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The Complete Guide to the Genius Olympiad

The Genius Olympiad is a global high school project competition focused on recognizing and rewarding innovative solutions to environmental issues. It is founded and organized by Terra Science and Education and hosted by the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Genius Olympiad hosts projects in five general disciplines with an environmental focus. The categories cover a wide range of STEM and non-STEM streams. Science, robotics (as a separate category), writing, business, art, music, and short films are the prominent categories for submissions. However, as we mentioned, projects in all these categories need to have an environmental focus.

The olympiad is fairly popular in the high school research enthusiasts’ circuit. To give you an idea of just how popular (and competitive) the Genius Olympiad is - in 2023, it will host around 750 projects presented in person by around 1300 students. This statistic is based on an acceptance rate of about 50% i.e. around half of all the projects submitted were accepted. Some of these projects have multiple students hence the number of students is higher than the number of projects.

Why should you consider participating at Genius (or other similar competitions)?

A big trend in college admissions has been towards students doing independent academic work. The reason why admission officers value this extra-curricular work is because of its signaling ability - it shows you’ve gone beyond your high school curriculum and have applied what you have learned while picking up new skills. In fact, UPenn reported that one-third of their matriculating class of 2026 did research in high school.

How selective is the Genius Olympiad?

The genius olympiad has a selection process that we consider moderately selective. There are essentially two rounds of admission - the first is to get to the finals round (which has an admission chance of about 50%) and the second is then to win an award at the olympiad itself. Receiving a top award is a valuable and high-signal achievement while getting to the finals has only a moderate set of value.

The Genius Olympiad is the slightly less prestigious cousin of the ISEF Regeneron fair. So, one route for high school students could be to apply for their regional ISEF Regeneron fair. Winners of those fairs also will get direct access to the Genius Olympiad fair. Students can also double dip - using their ISEF project for the Genius Olympiad and vice-versa.

What are the eligibility criteria?

  • Open to all international and U.S. students studying in grades 9-12 (between 13-17 years of age).

  • All students under 17 must attend the GENIUS Olympiad with an adult chaperone (a teacher, or a family member).

  • Minimum age requirement for student participants is 13.

  • Each student may present only one project. In the case of being a finalist for multiple projects, the applicant must choose which project to present.

  • A maximum of two students may present a science, business, or short film project.

What do you participate with?

Basically, projects. These projects can take various forms based on the category that you will apply under. For example, if you are working on a science-based project, your final output has to be a research description paper (along with an option of presenting a model). For a creative writing project, you will be submitting either a short story or an essay, or a poem. Make sure you read more about the final output required from you based on your category.

An important difference between various categories is that the submission guidelines vary across them. In all the different categories that you can submit your project in, there are specific guidelines that you have to follow. In science-based projects, there are instructions on poster presentation and content that you have to pay attention to. Creative writing projects are presented by reading to a live audience for 5 minutes, followed by a feedback session from judges. Business project participants must prepare and present a business plan to judges as though they were making a pitch for funding for their business plan, also known as an investment proposal.

Thus, as we can see, it is not just the output but also the medium of presenting the output that varies. You must check out the detailed guidelines for your project here. Finally, do not forget to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of submissions too. There are instructions on everything ranging from the font size that you have to use in a project description paper to eligible robotics kits for the competition.

How do you participate and what is the timeline like?

Presenting at the Genius Olympiad is similar to many other sequential fairs that we have written about (Like ISEF! You can read more about ISEF here). You cannot present directly at the final event. In order to become a finalist, you have to either go through an affiliated fair or apply directly to the website.

There are various affiliated fairs that allow you to participate at Genius. While there is little information on how you can go through a regional fair to get to GENIUS finals, you can find more information about this on individual affiliated fair websites.

Three main categories of these fairs are mentioned below:

  1. All U.S. ISEF-affiliated regional fairs or U.S. regional fairs with 75 or more high school projects are considered GENIUS affiliated. GENIUS Olympiad accepts 2 environment-focused STEM projects prepared by a maximum of two high school students as a finalist project from these fairs.

  2. GENIUS Olympiad Nationals are held in individual countries by third parties or governmental organizations under an agreement. These Nationals are the first step to being a finalist at GENIUS Olympiad in the country it is organized. All projects who would like to participate in GENIUS Olympiad must apply to GENIUS Olympiad Nationals in their country. But, in case any category of the Olympiad is not organized in the country or non-citizens are not allowed to participate, those projects can still apply directly to GENIUS Olympiad.

  3. All ISEF-affiliated international fairs are considered GENIUS affiliated unless there is a GENIUS Olympiad National organized in the respective country. GENIUS Olympiad accepts 2 environment-focused STEM projects prepared by two high school students as a finalist project from these fairs. A list of these fairs can be found here.

The other option of applying to the GENIUS olympiad is to do it directly through the website portal. You can create an account here. Once you create an account you will see the following dashboard:

There are various details that you will have to fill out about yourself and your school, etc.

An important thing to note is that whether or not you are participating in the affiliated fairs, you have to submit your application through the GENIUS portal by the relevant deadline.

Some important deadlines regarding the 2023 olympiad are mentioned below.

Nov 10, 2023

Applications for GENIUS Olympiad 2023 start

Mar 1, 2023

Application deadline for ALL individual/school/International Fair applications.

For affiliated US/EU Fairs Certificate Holders, it is April 18.

Apr 3, 2023

Announcement of Finalists (please check our website) and Start of Participant and Trip Registration

May 1, 2023

Participant registration deadline

May 1, 2023

Participant registration deadline

For affiliated US/EU Fairs Certificate Holders, it is April 18. Apr 3, 2023Announcement of Finalists (please check our website) and Start of Participant and Trip Registration May 1, 2023Participant registration deadline Jun 1, 2023Participation cancellation deadline. No Refunds after this date for Genius Olympiad participation fees.

You have the option to keep upgrading your actual project (a demo, prototype, reading out any literary work, etc.) and presentation work (posters, etc.) till the finals in June. All projects will relate in some way to environmental protection.

Where is the competition held? Rochester Institute of Technology (New York).

Cost: There is a $50 fee to register for a project and a $425 fee to register for the finals if you are selected. There are additional costs for optional trips, visas, room, and food.

Prize: There are three categories of medals - grand, gold, silver, and bronze. Though specific details about the distribution are not given, 20% of projects will not receive any award (meaning 80% will).

Another interesting detail to note is that all GENIUS Olympiad finalists receive a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology if they are admitted. Participants and award winners for GENIUS Olympiad 2023 will be eligible for scholarships ranging from 25,000 to 10,000 based on whether they are a finalist or gold medalist.

How are projects evaluated?

Projects are reviewed out of 5 points by multiple reviewers and projects scoring 3.3 and higher are selected as finalists. Each category has slightly different evaluation criteria so be sure to read them carefully! Check out the awardee list to get an understanding of the type of projects which shine in the Olympiad.

You can broadly expect the judges to listen to your presentation for about 5 minutes, evaluate the presentation itself, judge you on the project design, scientific method deployed, and data management, and then rate you on their form.

Tips for winning the Genius Olympiad

  1. Pick a topic where you can showcase your creativity: There is a wide range of projects that you can work on. As you will see, the categories offer you significant scope for exploring your interest in environmental studies creatively. The only way you can do this authentically is if you choose an area that you are genuinely interested in!

  2. Spend time looking through past winners: As we mentioned earlier, there is a wide spectrum of projects that perform well, Make sure you go through them comprehensively. This will help you not just in seeing the talented people participating in this event, but also equip you with ideas to be inspired by. It will also set a good benchmark for the kind of work you should be aspiring towards in order to make it to the finals or even win! Check out Genius’ award-winning films or poetry that made it to the finals here. Similarly, to help you get an idea of how presentations are typically made, here is a demo of a science project which received an honorable mention and an example of a presentation involving a photograph.

  3. Get a mentor: Having a mentor to guide you through your project journey can be extremely helpful. An expert in your field, can give you the necessary critical feedback to take your project to the next level. This applies not just to business or science projects but even to projects that you might think are individual-creativity based like poetry or film. Going back and forth on your ideas with a subject expert can be a rigorous exercise to bring the best output forward.

  4. Start early (At least 4 months before the regional competition): In our experience of guiding students through various fairs and competitions, most students underestimate the time that it would take them to finish their project. Incorporating feedback from your mentor (and other people) takes time. We recommend starting the project at least 4 months before you present at your regional fair.

  5. Make sure you’re interested in environmental issues: Please keep in mind that the Olympiad is primarily an environment-focused olympiad. It is not just a replacement for other STEM science fairs like ISEF that you might want to participate in. Make sure that even if you are interested in business or creative writing, you are also inclined towards environmental issues. Your interest should be strong enough to find a unique point of intersection with environmental studies.

  6. Get a team member (if an option is in your category): Each project can have up to two people working on it. Having a team member can improve your chances of success by contributing more time, getting a review from another side, and having a wider range of skills.

If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!

Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 

The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas. The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 

The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.

You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship.

In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship - the Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. 

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location:  Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates and gap year students!

Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!

Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests.

The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 

The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here

Location: Virtual


  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 

Mentorship in a research project can be very useful if you want a shot at winning prestigious competitions (such as Genius!). If you want to get mentored 1-1 with a top Ph.D. researcher and begin working on a phenomenal research project of your own, apply to Lumiere! In the program, you work directly with a researcher in your field of interest to develop your own project. You also work with team members dedicated to helping you succeed in these types of competitions!

Manas is a publication strategy associate at Lumiere Education. He studied public policy and interactive media at NYU and has experience in education consulting.


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