For anyone interested in public service and using technology for social good, the Congressional App Challenge is perfect for you – connecting today’s political leaders with the future of computer scientists and engineers.
What is the Congressional App Challenge?
The Congressional App Challenge is an annual competition in the United States that encourages students to use their abilities to develop and submit apps for mobile devices, computers, and other platforms. The Challenge was founded in 2013 by then-Congress members, to uplift young innovators and give them a platform to showcase their abilities to the American public.
The Congressional App Challenge serves as a valuable opportunity for students to present their coding and problem-solving abilities, gain recognition for their work by US Senators and Representatives, and possibly even launch their careers in the technology industry and college applications at a very young age. Over 9000 students participated, with 2000+ apps created, and supported by 300+ members of Congress, serving as a bipartisan platform for innovation across the country. The Congressional App Challenge is broken down by each district of the US, where your Congressperson for your district is the one that chooses the winner. Each winner is then invited to Washington D.C. and the Capitol Building, connecting with other coders, congressional representatives, and local, regional, and national publicity.
Is the Congressional App Challenge Prestigious?
The Congressional App Challenge is an extremely prestigious national competition. Not only are you able to create your own platform for whatever cause or reason you desire, you then have the opportunity to be showcased on a national level, network and meet other coders and like-minded peers, and will forever have a Congressional Representative remember your name and serve as a potential recommendation for future applications. The Congressional App Challenge is one of the most prestigious awards for student coders, and uniquely features a close connection with local representatives with national recognition.
Who is Eligible to Participate in the Congressional App Challenge?
The Congressional App Challenge is open to middle school and high school students who are either U.S. citizens or legal residents, and who reside in a congressional district that is participating in the competition. If your district is not participating or hasn’t historically presented, you may submit a form to your Congressional representative to ask them to enter the competition!
Students may participate individually or in teams of up to four members, and they must have a teacher, mentor, or supervisor who can provide guidance and support throughout the app development process. Because you register for your congressional district, you, or if you are participating in a team, at least half of the participants must be a resident of or a student of that district. The competition is open to students of all skill levels, from beginners to advanced coders, and there are no fees or costs associated with participating.
Timeline and Structure of the Congressional App Challenge
The structure of the Congressional App Challenge is broken down into three phases: the preparation, the judging, and winners phase.
The preparation phase can begin all the way in April, when student pre-registration begins. The official competition start is in June, and you have from then until November to complete your app and submit it.
In November, your app will be judged by your congressional representative and their team. Then, in December, winners will be announced! The #HouseofCode Festival at the Capitol Building will occur in April of the next year that you applied and submitted your application.
Tips to Win the Congressional App Challenge
Winning the Congressional App Challenge is an impressive feat, so here are some tips to win:
Understand the rules and guidelines: Before you start working on your app, make sure you fully understand the rules and guidelines of the Congressional App Challenge. Familiarize yourself with the eligibility criteria, submission requirements, and judging criteria. Make sure you submit your app on time and follow all submission requirements. Double-check that you have included all the necessary materials, such as your video demo and app description.
Choose a unique and useful app idea: To stand out in the competition, choose an app idea that is unique, innovative, and useful. Think about problems that you or your community face and how your app can solve them. This competition is localized to your region, thus is there a social issue, or a large community problem that your district is facing? Creating a platform that can solve a major issue that you and your congressional representative is facing can be immensely beneficial to winning the competition, judged by judges specific to your district.
Plan and design your app: Create a plan and design for your app before you start coding. Make sure your design is user-friendly and visually appealing. Consider using wireframes or prototypes to help you refine your design. Make sure your code is properly commented and documented. Write code that is easy to read, well-organized, and efficient. Test your app thoroughly: Test your app thoroughly to ensure that it is bug-free and works smoothly. Consider getting feedback from your peers, teachers, or mentors to help you improve your app. Any creation that has been made after November 2021 is eligible for this competition, so if you want to apply in the future, there is a long time to make sure your app is clean, efficient, functional, and appealing.
Create a compelling video demo: Create a video demo that showcases the features and functionality of your app. Make sure your video is clear, concise, and engaging. Although the competition states that this isn’t a video-making competition, making an engaging video that attracts attention will allow judges to better see how your app works and garner publicity for our next tip below.
Promote your app: After you submit your app, promote it on social media and encourage others to try it out. The more people who use and appreciate your app, the better your chances of winning. You can upload your video anytime before November 1st, thus while we encourage you to spend as much time to finish your project as possible, uploading your project online and getting people to use it can be a signal to your judges that your app fills a niche that your community needs.
Congressional App Challenge Winners
Winning the Congressional App Challenge is a great feat, thus here are a couple past winners and how they were able to do it.
FastUC is a service created by 10th grader Isha Nagireddy, connecting people to the fastest Urgent Rooms and Emergency Rooms that are nearby to the individual. She saw a problem in her community of long wait times in hospitals, and even on a national level as a result of COVID, thus sought to create this app to remedy that issue. She has personal accounts of these long wait times in her community, cited scientific papers and articles on how wait times impact people on a personal and business level, and thus, created FastUC and won in Massachusetts.
Progress in Congress is a platform created by a team of four individuals from New York, connecting citizens with their congressional representatives, and their supported policies and bills, without any external bias. They cite that their district is a notoriously “purple” district, which means that in any given election, the community can vote Republican or Democratic. Therefore, many people in their high school are interested in politics and their government, but need a source for truthful information, which Progress in Congress seeks to provide.
There are many free sources to help you prepare for the Congressional App Challenge. Linked directly on the website, the Congressional App Challenge provides you with a plethora of free resources to help you learn how to code – from app creation, SQL databases, and so much more. Additionally, many organizations partner with the Congressional App Challenge to aid their community to develop a product, so be on the lookout for local clubs that could help you with your challenge. There are many online tutorials and resources that can teach you specific programming languages or app development concepts. Websites like Udemy, Coursera, and Khan Academy offer free and paid courses on a wide range of topics. Lastly, reach out to mentors and teachers who have experience in app development. They can provide you with guidance, feedback, and support throughout the app development process, as the Congressional App Challenge suggests!
The Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you’re looking for a mentor to participate in a coding competition like Congressional App Challenge or want another opportunity to build your own independent project and research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.
Aaron Zheng is a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Bioengineering. He is passionate about biotechnology, business development, and aiding students get to college, regardless of background. In his spare time, he looks to read, journal, and explore the world. Image source: Congressional App Challenge website