If you’re in middle or high school and are interested in pursuing a career in STEM, especially in computer science and technology, then you should definitely consider participating in national competitions. They are a great way to test your skills and knowledge with other students nationwide and the prestige associated with winning is significant.
Enter CyberPatriot, one of the most prestigious and popular CS competitions in the country.
In this blog, we will cover all there is to know about the CyberPatriot competition, its eligibility, prestige, and costs, as well as 7 compelling reasons why you should participate!
What is CyberPatriot?
In 2009, the U.S. Air Force Association (AFA) launched CyberPatriot, part of its National Youth Cyber Education Program. This annual competition is team-based, and puts teams of middle and high school students in the shoes of IT professionals in charge of a company and, through multiple competition rounds, they have to fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities and attacks while ensuring the company remains functional.
The Air Force launched the program with the aim of scouting and building the talent of the future generation of cybersecurity experts who could protect the U.S. from digital attacks. As of 2018, there were 300,000 cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. waiting to be filled. The competition’s sponsors include the Northrop Grumman Foundation, Cisco, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, AT&T, and Boeing, among other government and private companies. You can see the entire list of sponsors here.
Another thing you should note - 60% of CyberPatriot participants major in either cybersecurity or computer science, and 82% of graduates work in a relevant field - so if you are a budding CS major interested in cybersecurity, you should definitely consider this competition!
Is the competition prestigious?
The CyberPatriot competition is highly competitive and prestigious. Every year, over 25,000 students across the U.S. participate, and less than 1% make it to the finals. The teams that make it to the finals win an all-expense trip to Maryland and have the opportunity to earn scholarship money.
How can I enter as a CyberPatriot participant?
The first step is to register your team. A team can consist of one coach (an administrator, parent, etc) and up to six members. However, a maximum of five members can compete during any competition round, with one student as a substitute. Optionally, teams can have technical mentors — experienced IT professionals — who volunteer to help train students.
Who can enter the competition, and how does it work?
You can enter your team and compete in one of three divisions:
Open High School Division: includes all high schools, scouting units, Boys and Girls Clubs, and approved high school home school programs
All Service Division: High school U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) Programs / Civil Air Patrol units / Naval Sea Cadet Corps units
Middle School Division: Open to teams of middle school students
All U.S. students between grades 6 and 12 are eligible to participate in the competition. Prior cybersecurity knowledge is not necessary, you only have to show interest in the field. AFA provides training material to prepare for the competition. Each competition round lasts four hours and is split into two challenges:
Network Security Challenge: you find and fix security vulnerabilities in Windows and Linux operating systems
Cisco Networking Challenge: answer an online quiz and a virtual networking exercise based on specific training materials, which you can access here.
Where does the competition take place?
Except for the finals, all competition rounds take place online. The program is location-agnostic — your team can meet at home, in a library, school, etc.
What is the deadline to register?
Registration for the 2023-24 competition has ended. For 2024-25, team registrations will likely be open between April 1 and October 3, 2024. Before the competition begins, you will be able to participate in practice and training rounds to better understand how the competition works.
Competition rounds take place during the school year and are held on one weekend every month from October to January.
What does the program cost?
Teams registered in the open high school division pay a fee of $225 and middle school teams pay $175. CyberPatriot offers fee waivers for all-girl teams and teams registered in the All Service Division.
What do the winners get?
Approximately 28 teams make it to the finals (this number can vary slightly). If you’re among the finalists, AFA will fly you to Maryland, free of cost. The competition’s sponsors offer the winning team and finalists varying scholarships. The Northrop Grumman Foundation grants open-division winners $2,000 each, runner-ups $1,500, and the third-place team $1,000 to each member. Gannon University, Pennsylvania, offers the winning team a four-year, full-tuition scholarship at their university. The National Cyber Scholarship Foundation offers Platinum tier competitors (teams scoring in the top 30%) cybersecurity training scholarships worth over $3,000.
CyberPatriot - 7 reasons why you should participate
The competition is prestigious and will make a positive impact on your resume The CyberPatriot competition is highly competitive — less than 1% of competitors make it to the finals. If you do succeed, it will not only show demonstrated interest to college recruiters but also mark you out as one of the brightest computer science and cybersecurity minds of your year.
The competition is accessible - you don’t need a background in computer science or cybersecurity to participate AFA is committed to finding the best cybersecurity minds and does not believe your academic background should hinder your chances. All you need is an interest in cybersecurity and problem-solving. They provide training materials to prepare you and your team for the competition.
This is an excellent opportunity to work on your team-leading and teamwork skills The CyberPatriot competition is team-based and requires you to work and problem-solve along with your teammates. It’s important to note that college admissions highly value such experience, as it shows you can work well with others. Additionally, the CyberPatriot playbook recommends each team have a leader who can delegate tasks efficiently during competition rounds, provide coaching, and oversee work to prevent mistakes.
You have the chance to be noticed by the government and some of the nation’s leading IT companies The AFA launched the CyberPatriot program to scout the next generation of cybersecurity experts, believing that future wars would be fought digitally. Moreover, the demand for cybersecurity professionals is growing twice as fast as the available workforce. Winning, reaching the finals, or even placing in the top 30% of the competition would highlight your potential to both colleges and future employers. The competition is sponsored by U.S. security agencies and companies like Cisco, Boeing, and AT&T, to name a few.
The competition provides you with lots of opportunities to network with top minds in cybersecurity Making it to the finals is no easy feat, and the AFA invites all finalists to participate in a networking event with the competition’s sponsors — a great opportunity to present yourself to some of the nation’s top tech companies and military departments, and open doors toward future mentorship and potential internships and jobs.
All winners are awarded hefty scholarships and bragging rights Being in the top 1% of teams nationwide is an impressive achievement and will show how college recruiters demonstrated interest in the field. If you win or place within the top 3, different sponsors give you scholarship grants. Gannon University, Pennsylvania, offers a full-tuition scholarship if you pursue an undergraduate degree with them.
You can use this opportunity to prepare for other national and international computer science competitions There are a ton of computer science competitions open to high school students, a complete list of which you can check out here. Participating (and perhaps winning) CyberPatriot can set you up for success at other such competitions - not only does participating in this competition help you hone your technical skills, but also helps shape your communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills.
The Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research in computer science and cybersecurity, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program 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.
Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.
Image Source: CyberPatriot logo