For high school students who want to explore real-world business challenges but don’t know where to start, an accessible entry point is student organizations. One such organization that has been making a significant impact on students' lives is DECA. This blog post will delve into the competitive opportunities at DECA that you can make the most of as a high school student.
What is DECA?
DECA, previously known as Distributive Education Clubs of America, is a not-for-profit career and technical student organization. It is divided into chartered associations for various geographic areas, further subdivided into local chapters in the form of unincorporated student organizations. Overall it is split into two unique divisions, High School and Collegiate, with over 200,000 members across 3700 chapters in the former and over 4000 members in 200 chapters in the latter. The programs are designed to address the learning styles, interests, and focus of both levels. DECA is recognized and endorsed by all 50 state departments of education and the U.S. Department of Education.
DECA’s mission is to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management in high schools and colleges around the globe. It intends to ensure that the next generation is academically prepared, community-oriented, professionally responsible, and to provide them with experienced leaders. It hopes to achieve this through integration with classroom instruction, applied learning, industry partnerships, and of course hosting and promoting competitions.
Is it prestigious?
DECA is one of the most recognized academic clubs in America, and its massive membership and recognition by the Department of Education all attest to its prestige. Participating in competitions and events organized by them allows you to benefit from industry associations and real-world simulation.
Competitive Event Types & Structures
DECA organizes competitive events across four distinct career clusters: business management and administration, finance, hospitality and tourism, marketing, and additionally also in entrepreneurship and personal financial literacy. All of the events are aligned with the National Curriculum Standards and are industry vetted. The events may be individual or in teams of up to 3 students, and are divided into three categories, with further sub-types as detailed below:
1. Roleplays + Case Studies - intense events involving a multiple choice exam, and an on-site, live roleplay with a judge.
Principles of Business Administration - individual entry events meant for first year DECA members and focused around explaining core business concepts.
Individual Series - these are also individual entry events as the name attests, however these are roleplays in which you solve business challenges in specific career areas.
Team Decision Making - case studies meant to be tackled by a team of 2 students in a specific career area followed by a presentation.
Personal Financial Literacy - a unique event designed to test your application of decision making and knowledge of personal finance.
2. Prepared Events - long term competitions involving a written project, a prepared presentation, and/or a career cluster exam.
Business Operations Research - you or your team must conduct research on a common topic and present your findings and propose a solution with a strategic plan.
Project Management - as the name suggests, a true test of project management where you or your team will have to initiate, plan, execute, monitor, control and close a project.
Entrepreneurship - events that allow you or your team to showcase your entrepreneurship skills at various stages, from innovation planning to business growth to international expansion.
Integrated Marketing Campaign - two events that focus on product and service marketing respectively, in which you or your team will have to create an integrated marketing plan for a specific category.
Professional Selling & Consulting - individual events that test your sales and consulting skills.
3. Online Simulations - online business simulations requiring nothing more than the skills, knowledge, and the relevant software to compete internationally.
Stock Market Game - you and your team will manage all aspects of an investment portfolio, from stock selection, to buying and selling. The team with the highest final portfolio value wins.
Virtual Business Challenge - a large, comprehensive, web-based competition in which you and your team will attempt to run a complete business in a selected career track for charter, regional and overall victory.
Points to Consider Before Enrolment
While there is no shortage of events demanding a showcase of all sorts of academic and business skills, you should consider a few factors before enrolling in your local DECA chapter and submitting applications:
Availability - while DECA has a massive member base across the country, not every county will have a large DECA chapter, in fact some might not have it at all. Be sure to check the DECA chapter for your area, how many schools it is present in, how many students are members, and what kind of participation is generally observed. Otherwise, not only will your chapter simply not be able or willing to host the larger competitions, you might also have to travel to another area if you really want to enroll in specific competitions. This dovetails into the second point you should consider.
Expense - whether you travel for on-site competitions (or simply even to participate in them), or you invest into a business idea or marketing plan, there is likely to be at least some expense involved. While DECA is a not-for-profit organization and does not charge any kind of participation or registration fees, consider carefully the kinds of competitions you want to participate in while keeping your wallet in mind.
Commitment - the majority of DECA events take place during the academic year, with some requiring constant effort for multiple weeks at a stretch. Considering the highly competitive nature of these events and the quality of submissions required, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the workload. It will require commitment and discipline to ensure that your academics do not suffer.
Relevance - possibly the most important consideration, as there are no less than 59 individual competitions held by DECA. Even for specific career tracks and industries, there are multiple events that take place, and it is highly unlikely that you will be able to meaningfully compete in them all. You will have to be careful and selective in identifying the competitions most relevant for your specific profile and your career and college interests. Beyond mere selection, you may also want to ration your limited time and effort into the best possible event for you, as winning or qualifying in the finals will also allow you the valuable opportunity to potentially network with the industry leaders judging the events. Refer to this chart for a bird’s eye view of which career profiles are most benefited by which competitions.
DECA offers a multitude of competitive opportunities for high school students interested in business, finance, marketing, and hospitality. Participation in these events provides practical experience, enhances academic profiles, and helps you develop essential skills for your future career. While it requires a significant time commitment and can be challenging, the benefits gained from participating in DECA's competitive events are invaluable. If your profile and career interests align with the competitive events on offer, gear up, join DECA, and embark on a journey of learning, growth, and success!
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are passionate about conducting research (including business research), 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.
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.
Image Source: DECA logo