tournament, you or your school must create an account and register through Tabroom- a popular and accredited speech and debate competition website that will host the Clash of Scholars. NYU’s Clash of Scholars is a very prestigious competition, as NYU itself boasts one of the largest speech and debate teams in the country, so be sure to register sooner rather than later.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: July 13th to August 10th

Participation costs: $100 per team entry fee

Tournament Dates & Location: August 11-13, 2023 Virtually

Each year, Yale University hosts four speech and debate tournaments: One tournament in the British Parliamentary Style (BP), one in the American Parliamentary Debate Association format (APDA), a free tournament exclusively for CT high schoolers in the Parliamentary Style, and a national circuit tournament, the Yale Invitational (called the High School Tournament by the team). The Yale Invitational is a national-circuit high school tournament offering various debate and speech formats. As a participant, you will be able to visit and compete on Yale’s historic New Haven campus, while also adding this prestigious name to your college applications.

Eligibility: 9th-12th Grades

Registration: August 2nd to September 20th

Participation costs: $163 Registration Fee

Tournament Dates & Location: September 29th to October 1st 2023, New Haven, CT.

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If writing persuasive debate speeches and honing your writing skills interests you, you could 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.

Mandy Brenner is a current junior at Harvard University. She is concentrating in History and Literature and loves to read and write in her free time.



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