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10 STEM Competitions for High School Students

Participating in high school STEM competitions is not only a strong extracurricular experience to have under your belt but also an important stepping stone in your field of interest. These competitions help you hone your discipline and quick thinking, and can also help qualify you for college scholarships. 


The rigorous preparation and forethought involved aid you in becoming a competitive college admissions or internship candidate and also impart much-needed real-world, hands-on experience in STEM. Even if you don’t come out as a winner, your participation ensures that you have learned key aspects of your chosen STEM discipline. 


We’ve compiled a diverse and prestigious list of 10 STEM competitions for high school students that should help you forge a path and truly study what interests you!


We’ve shortlisted these competitions on the basis of selectivity, whether they’re backed by prestigious institutions (such as NASA or ISEF), and overall rigor and depth of judging criteria. 


You can take a look at our blog on prestigious internships in STEM here. 


ISEF is unmissable if you’re passionate about STEM. The multi-stage fair requires months of preparation preceding its week-long final event and attracts students from 80 countries worldwide. 


Over 600 individual and team awards are presented each year with cash prizes for category awards ranging from $500 to $3,000. First-place winners in each category qualify for twelve ISEF Top Awards, whose winner receives an award of $75,000, with two runner-ups receiving $50,000 each. Additional awards worth $4 million are provided through the ISEF Special Awards Program.


The 22 categories offered in 2024 include Biochemistry, Systems Software, Technology Enhances the Arts, Physics and Astronomy, Materials Science, Robotics and Intelligent Machines, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, and Environmental Engineering. 


Eligibility: All high school students who have not reached the age of 20 on or before May 1 preceding ISEF.

Application Deadline: Varies from state to state.

Dates: May 11-17, 2024.

Costs & Prizes: On-site registration of $25 for each participant. Special Awards such as tuition scholarships, summer internships, scientific trips, and cash prizes of up to $75,000 are awarded to winners. 

Location: Los Angeles, California


The THINK program is unique because, unlike most research competitions, it does not require your project to be completed beforehand. With only background research in place, your ten-page project proposal in any field of science, technology, or engineering can make you one of six finalists, which gets you the funding and mentorship to see your project through to completion. Finalists also get to expand their horizons with a paid trip to MIT’s campus and personalized tours of their research labs, as well as access to MIT professors in the finalists’ area of interest. 


Eligibility:  High school students with permanent residence in the United States. You can access their complete guidelines here.

Application Deadline: January 1, 2024, 11:59 pm ET

Dates: Finalists will be announced by February 5, 2024, and are expected to complete their projects by June 2024.

Cost & Prizes: Winners receive up to $1000 of seed funding and continued mentorship from the MIT THINK team.

Location: Virtual and on MIT’s campus


Hosted by Toshiba/ National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), ExploraVision encourages high schoolers to focus on real-world problem-solving in STEM. Over 450,000 students have participated since its inception to compete by envisioning and communicating new technology 10 or more years into the future based on contemporary scientific methods. As a competitor, you are expected to form a team of 2-4 and conduct research on how current technology can be improved. 


This is what sample projects generally look like, and here are some of their winning projects!


Eligibility: High school students studying in the United States or Canada

Application Deadline: January 31, 2024.

Dates: ExploraVision Awards Weekend on June 14-15, 2024.

Cost & Prizes: No cost. Prizes include an expense-paid trip to Washington, DC in June for ExpxloraVision Awards Weekend, up to $10,000 (at maturity) in Savings Bond, Chromebooks, banners, and plaques, along with other gifts and certificates.

Location: Virtual


The Davidson Institute hosts its annual Fellows program to support and guide the brightest minds in multiple subjects, including STEM. Considered one of the most prestigious and competitive scholarships, Davidson Fellows pride themselves on highlighting scholars on par with college graduates and is not geared towards novices. You must apply individually or in teams of not more than 2 students, and ensure that your work is significant and considered meaningful by experts in your field.


Eligibility: High school students who are 18 or younger at the time of the application deadline who reside in the US and have completed significant work in their field.

Application Deadline: February 14, 2024, 11:59 pm PST

Dates: Applicants will be notified on or before July 15, 2024

Cost & Prizes: No cost. Davidson Fellows are awarded a scholarship of $10,000, $25,000, or $50,000.

Location: Online submission followed by an awards reception in September in Washington, DC.


If you’re a budding mechanical engineer, this is a competition tailor-made for you! The International Bridge Building Competition challenges you to build a sturdy, efficient bridge that’s as lightweight as possible. 


The construction and testing of your proposed model focuses on the comprehension and application of fundamental physics principles. Applicants get a hands-on glimpse into the world of engineering and also get to be a part of an academically oriented extracurricular activity that is recognized school-wide. To be eligible, you must first qualify for the regional rounds, held annually in Chicago.  


Eligibility: All high school students in teams of up to 4 can apply.

Application Deadline: You will be notified upon qualifying regionals.

Dates: The International Contest will be held on April 27, 2024.

Cost & Prizes: No cost. No information regarding prizes is available.

Location: New Philadelphia, Ohio


The FIRST Robotics Competition combines sport with science and tech and promises an in-depth understanding of solving mundane problems with the help of robotics. Each year, a new challenge with specific game objectives is announced which participants must solve by constructing a unique robot. 


Applicants start with a six-week build season, during which teams collaborate to create their robots, and are required to clear regional, local, and national events to qualify for the final championship. FRC is known for its inclusivity and emphasis on collaborative learning and creativity.


Eligibility: All high school students can participate after having cleared their respective regional, local, and national rounds.

Application Deadline: April 5, 2024.

Dates: April 17-20, 2024

Cost & Prizes: Registration fee varies from round to round. It is $5,750 for the FIRST Championship. Scholarships and grants are available. Many prestigious awards are offered throughout the multiple rounds, details of which are available here.

Location: George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas for the final championship.

 

Open to every school in the United States, the USABO is a highly coveted and competitive olympiad with over ten thousand passionate participants every year. As a Biolympiad participant, you must first clear two rounds, including timed online exams, spanning a host of biology topics from cell biology to bioinformatics. 


Twenty finalists are shortlisted for residential training at Marymount University and four special USABO finalists also receive training to represent the United States at the International Biology Olympiad held in Astana, Kazakhstan from July 7 to 14, 2024.


Eligibility: High schoolers not yet enrolled formally in an undergraduate program and are permanent residents of the United States.

Application Deadline: Registration is now closed, but you may participate if your school is registered. 

Dates: February 1, 2024, for the online open exam, April 4 for the semifinal exam. May 24 is the tentative date set for the National Finals at Marymount University. 

Cost & Prizes: Medals and awards. A $95 registration fee for the school or authorized USABO Test Center.

Location: Virtual, with National Finals held at Marymount University.


The USNCO is one of the most prestigious chemistry competitions in the US. Sponsored by the American Chemical Society (ACS) since 1984, the National Chemistry Olympiad is spread over four tiers, consisting of Local Exams, National Exams, Study Camp, and finally the International Olympiad. 


Study Camp is a particularly helpful feature, where 20 finalists are rigorously prepared and tested before four students are chosen to represent the USA internationally. 


Eligibility: High school students under 20 years of age as of July 1, 2024 who are US citizens or permanent residents.

Application Deadline: January 19, 2024

Dates: March 1 to 24 for the Local Exam, April 13 to 21 for the National Exam, June 2 to 14 for Study Camp, and July 22 to 31 for the International Chemistry Olympiad.

Cost & Prizes: No cost. Recognition, awards, and cash prizes of up to $300.

Location: Varies according to local events


Held in a different country each year, the International Physics Olympiad attracts thousands of students annually. Established in 1967, the Olympiad has been testing young minds on their knowledge of physics concepts such as Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and Electromagnetism.


It is preceded by qualifying rounds of regional and national level physics tests, after which you get to represent your country at the IPhO, held in Isfahan, Iran in 2024. You can find sample questions and solutions from past years here!


Eligibility: All high school students can compete

Application Deadline: Registration upon arrival at the venue

Dates: 21 to 28 July, 2024.

Cost & Prizes: No cost. Medals and certificates awarded

Location: Isfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran


As the name suggests, the Harvard/MIT Mathematics Tournament is held in two competitions every year, in November and February, once at Harvard and once at MIT. The tournament is quite prestigious, and it often attracts winners from other math competitions, including top scorers from international olympiads! 


To get a better idea of how the February and November sessions differ, take a look at their structures here. For past year’s problems and results, refer to this page. Note that applicants must register online through HMMT’s online registration workflow. After the deadline has passed, there will be an additional acceptance lottery conducted as well.

 

Eligibility: High school students from around the globe. Rare exceptions have been made for middle schoolers in the past.

Application Deadline: To be announced. Typically around 3 weeks in September/ October

Dates: November 2024 and February 2025 (based on the previous year’s schedule)

Cost & Prizes: $10 for individual registration and $80 for team registrations. Prizes will be awarded to the ten highest-scoring individuals overall, the top ten scorers on each of the individual tests, the five highest-scoring teams on the Team Round, and the five highest-scoring teams on the Guts Round. The top ten teams overall will be named the Sweepstakes winners.

Location: Harvard or MIT campuses, depending on the tournament season you participate in.



One more option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in STEM, 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.


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.


Image Source: Exploravision logo


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