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8 National Competitions for High School Students

If you are looking to get into the best colleges, your application should be filled with extracurricular activities that show how engaged you are with your interests. National competitions are a great way of displaying your abilities as well as engagement in subjects you are passionate about. 

Events like these can create a wealth of opportunities for you — they allow you to mingle with like-minded peers, meet experts in your field of interest and, of course, gain the prestige associated with these competitions. In this blog, we have outlined a list of some of the best national competitions for high-school students. These competitions test a variety of skill sets as well as knowledge bases, catering to a large number of students. There’s something for everyone on this list!

Location: Online/local to your school. Finalists will be expected to travel to a university venue for the final round. The venue for 2024 was Marymount University. 

Cost: Free

Competition Dates: The open exams are typically conducted in February. The semifinal and final are usually held in April and May, respectively. 

Registration Deadline: Registrations usually open around August and close by mid-November. The USABO 2024 calendar offers detailed instructions about dates and deadlines.  

Eligibility: All interested students in grades 9 to 12 can participate in the USABO. Students must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents (green cards). To participate, your school must be registered as a USABO member school.

The USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) is one of the premier biology competitions in the country for high school students. USABO is a competitive event for those who aim to pursue a higher education in biology and related fields. In preparing for this competition, you will be exposed to a variety of new concepts which will deepen your understanding of the field itself. Finalists are even offered the chance to gain hands-on laboratory training as well!USABO consists of three rounds:

  • The first round, held online, is open to all high school biology students. It is a 50-minute multiple-choice test that covers multiple biology concepts. Students who score in the top 20% are given an Honorable Mention Certificate. Those scoring in the top 30% receive a Certificate of Merit. 

  • The second round, also held online, is taken by students who score in the top 10% of the first round — a mixed bag of short answers, multiple-choice, and true/false questions that require more in-depth knowledge and problem-solving skills. Recognition certificates will be awarded to those scoring the top 50 and 75 scores respectively.

  • The national finals, held at a host university, gather the top 20 students from the semifinal. The finals are organized over the course of 12 days: 10 days for instruction and 2 days for testing. Finalists receive training through laboratory work and field trips, they learn theoretical concepts from professors and experts, and are even assisted by previous USABO finalists. Such an opportunity will allow you to learn new skills and ideas which can inform your career choices. It will also help further your case when you apply to college. 

USABO requires extensive knowledge about several biological concepts beyond the scope of the high school syllabus, which can prove to be an enriching experience for you, especially if you are passionate about biology. Plus, if you make it to the top 4 in this competition, you will get the chance to represent the USA in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO). For a deeper dive into USABO, you can check out our article about this competition here

Location: The test is online; typically held at local schools or testing centers. 

Cost: Free; registration for AMC usually costs $56-$128 depending on when you register.  

Competition Dates: 

  • AMC 10 and 12 will be held on 6th and 12th November 2024, respectively. 

  • AIME I and II will be held on 6th and 12th February 2025, respectively. 

  • The USAMO will be conducted between 19th and 20th March 2025. 

Registration Deadline: The last day of registration for AMC 10 and 12 is November 8, 2024. AIME and the USAMO have no registration You can find a detailed calendar of all dates and deadlines here.

Eligibility: All interested students in grades 9 to 12 can participate in the USAMO. Students must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents (green cards).

The USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) is one of the most prestigious mathematics competitions and is meant to challenge gifted high school students. Participating in this competition will help you explore challenging topics, improve your logic and reasoning skills, and boost your mathematical ability. Additionally, doing well in the AMC, AIME, and USAMO competitions brings great prestige to college applications. 

The USAMO is administered by the American Mathematics Competitions (AMC). The competition follows a structure that includes the AMC 10/12 and AIME exams.

Here is the format: 

  • American Mathematics Competitions (AMC 10/12): You must first participate in either the AMC 10 (for students in grades 10 and below) or the AMC 12 (for students in grades 12 and below). Both tests are 25-question, 75-minute, multiple-choice exams. The syllabus for both exams is the school mathematics curriculum taught until that grade.

  • American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME): Students who score well on the AMC 10/12 are invited to take the AIME. This exam has 15 questions and is 3 hours long. The AIME requires a greater level of problem-solving skills and mathematical knowledge. 

  • USAMO: Top scorers from the AIME, combined with their AMC scores, are invited to participate in the USAMO. This is a two-day, six-question, 9-hour essay/proof test. Creative thinking and comprehensive knowledge about the subject are crucial to success at this level. The top 12 students are invited to an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. Six of these students are then chosen to represent the USA in the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO). Top scorers from the USAMO are then invited to participate in the Math Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP), a challenging 3-4 week math program for the brightest students in the country.

Location: Varies each year; typically held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atlanta, Georgia.

Cost: In 2024, the registration fee was $840 per team.

Competition Dates: 23–25 May, 2025. The tournament usually spans over 3 days and takes place over the Memorial Day weekend in late May.  

Eligibility: High school teams that qualify through NAQT-sponsored or affiliated tournaments and rank in the top 15% of any accredited competition. 

The National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT) are quiz bowl competitions that are hosted in inter and intra-school environments. The competitions take place through a series of local, state, and regional tournaments in order for a team to qualify for the National Academic Quiz Tournament High School National Championship Tournament (NAQT HSNCT). The smaller competitions take place at any time throughout the calendar year, so if you’re looking to compete, be on the lookout for competitions in your area. Teams finishing in the top 15% at a NAQT-affiliated competition can qualify to attend the National Championship.

NAQT expects qualified teams to register for the HSNCT to confirm their place. Over the two-day tournament, teams will participate in preliminary and playoff rounds. Those who place high will make it to the final to compete for the championship. Preparing and participating in the HSNCT will expand your knowledge base like never before — you can foster valuable critical thinking skills and camaraderie among your team. Winning and ranking high in these championships demonstrates impressive academic prowess, great teamwork, and an ability to think under pressure. If you have your eyes set on winning the HSNCT, you can check out our article on it here

Location: The local and regional competitions are held in each state. The venue for the national competition changes annually. For 2025, USAD will be conducted in Des Moines, IA.

Cost: In 2024, the registration fee was $350 per team; these costs are usually borne by the school.

Competition Dates: 

  • Local Competitions: Usually held in the fall and winter. Specific dates vary by locality.

  • Regional Competitions: Usually held in January or February. Specific dates may vary. 

  • State Competitions: Usually held in the spring, around March or April.

  • National Competition: Held annually in April or May. 

Registration Deadline: Usually in the fall, when teams are made. 

Eligibility: USAD teams consist of nine members, from ninth to twelfth grade. Teams must constitute three students belonging to each of the following academic proficiency levels:

  • Honors students: GPA of 3.80 or higher

  • Scholastic students: GPA between 3.20 and 3.79

  • Varsity students: GPA of 3.20 or below

The United States Academic Decathlon (USAD) is an annual high school scholastic competition where teams compete in ten events — covering art, economics, literature, math, music, science, social science, and more. You will be tested on ten different disciplines, and in each round, you will be expected to sit for interviews, deliver speeches, write essays, and take exams. There are several rounds in the competitions which lead up to the Nationals. First, regional competitions are held between October and February, followed by State-level competitions conducted in February or March, then winning teams of all states compete in the Nationals in April. 

The USAD is a platform where students can display their proficiency in various fields at an extremely high level. Winning would mean that you are extremely well-read, able to think on your feet, and demonstrate multiple skills. You can walk away with newfound leadership skills and a team-oriented attitude, which is extremely helpful not just for college applications but for any career in the future. You can read more about the decathlon in this Lumiere article.

Location: The challenge will be held virtually since this is a submission-based competition. 

Cost: Free

Competition Deadline: October 24, 2024; the competition is usually announced in early June and accepts submissions till the start of November; winners are announced in December or January. 

Registration Deadline: 1st May - 24th October 2024 

Eligibility: Open to middle or high school students (grades 6 to 12). Only U.S. residents are allowed to participate in this challenge. 

The Congressional App Challenge (CAC) is an annual competition that encourages middle and high school students to learn coding and computer science through hands-on experience in creating applications. In the challenge, organized by the United States House of Representatives, students are free to use any coding language and create an app for any purpose that they deem fit. This challenge was designed to promote STEM education and innovation among youth, requiring teams to submit a 3-minute demonstration video and answer some questions about the purpose of their app and how it works. 

The winning applications are displayed in the US Capitol building for one year. Additionally, winning teams are invited to #HouseofCode, a new national science fair held in the Capitol building, where they can display their applications and demonstrate their work. This is a great opportunity to meet coding enthusiasts from other districts, network, and interact with members of Congress. Creating a working application also demonstrates your technical abilities, critical thinking skills, and entrepreneurial ability. You can read more about the challenge here

Location: Held online; the awards ceremony usually takes place in New York.

Cost: $10 per individual entry; $30 per portfolio. Fee waivers can be requested if this fee hinders your ability to apply.

Competition Dates:

  • Submission Period: Generally opens in September and closes in December or January. Specific deadlines vary by region.

  • Regional Notification: Regional winners are usually notified by the end of March.

  • National Notification: National award winners are typically announced in June. 

  • National Ceremony and Exhibition: Held in June in New York City.

Registration Deadline: Varies depending on region, please check here

Eligibility: Open to 7th-12th grade students who are enrolled in a public, private, or home school in the United States, U.S. territories, Canada, or in American schools abroad. 

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is the premiere competition for those students with artistic and literary inclinations. The awards accept various categories of art and written works such as digital art, editorial cartoons, film and animation, journalism, flash fiction, and humor. This event presents a great opportunity for you to expand your creative horizons and improve your artistic skills. Winning an award or gaining recognition would signify that you have considerable mastery in your extracurricular pursuits. All entries are considered for regional awards: 

  • Gold Key: This is the most prestigious award at the regional level. Receiving a gold key means you qualify for the national awards and your work will be displayed at regional exhibitions.  

  • Silver Key: The second-highest award you can receive at the regional level. The silver key recognizes those works which display great skills and creativity. 

  • Honorable Mention: This is conferred on work that is interesting, shows proficient skill, and has potential.

  • American Voices Award and American Visions Award: These awards are given to Gold key medallists whose work represents their region. Two nominees from each region will be selected to receive both these awards, respectively. 

Gold Key winners are automatically considered for the national awards: Gold Medal, Silver Medal, and scholarship awards. National medallists are eligible for scholarships up to $12,500. Success in this event could lead to being included in publications and exhibitions, further increasing your visibility in the art and design space, which could be greatly favored in your college applications. Read more about the awards here.

Location: Conducted online; finalists are invited to the MIT campus for an all-expenses paid visit. 

Cost: Free

Competition Dates: Finalists of the program are expected to work on their projects from February to early June. 

Application Deadline: Applications typically open around the fall season; proposals are due around mid-January but these deadlines change annually. Please find the dates for the program here.

Eligibility: Open to full-time high school students with permanent U.S. residency; students may work individually or with one other partner.

The MIT THINK Scholars Program is an educational initiative where high students must submit a written research proposal outlining a novel science, technology, or engineering idea that is feasible, innovative, and has a potential impact on the community or field of study. The following is the format of the program: 

  • Proposal Submission: Students must submit a research proposal by the specified deadline. The proposal should include a detailed plan, objectives, background research, and a budget.

  • Project Development: Finalists are selected and receive mentorship to help develop and implement their projects.

  • Final Presentation: Students present their completed projects during a visit to MIT, usually in the spring.

As per the 2023-24 guidelines, participants must submit a written proposal in the first round. Selected candidates will be asked for a video interview and finally, six finalists will be chosen. 

These finalists will be the recipients of an all-expenses paid trip to MIT along with continued mentorship and funding for their projects in the Spring semester. They will be declared as MIT Think Scholars upon completing their projects in May. These finalists will have the opportunity to interact with professors and students from various fields of interest. This experience could enrich your pre-college experience and provide a deeper appreciation for technology and how it can be used to resolve community-based concerns. This is an excellent opportunity for those looking to pursue higher education in STEM-related fields. You can find another Lumiere article on this program here

Location: Conducted online; finalists are invited to the Conrad Innovation Summit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

Cost: Free for the first two stages; $499 for the innovation stage. Discounts are offered to teams who are financially constrained. Teams selected for the final round will have to fund their travel and accommodation arrangements to and from Houston.  

Competition Dates: The competition opens for registration in August/October. The Lean Canvas stage is due in early November. The submissions from the Innovation stage are due in early January. The final pitch, held in Houston, usually occurs in April. 

Registration Deadline: August 2024 (exact dates haven’t been declared) 

Eligibility: Applicants must be aged 13-18 and must participate in teams of 2-5 members. Each team must have an adult coach such as a teacher, parent, or mentor.   

The Conrad Challenge is a year-long multi-phase innovation competition for high school students to pitch solutions for important STEM-related problems. The Conrad Foundation has partnered with NASA and Space Center Houston to expand the impact of the challenge. Students from across the globe are invited to work collaboratively, to uncover solutions to global problems. The following is the structure of the challenge: 

  • Activation Stage: You will organize, create your team, and find an adult coach who is willing to guide your team. 

  • Lean Canvas Stage: In this stage, you will brainstorm ideas, decide on your innovation, and finalize your project’s name and challenge category. The categories are Aerospace & Aviation, Cyber-Technology & Security, Energy & Environment, and Health & Nutrition. You will also be expected to come up with a business model and thoroughly understand the market for your innovation.

  • Innovation Stage: Your team will answer and submit the Innovation Brief designed by the organizers and create your own website! You will also submit a 3-5 minute demonstration video explaining your idea and displaying any structures or diagrams that may help bring your innovation to life. This is the most important round in the challenge.   

  • Power Pitch Stage: Finalists will be invited to the Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit in Houston. Here, you will pitch their innovations to a live panel of judges from various industries. 

The winning teams from the final round will receive awards, scholarships, laptops, and even pro-bono legal and consulting services. This challenge can offer you and your ambitious friends the opportunity to test your entrepreneurial skills alongside their academic interests. The Conrad Challenge is a comprehensive test of your endurance, perseverance, and creativity. You can read more about the challenge here

One other option - the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for another way to enhance your college applications, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs 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.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!

Tamanna Parikh is an alum of Ashoka University. She studied Psychology and English at Ashoka and will be joining the University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student. She plans on studying behavioral science and specializing in decision theory at Penn. 

Image Source: USABO logo



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