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15 Prestigious Competitions for High School Students

Participating in academic competitions can be a significant and distinctive aspect of a high school student's profile, demonstrating dedication and proficiency in specific subjects. Such competitions offer high school students the opportunity to explore advanced concepts beyond the standard school curriculum, fostering a deeper understanding of their chosen field and showcasing their competency to college admissions officers.


A few noteworthy competitions include the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO), and National Speech and Debate Tournament – all detailed below along with several other prestigious ones you can consider. These competitions present challenges at the national and international level in both STEM and humanities fields. 


Achievements in these competitions are highly valued by college admissions officers and will help your application stand out. They are seen as strong indicators of a student's intellectual ability and their commitment to academic excellence. Placing, and often even participating, in these competitions not only signifies a certain skill level in the subject, but also underscores qualities such as critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and perseverance.

Participation in these competitions may also open doors to other prestigious academic and research opportunities!


Eligibility: All high-school students with a strong passion for research in science, math, and engineering are eligible to apply. 

Application Deadline: Varies from state to state.

Dates: Local and regional events take place throughout the year but usually conclude by April. The ISEF Fair typically takes place in May.

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

Location: Hosted in different cities every year. ISEF 2024 will be in Los Angeles, CA.

The International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is a great opportunity to test your skills and stand out if you plan to pursue STEM research in the future. Students from all over the world participate in ISEF and engage in an intensive process of scientific inquiry, often tackling complex and cutting-edge research projects across various scientific disciplines.


This fair allows you to present your findings and exchange ideas and insights with peers, educators, and professionals from the scientific community. The projects span a wide array of fields, including biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, and environmental science. The awards at ISEF are highly coveted and symbolize not only academic excellence but also innovation and creativity. Winners receive recognition for their research, often leading to scholarships, internships, and opportunities for further exploration of their scientific interests. The prestige associated with ISEF is valuable, as it provides a unique opportunity for students to showcase their talents on an international stage, gaining visibility among leading scientists, educators, and industry professionals. 


Tip: We’ve covered everything you need to know about ISEF in this guide


Eligibility: Middle or high school students who are residents of a participating congressional district can participate. Teams may not have more than 4 members.

Dates: The application deadline is November 1, 2023.

Cost & Prizes: No cost to participate. Winning apps are eligible to be displayed in the U.S. Capitol Building and featured on the House of Representatives' website. Winners are also invited to attend a reception on Capitol Hill and may be awarded additional sponsor prizes.

Location: Virtual


The Congressional App Challenge is a district-wide contest, hosted by members of the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s ideal for students keen to take their interest in coding to the next level and use their technical knowledge to build something meaningful. You will be tasked with designing and developing your own unique mobile or web app, delving into the intricacies of computer science and problem-solving. The challenge encourages you to address real-world issues through technological solutions. Winners receive recognition for their coding skills and an opportunity to showcase their creations to members of Congress and the tech community at large. Awards often include scholarships, mentorship opportunities, and invitations to various tech-related events. The prestige associated with winning the Congressional App Challenge is significant, as it validates your ability to harness technology for positive change. Moreover, the chance to present your apps to lawmakers and industry professionals elevates your status within the technology and innovation spheres. Participation in the Congressional App Challenge not only underscores your proficiency in coding but also positions you as a student passionate about working on real-world problems in the ever-evolving landscape of technology and app development.


Note: Apart from commonly used programming languages, it is beneficial to brush up on different app development platforms like XCode or Kotlin.


Eligibility: All high school students can participate.

Dates: The dates for the regional rounds vary, and you must register no later than 3 weeks prior to the event. The 2024 finals will be held April 25 - 29, 2024

Cost & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Cash prizes and scholarships are offered.

Location: Regional rounds are held in different cities every year. Science Bowl Finals are held in Washington, DC.


Running since 1991, the National Science Bowl is a highly competitive competition that aims to encourage students to excel in math and science. The Bowl sees 1000+ students participate every year, and tests students on their knowledge of physics, energy, Earth science, chemistry, 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 to be invited to the Science Bowl Finals in Washington D.C. 

NSB provides a resource pool, with the rules of the competition, tips for success, and resources to prepare your team.


Here’s some insight and tips to help you ace the bowl!

Also check out the Physics Bowl if you’d rather participate in a more physics-focused challenge.


Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate (in teams of 3-4 members):

  • The David Ricardo Division is for first-time competitors who have taken no more than one economics course

  • The Adam Smith Division is for AP, international baccalaureate, and honors students (as well as returning competitors)

Teams must be accompanied by a coach who is an associate of the team school, organization or program.

Dates: The national semi-finals will be held April 22-26, 2024. The national finals will be held June 1-3, 2024. Dates for state-level events differ.

Cost & Prizes: No cost to participate. Prizes are 1st place $1,000 | 2nd place $500 | 3rd place $250 | 4th place $125

Location: The national finals will be held in New York.


The National Economics Challenge is a rigorous competition that tests high school students' knowledge in economics. Teams compete in exams covering microeconomics, macroeconomics, international economics, and current events in the economic landscape. Winning teams receive cash prizes and recognition for their economic acumen. Placing in the National Economics Challenge reflects a strong understanding of economic principles, the ability to analyze policy implications, and critical thinking in real-world economic scenarios. College admissions officers recognize achievements in this challenge as indicators of a student's grasp of economic concepts, analytical abilities, and a genuine interest in understanding and addressing complex economic issues. Participating in and excelling at the National Economics Challenge is a valuable addition to a student's profile, particularly for those interested in pursuing economics, finance, or related fields. 


For a deeper dive into the NEC, check out this article.

And here’s a few more economics competitions!


Eligibility: All high school students studying in the US and Canada can participate.

Dates: Applications are typically due in January. Regional winners are typically announced by April and national winners by May. The ExploraVision Awards Weekend is typically held in June.

Cost & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Winners will receive:

  • Up to $240,000 in savings bonds ($10,000 savings bond for each first-place team member and $5,000 savings bond for each second-place team member) 

  • An expense-paid trip to Washington, DC, in June for the ExploraVision Awards Weekend (for the the student and one parent/guardian)

  • A technology/science-related gift for each regional winning student

Location: Virtual


The ExploraVision challenge is conducted by Toshiba and the National Science Teaching Association. This highly competitive and prestigious challenge invites high school students to work on real-world problem-solving with a strong emphasis on STEM. ExploraVision has seen entries from over 450,000 students from across the US since its first edition in 1992. Every year, out of thousands of entries, first place for each grade is only awarded to four teams.


In a team of 2-4 students, students must pick a current technology, research how it can be improved, and present their thoughts on how it might look in 10 years. Students can draw from their knowledge of physics, tech, and AI, to name a few, and present their idea, its development steps, pros and cons, and obstacles. Here are a few examples of past projects that you can take a look at!


Check out this detailed dive into the competition.


Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate!

Dates: July 10-22, 2024

Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded, along with a few honorable mentions.

Location: University of Bath, United Kingdom


Note: Olympiads are typically regional-level exams, and once you score well on those, you qualify for the national Olympiad (United States of America Mathematical Olympiad - USAMO). Based on your performance at the national level, you can qualify for the International Olympiad. 


The IMO stands as a pinnacle for high school students with exceptional mathematical prowess. During this competition, participants grapple with six intricate problems, each designed to test their problem-solving abilities across algebra, geometry, number theory, and combinatorics. The competition's rigor is evident in the diversity and complexity of the challenges. Distinctions are marked with prestigious medals – gold, silver, and bronze – awarded to the top performers, and apart from that, honorable mentions also recognize students’ efforts. The IMO is more than a contest; it’s a testament to participants’ understanding of advanced mathematical concepts and their analytical skills. Beyond the accolades, IMO achievements can be a highlight on a student's college application. Top-performing students are often recognized by the IMO as a stamp of excellence in a highly competitive field.


If you’re looking for other competitive experiences exclusively in the field of mathematics, the AMC 10 and AMC 12 are opportunities you must consider. 


Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate!

Dates: February 8, 2024

Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Medals and honorable mentions are awarded.

Location: Iran (exact location to be announced)


Note: Olympiads are typically regional-level exams, and once you score well on those, you qualify for the national Olympiad (USA Physics Olympiad - USAPhO). Based on your performance at the national level, you can qualify for the international Olympiad. 


The IPhO is a global challenge for high school students proficient in physics. Participants will be immersed in a blend of experimental and theoretical physics challenges, encompassing classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics. The competition will assess the depth of students’ understanding of physics principles and their practical and theoretical problem-solving skills. Top performers receive medals, and students with other outstanding achievements receive additional recognition. Participating in this competition shows an appreciation for the intricacies of physics, and the ability to apply knowledge in practical problem-solving. 


Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate!

Dates: July 7-14, 2024

Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Medals and honorable mentions are awarded.

Location: Astana, Kazakhstan 


Note: Olympiads are typically regional-level exams, and once you score well on those, you qualify for the national Olympiad (USA Biolympiad - USABO). Based on your performance at the national level, you can qualify for the international Olympiad. 


The International Biology Olympiad is a rigorous competition designed for students keen to test their knowledge and skill in biology. Participants undergo a series of challenging exams that delve into diverse realms such as molecular biology, genetics, physiology, and ecology. The competition's breadth ensures that participants showcase not only a broad understanding of biological concepts but also their ability to navigate specialized areas within biology. Participating and excelling as a testament to a student's profound understanding of biological intricacies, adept laboratory skills, and a genuine passion for scientific inquiry. Placing internationally further elevates a student's profile, significantly strengthening their application to competitive programs. 


Eligibility: All high school students can participate.

Dates: June 16-21, 2024

Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Awards include national level recognition, in a points-based system, across different categories.

Location: Varies year on year. In 2024, it will be held in Des Moines Area, Iowa.


The National Speech and Debate Tournament is a great platform for students to showcase their oratory and communication skills. You will engage in a rigorous process of preparation and competition, honing your abilities in various activities such as debate, interpretation, and public speaking. Whether it’s advocating for policy changes, delivering an impactful speech, or presenting dramatic interpretations, you will demonstrate your command over rhetoric and expression. The tournament’s awards are highly coveted, recognizing excellence in categories like policy debate, Lincoln-Douglas debate, and individual events. Winners receive not only trophies and accolades but also gain prestige within the academic and debate communities. The tournament provides a stage for you to articulate and defend your perspective on critical issues, fostering communication skills, critical thinking and research abilities. Beyond the immediate rewards, the prestige associated with participating and placing in the National Speech and Debate Tournament can be a significant factor in college admissions, as it signals a confidence in communication that extends beyond the classroom.


Students keen on exploring debate challenges must look through this list of competitions!


Eligibility: All high school students can participate.

Dates: Varies

Costs & Prizes: Varies

Location: Held at multiple locations across the country, and virtually as well.


DECA, previously known as Distributive Education Clubs of America, is a not-for-profit career and technical student organization. DECA is one of the most recognized academic clubs in America, and its massive membership (200,000+), recognition by the Department of Education, and endorsement by all 50 states all attest to its prestige. 


DECA organizes competitive events across four distinct career clusters: business management and administration, finance, hospitality and tourism and marketing. Participants engage in a variety of events, including business simulations, role plays, case studies, and presentations. The competition is held at district, state and national levels. Excelling at a DECA competition goes beyond theoretical understanding; it demonstrates a student's practical application of business concepts, strategic thinking, and effective communication skills. College admissions officers recognize achievements in DECA as powerful indicators of a student's readiness for real-world business scenarios, a glimpse into their potential in fields of marketing and entrepreneurship. For a full guide into what DECA is and how you should prepare for it, check out this article!


Eligibility: All high school students under the age of 18, who reside in the US can apply.

Dates: Submit your applications by February 14, 2024. Results will be announced by July 2024.

Cost & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Cash prizes of up to $50,000 and the title of a 'Davidson Fellow'. 

Location: Virtual.


Davidson Institute hosts its annual Fellows program for high-achieving students and looks for the brightest minds in STEM to support and guide. Winning teams are awarded prizes of up to $50,000 to support future research work or academic advancement. To apply for the Fellows Program, you must submit original work that covers any of the following criteria:

  • An exceptionally creative application of existing knowledge

  • A new idea with high impact

  • An innovative solution with broad-range implications

  • An important advancement that can be replicated and built upon

  • An interdisciplinary discovery

  • A prodigious performance

  • Another demonstration of extraordinary accomplishment


You must enter in teams of not more than 2 students, and submit work that is at, or close to, college graduate level in terms of depth, understanding of the subject, and quality of presentation. The program invites applications across various subjects, you can check out guidelines for science submissions hereThe title of a Davidson Fellow is an honor that sets students apart from their peers, demonstrating exceptional talent and dedication in their respective fields. 


Check out this article detailing why you should consider applying for this competition.


Eligibility: High school students living in the US are eligible to apply.

Dates: Registrations typically close in January. Semifinalists are announced by January-end, and finalists by the beginning of February. Finalists are expected to complete their projects by June.

Cost & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Finalists are awarded $1,000 to execute their projects. Additionally, when possible, finalists will be invited to a four-day all-expenses paid trip to MIT's campus, where they tour labs, present their research to MIT students and faculty, and interact with members of the THINK team.

Location: Virtual


Conducted by a group of undergraduates at MIT, the THINK Scholars program encourages students who have done extensive research on the background of a potential research project in a STEM field and are looking for additional guidance in the early stages of their project. Unlike most research competitions, this one does not require participants to have already completed the project. After a semifinal round where applicants are interviewed, finalists are announced. Those whose projects are selected receive $1,000 funding and mentorship from MIT students. They also get a paid trip to MIT's campus to meet professors in their field of research, tour labs, and attend MIT's xFair! 


Here’s our guide to the program!


Eligibility: All high school students can participate.

Dates: March 15-18, 2024 

Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Students receive medals of recognition, and those who qualify at the national level will represent the U.S. at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), to be held in Egypt in September 2024.Location: The US open round will be held across the country.


The United States of America Computing Olympiad is a premier competition that encourages high school students interested in the dynamic world of computer science and programming. Participants engage in solving algorithmic problems across a series of competitions, progressing through the challenging divisions of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum (these are contest rounds, not awards!). The competition will evaluate participants' programming skills and their creativity and efficiency in approaching complex computational problems. Top performers receive national recognition and will be invited to specialized training camps. Some of these students will represent the United States in the International Olympiad in Informatics – a prestigious opportunity. Placing in the USACO is no small feat, and is well-regarded when it comes to college admissions, especially for those keen on pursuing computer science or related disciplines. It signifies not only technical proficiency but also the ability to innovate – sought-after attributes in technology-driven industries.


Take a look at our deep dive into the USACO.


Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate!

Dates: July 23-31, 2024

Costs & Prizes: There is no cost to participate. Medals and honorable mentions are awarded.

Location: Rome, Italy


The International History Olympiad is a prestigious academic competition that tests your knowledge and understanding of historical events, figures, and themes. The event typically encompasses a variety of formats, including individual and team competitions, oral rounds, and hands-on activities. Written exams cover a broad range of historical topics, where participants must demonstrate their knowledge of specific events, time periods, and historical figures. Buzzer rounds test quick thinking and reflexes as participants compete head-to-head to answer questions in real-time. Additionally, the competition often includes simulation games, historical reenactments, or even research-based projects that allow participants to apply their historical knowledge in practical ways. Acing the History Olympiad often involves a combination of individual and team performance, with participants accumulating points across various rounds. The scoring system is designed to reward historical knowledge, as well as critical thinking and analytical skills. Top-performing individuals and teams are recognized for their achievements, with awards presented at regional, national, and international levels.


If you’re keen on pursuing history competitions further, check out National History Day (NHD)!

Students interested in the field of linguistics can consider the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL).


Eligibility: All high school students are eligible to participate!

Dates: The finals will be held June 10-14, 2024.

Costs & Prizes: There is a $50 application fee. Different awards across the various competition categories.Location: There is some travel involved!

The Genius Olympiad is an international high school competition that focuses on environmental issues, scientific innovation, and creative projects. Founded in 2010, the Olympiad aims to foster global collaboration and inspire you to tackle pressing environmental challenges. Students participating in the Genius Olympiad submit projects across various categories, including science, art, writing, and design. These projects often highlight innovative solutions to environmental problems, creative expressions of environmental awareness, and scientific research aimed at sustainable development. The judging criteria for the Genius Olympiad are comprehensive, encompassing the project's creativity, scientific rigor, environmental impact, and potential for real-world application. Winners are recognized for their outstanding contributions to environmental awareness and sustainability, with awards granted at different levels, including bronze, silver, and gold medals.



Bonus!

Check out a few great science competitions that every high school should participate in here. We’ve also detailed competitions exclusively in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and engineering!


Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for another way to enhance your college applications, you could also 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.



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: NEC logo

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