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10 International Olympiads for High School Students

If you are a high school student, participating in an international Olympiad in a field of your choice is a solid way to learn new skills and techniques, test your knowledge, and gain recognition. International Olympiads are highly prestigious opportunities, allowing you to build your experience, meet peers, and engage in healthy competition. Not to mention, participation and success in such competitions can boost your college applications significantly, showcasing your passion and dedication to your field.


Typically, such competitions start locally, with winners moving to regional, national, and international levels. National teams then compete at the international level, although some Olympiads may also accept individual participants.


If you wish to participate in an Olympiad in a field of your choice at an international level, take a look at the 10 best international Olympiads for high school students. Note that the locations mentioned are only for 2024 or upcoming Olympiad dates. In most cases, the host country and location change every year.


Eligibility: High school students less than 20 years old and belonging to the participating countries

Application Deadline: Applications typically close in February for participating countries. Students must win their national competitions to participate in the international olympiad.

Dates/Duration: July 11, 2024 - July 22, 2024

Cost: Free for students. The host country usually covers all costs, although students may have to pay for travel to and from the country.


The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is highly prestigious, with its origins dating back to 1959 when it was first held in Romania. Over 100 countries from 5 continents now participate in this Olympiad, each country comprising a team of 5-6 contestants. These contestants are selected through local and subsequent national competitions in each participating country.


At the final international level, each team has to solve maths exams involving 3 problems each for 2 consecutive days. The judging committee then marks the exams over the following days, providing gold, silver, and bronze rankings and medals. In addition to the exam itself, students will also get to explore the city, participate in social events, attend opening and closing ceremonies, and attend a farewell party.


Location: Isfahan, Iran

Eligibility: High school students less than 20 years old and belonging to the participating countries

Application Deadline: Not available. Students must win their national competitions to participate in the international olympiad.

Dates/Duration: July 21, 2024 - July 29, 2024

Cost: Free for students. The host country usually covers all costs, although students may have to pay for travel to and from the country.


The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) includes over 80 participating countries from 5 continents, each country comprising teams of 5 participants and 2 team leaders chosen through winners of national competitions. The international level of the competition tests students’ knowledge, problem-solving, critical thinking, presentation and analysis, and practical skills in theoretical and experimental physics.


The competition is conducted over 2 days, one for the theoretical examination and the other for the experimental examination. The former includes 3 problems and lasts 5 hours while the latter includes 1-2 problems with a 5-hour duration. After the exams, juries mark the teams and award gold, silver, and bronze medals.


Apart from exams, students will attend ceremonies, social events, discussions, activities, tours, and more.


Eligibility: High school students less than 20 years old and belonging to the participating countries

Application Deadline: Applications for organizations/countries close in January (early application) or April (late application). Students must win their national competitions to participate in the international olympiad.

Dates/Duration: July 22, 2024 - July 31, 2024

Cost: Free for students. The host country or organizing committee covers all costs, including housing, transportation, and meals.


Students interested in economics, finance, and business can participate in the local and national chapters of the International Economics Olympiad (IEO). Top scores in the national chapter will take you to the international competition. 45 countries and territories participate in this Olympiad every year. To add to the prestige, this Olympiad receives support from Eric Maskin, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Economics.


The competition comprises 3 main sections—Economics (20 multiple-choice questions and 5 open questions), Financial Literacy (25 multiple-choice questions), and Business (presentations of case solutions in English before the jury). You can take a detailed look at the syllabus here to prepare for the competition. The jury will then rank the teams and announce winners at the end of the Olympiad.


Eligibility: High school students less than 20 years old and belonging to the participating countries

Application Deadline: The early bird application deadline is in February and the standard deadline is in May. Students must win their national competitions to participate in the international olympiad.

Dates/Duration: July 23, 2024 - July 31, 2024

Cost: Free for students. National delegations and host organizations cover all costs, including housing, meals, and local transport.


Since its establishment in 2003, the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) has been testing students on their ability to analyze the structure, grammar, culture, and history of different languages and their ability to solve linguistic puzzles and problems. The competition aims to nurture future linguists by introducing them to various languages and cultures. Take a look at the past problems to know what to expect.


Each participating country sends 1-2 teams comprising 4 contestants each. Participants will compete in 2 rounds: the individual round (5 problems to be solved in 6 hours) and the team round (1 problem to be collaboratively solved in 3-4 hours). Juries will then award medals, trophies, and honorable mentions.


Activities, informal games, plays, cultural and linguistic presentations, trips and tours, gatherings, and celebrations are also included in the programming.


Location: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA and online

Eligibility: High school students worldwide who are 13-18 years old

Application Deadline: Registrations usually close in March.

Dates/Duration: May 31, 2024 - June 2, 2024

Cost: $60 registration fee for the Opens round, with subsequent semifinals and finals costs free for students


The International Research Olympiad (IRO) aims to sharpen students’ analytical and critical thinking skills to enable them to become accomplished scientific researchers. The competition will test your big-picture thinking and practical applications of theoretical knowledge. Three rounds are included in this competition:

  • Opens: This virtual multiple-choice question round highlights analysis of research papers, scientific data interpretation, and question formation and inquiry.

  • Semifinals: The top 10% of the Opens round will advance to the virtual semifinals, where qualified researchers will judge the participants’ ability to articulate and apply scientific concepts through free-response questions.

  • Finals: Only 20 participants will advance to the in-person finals, where they will compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals in addition to prizes and recognition.

 

Location: London, England

Eligibility: High school students with affiliations to a particular country or U.S. state

Application Deadline: To be announced, although students must qualify through their regional and national qualifying rounds

Dates/Duration: July 2025 (exact dates to be decided)

Cost: To be announced. Take a look at the 2023 costs here.


A relatively new but prestigious Olympiad is the International History Olympiad (IHO), which started in 2015 and is held biennially. This competition selects students through qualifying examinations, following which the final round is held to test your knowledge and understanding of history, including art history, Catholic history, music history, Italian history, American Indian history, historiography, South Asian history, and other types of international history. You can take a look at some past questions to know what to expect.


The competition comprises buzzer-based quizzes, battery exams, written exams, simulations, Hextathlons, knockouts, symposiums, and bees. Once the winners emerge, awards and medals will be handed out. In addition, you will get to participate in tours, field trips, games and activities, groups meals, walking tours, and other social events.


Eligibility: High school students from participating countries

Application Deadline: Not specified. Students must first succeed in their national olympiads held months before the IBO.

Dates/Duration: July 7, 2024 - July 14, 2024

Cost: Free for students


The International Biology Olympiad (IBO) is a selective competition, with each nation’s team comprising only 4 students. A total of around 80 countries are expected to participate in this Olympiad. The competition aims to test your knowledge in various domains of biology, such as zoology, botany, morphology, physiology, microbiology, genetics, and lots more. Students will participate in the following rounds at the international level:

  • Theoretical Exams: These exams encompass 100 tasks in close-ended formats. They test you in all areas of biology and require you to apply your knowledge in analyzing advanced biological processes.

  • Practical Exams: Countries/teams will be divided into 4 groups, with each group working in a given laboratory. Participants will exhibit their biological skills by conducting experiments and analyzing data.


Judges will mark the exams and announce the winners at the end, awarding them at the final ceremony. Social and cultural events and excursions will also take place.


Location: Burgas, Bulgaria

Eligibility: High school students from participating countries

Application Deadline: Early bird registrations close in February and standard applications close in May. Local organizations must nominate student teams by this deadline.

Dates/Duration: August 9, 2024 - August 15, 2024

Cost: Fees differ for teams and registration dates. Your country’s organization will provide you with more specific details.


The International Olympiad in Artificial Intelligence (IOAI) is a new competition, with its first edition taking place in 2024. This competition will focus on 3 aspects of AI—natural language processing (NLP), machine learning (ML), and computer vision. Note that each team from each country will comprise only 4-6 students, with nearly 50 teams competing at the international level.


The IOAI will take place over 2 rounds:

  • Scientific Round: This round is metric-oriented and tests basic coding skills, fundamentals of machine learning, and familiarity with deep learning Python libraries using problems mimicking real-world research. A total of 6 problems are provided.

  • Practical Round: This round tasks teams with the inspection, analysis, and explanation of questions relating to AI software. Teams will work on problems for 2-4 hours and receive points based on their performance and creativity.


Location: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Eligibility: High school students from participating countries

Application Deadline: Not specified, but students must succeed in qualifying local and national competitions held several months before the IChO.

Dates/Duration: July 21, 2024 - July 30, 2024

Cost: Free for students


The IChO comprises teams of 4 students and 2 mentors each, with approximately 90 countries participating in the competition. The competition will test you in various domains of chemistry, including the periodic table, constants and formulae, spectroscopic data, reactions, and more. You can look at some preparatory problems here.


The competition is divided into a 5-hour theoretical written examination and a 5-hour laboratory practical exam, each taking place on separate days. Following both exams, judges will mark the teams and award medals to the top-ranking teams or countries. In addition, students will participate in discussions, lab visits, meetings, activities, social events, opening and closing ceremonies, and a farewell dinner.


Location: Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Eligibility: International and U.S. students in grades 8-12 who are 13-17 years old

Application Deadline: Applications usually close in March.

Dates/Duration: June 10, 2024 - June 14, 2024

Cost: $50 application fee + $425 participation fee per participant. Other costs may apply.


THE GENIUS Olympiad is an international Olympiad focused on environmental issues. Organized by Terra Science and Education, the Olympiad hosts international students and teams from multiple countries and challenges them in categories like science, coding, writing, business, robotics,  art, short film, and music, providing a wide and creative scope to interact with and address environmental problems and foster potential solutions. Each category has its own requirements and formats that you can go through here.


Teams will receive awards in each category at the awards ceremony. In addition to the competition, students will participate in group meals, trips, tours, games and activities, opening and closing ceremonies, fairs and presentations, and social events.



One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you wish to boost your college applications with an independent research project, consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students I 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.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. 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.


Image Source: IMO logo

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