If you are dreaming of majoring in Biology, you’ll have your work cut out for you because it is one of the most popular majors in college. One way of building up your skills and scholar profile is to participate in research programs. We’ve covered research opportunities for you in our posts on medicine and biology programs. Another very good way of challenging yourself and seeing how you stack up against high-caliber peers is to participate in competitions!
In this blog, we'll cover 12 of the best biology competitions open to high school students, including research proposal competitions, essay competitions, as well as prestigious olympiads.
Hosted by the Society of Science, the Regeneron ISEF is the world's biggest pre-college STEM competition, inviting entries from thousands of students every year. To participate at Regeneron ISEF, you first must participate in a local or regional level fair and will then be shortlisted for the ISEF program that takes place in a hybrid format each year. It has at maximum 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 - the more recent, the better. Some subcategories you can present your research in Biology for include cellular and molecular biology, animal sciences, computational biology, bioinformatics, and microbiology.
Working on biology-related research projects and getting shortlisted to present at ISEF is a prestigious opportunity and a great way for you to build a network with like-minded, passionate young students such as yourself.
Tip: 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 are encouraged to apply
If you're passionate about studying Biology in college, the USA Biolympiad is one challenge you should sign up for. A highly coveted, highly competitive olympiad with over 10,000 participants each year, the Biolympiad challenges you with activities, and quizzes (you can check out a complete list of topics here). As a Biolympiad participant, you must first pass the first two rounds, which include timed online exams.
After these rounds, 20 finalists are selected for a residential training program (at Marymount University) in advanced biological concepts and lab skills. What's more, 4 USABO finalists are also trained to represent the USA at an international level, at the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) in the UAE and compete against teams from 20 countries.
February 2 - Online Open Exam (OE)
March 16 - Semifinal Exam
June 2 - 16 - National Finals
Application Deadline: November 18, 2022
Prizes: Medals, awards
Eligibility: All high school students who are US citizens can sign up for the USABO
Tip: Check out a compiled set of biology and STEM resources by the Centre for Excellence in Education here!
A program by the Center for Science Teaching & Learning (CSTL), the NSPC Health Science Competition invites experimentation and research on any innovation in the field of medicine.
Open to high-school students, its competition design is a lot like Regeneron's ISEF and invites some of the brightest minds from across the country to participate in teams of up to 3 members. For the first round, you must create a website that covers your research, and results, as well as a discussion and abstract via a presentation, video, digital poster board, etc. Once your entry is scored by medical professionals and you proceed to Round 2, you will present your research to a panel of judges.
NSPC invites entries across categories such as Behavioral Sciences, Microbiology/Genetics, Medicine/Health, Biochemistry/Biophysics Category, and Computational Biology. Here are submissions from past winners!
Dates: May 18, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Application Deadline: March 18, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Location: Round 1 is hosted virtually, while the location for Round 2 is yet to be announced.
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $80,000
Eligibility: Any high school student (or team of students) from Nassau or Suffolk can participate, with a $30 registration fee.
Ever wondered what men on the Moon might grow on its surface for sustenance? The Plant the Moon Challenge is an out-of-the-box competition for all biology enthusiasts, and all entries are judged by a panel of NASA scientists.
For the competition, you will be given an adequate amount of lunar soil simulant, and over 10 weeks, you must apply your knowledge of biology and astronomy to successfully grow plants and present your research and methodology to the judging panel after 10 weeks.
This is an exciting challenge for anyone looking to contribute towards better food security for astronauts in space, and the end-of-competition symposium is an excellent, engaging event that provides you with exposure in the field, and a host of networking opportunities!
Tip: Alongside high school students such as yourself, you will also be competing with undergraduates and graduate students - which makes for an excellent learning opportunity. Here are a few winning entries from the 2022 edition!
Dates: February 6 to March 16, 2023
Application Deadline: January 20, 2023
Prizes: Best in Show Awards
Eligibility: Open to all high-school students, including international students.
A competition aimed at supporting students that demonstrate the scientific aptitude and skill for research, the Neuroscience Research Prize is a great opportunity. If you are a high school student that is interested in, or is already pursuing, research in the field of neuroscience, this competition invites you to send in your research reports.
Along with your research reports, you are also expected to send in a 300-word abstract. Your entry will be judged by a panel of esteemed scientists and physicians. You can submit work that explores the world of the brain and nervous system, and stand a chance to receive support for your further research.
Submission Deadline: November 2, 2022
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $1000, fully funded trips to the scientific poster session at the AAN 75th Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, and Child Neurology Society Annual Meeting
Eligibility: All high-school students based in the US can apply
Organized since 1991, the National Science Bowl (hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy) is a coveted, highly competitive competition that aims to encourage students to excel in math and science. The Bowl sees over 1000 students participate every year, and tests you on your knowledge of chemistry, energy, Earth science, physics, biology, and math.
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 in order to be invited for 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 prior to 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
Spread across three main categories - Healthcare, Sustainability, and Environment, the BioGENEius Challenge invites students to showcase their research in the field of biotech. The program receives thousands of entries each year, and the top 5% of all applicants are invited to the BIO International Convention to present their research.
Depending on your geographic location, you can either directly apply to a virtual edition of the competition or enter through various local and regional-level events. Here are a couple of examples of the type of research you can undertake in each of the three categories -
Global Healthcare Challenge: Using algae to synthesize a chemical reactant for the synthesis of a complex antibiotic.
Global Sustainability Challenge: Using nutritional lipid-modified algae to reduce fishmeal requirements in aquaculture.
Global Environment Challenge: Using lipid-optimized algae as an alternative energy source for low-weight hydrocarbon fuels.
Your research options are virtually limitless, and participating in this competition can give your resume and research skills an edge!
Dates: Vary from state to state.
Application Deadline: Vary from state to state, but registrations close by late March
Location: Local competitions are hosted in California (Bay Area & Southern), Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
For international participants, the challenge is virtual, and the top finalist is invited to the BIO symposium in Boston.
Prizes: Cash prizes, awards
Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to apply, including international students
The National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) is an annual competition for high school students that tests their knowledge of ocean sciences and marine biology and ability to solve real-world issues in oceans.
The NOSB is conducted in almost every state and is a highly competitive, highly enriching experience for any high school student interested in biology and specifically, marine sciences. To participate in this challenge, you must form a team of at least 4 students, and participate in local challenges to move forward into the national competition held every spring.
You can expect questions on the biology, physics, geology, and chemistry of the oceans, as well as current events.
Note: NOSB participants in high school can apply for the National Ocean Scholar Program, which awards bright students a scholarship to support their college education when starting as a freshman!
Dates: NOSB dates vary from state to state, usually held around February-March
Application Deadline: Varies from state to state, usually closes in mid-November
Location: Varies state-wise
Prizes: Cash prizes
Eligibility: All high school students can participate
An exciting, hands-on, and engaging challenge for young scientists, Genes in Space is a challenge designed for innovation in the field of space exploration. With the help of the GIS Toolkit (which includes cutting-edge tools such as Fluorescence Viewer, PCR thermal cycler, and BioBits cell-free system, you must conduct an experiment that solves an issue the field of space exploration faces.
You can explore questions such as "How will a deep space mission affect our DNA?", "Can we detect new life forms?", and even "Can living organisms help us colonize new worlds?"
The winners of the GIS will have their experiment conducted on board the International Space Station as part of the Genes in Space-3 mission!
Dates: April 17 - August 3, 2023. You can find the complete timeline here.
Application Deadline: April 17, 2023
Location: Genes in Space finals will be held at the ISS Research & Development Conference in Seattle, WA. The rest of the competition is virtual.
Prizes: Awards, P51 Fluorescence Biotech Kit
Eligibility: School students in Grades 7-12 can apply (only applicable for US citizens)
If you've carried out independent scientific research and are looking for a platform that helps you develop your research, presentation, and analytical skills, consider applying for the Regeneron STS, one of the country's most prestigious science competitions.
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.
If you're passionate about a career in research in the field of biology, STS is an excellent opportunity for you - winners, along with cash prizes also receive support and sponsorship for future research.
Dates: June 1 - March 14, 2023
Application Deadline: November 9, 2022
Prizes: Cash prizes of up to $250,000, all finalists are awarded a trip to Washington D.C. and are taken on scientific field trips, mentorship sessions, and more.
Eligibility: All high school seniors based in the US can apply
iGEM, a non-profit foundation that focuses on the advancement of synthetic biology hosts the annual iGEM Competition. A global synthetic biology event, iGEM Competition is a highly coveted opportunity for any young innovator passionate about using principles and methods from the subject of synthetic biology to solve real-world challenges.
You, along with your team (8-15 participants), are encouraged to design, build, test, and measure an original system using interchangeable biological parts and standard molecular biology techniques.
The best part about this competition is that it encourages multidisciplinary teams for a holistic, more robust technique design - your team can have participants from fields such as law, marine biology, mathematics, and social sciences!
Final shortlisted projects are invited to the annual iGEM Grand Jamboree.
Dates: Final Abstract due on September 30, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Application Deadline: March 31, 2023 (based on last year's timetable)
Location: Virtual, Jamboree venue to be announced
Prizes: Medals and Special Prizes
Eligibility: All high school students can apply
The American Society for Human Genetics’ annual competition celebrates the discovery of the double helix of DNA, the Annual DNA Day Essay Contest judges writing submissions from high school students on topics related to genomics, and biomedicine. This year's essay topics -
Explain what “one humanity, many genomes” means to you. Make sure to include:
Two examples of what makes our genomes unique
How advances in understanding our genomes impact our lives, such as current and future research into medical treatments.
Not only is this a great exercise for scientific writing, a skill that will definitely come in handy at college, but also a great way to engage with more resources in the field of biology and grow your own knowledge as a student. Essay entries are judged on the basis of the strength of reasoning, as well as a deep understanding of the topic.
Dates: Early January to early March 2023
Application Deadline: Early March 2023
Prizes: Grants of up to $1000
Eligibility: All high school students (including those residing outside the USA)
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research in biology, 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.