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Competitions and Contests that Boost Your Admission Prospects

High school students should know that when it comes to putting together a resume of extracurriculars, not all activities are created in equal. Selective colleges particularly value participation in well-regarded competitions and contests which have a strong national presence. Certain names will catch the eyes of admissions officers, particularly if you/your high school team fared well in state- and national-level competitive events. Each of the following 70 academic competitions and contests selected by the College Transitions team has the potential to provide a genuine boost to your admission prospects at highly-selective institutions.

Click the links below for more information about each program. You will also find the academic category under which the contest falls, the eligibility requirements, and a brief overview of how the competition operates and/or what it entails.

Competition or Contest Name CategoryEligibilityContest Description
Academic DecathlonInterdisciplinary 3.75 or greater GPA to compete in "Honors" divisionNational competition involves ten events covering Science, Literture, Art, Music, Social Science, Economics, and Math around a given theme.
American Invitational Mathematics ExaminationMathematicsScore in the top 5% on the AMC Math exam15-question test that takes 3 hours to compete.
American Mathematics Competitions (AMC)MathematicsGrade 10 of below for AMC 10; grade 12 or below for AMC 12Grade 12 test covers advanced trig, algebra, and geometry but not caluclus- exams are 25 questions and 75 minutes in duration.
American Regions Mathematics LeagueMathematicsUnder 19, teams must be drawn from a "well-defined region".Five individual rounds followed by a ten-question team round.
BEST Robotics CompetitionRobotics Open to all high school students 18,000 students participate in contest to design a fucntioning machine using everyday objects.
Chemistry OlympiadSTEMHigh school students under 20, no more than two students per school16,000 studens participate in local exam; 1,000 students move on to 4 hour and 45 minute national exam.
Clean Tech CompetitionSTEMTeams of 1-3 team members, aged 15-18Teams identify an issue that impacts the environment and formulate a novel solution.
Congressional App ChallengeComputer ScienceAll high school students, individual or team (up to 4)Students use any programming language to design a new app. Sponsiored by Congress and top tech companies.
Conrad Spirit of Innovation ChallengeSTEMAges 13-18600 teams compete to come up with solutions to social, scientific, and societal issues.
CyberPatriotComputer Science HIgh school students Run by the Air Force Association, teams compete to tackle cyberthreats to a fictional company.
Davidson FellowsInterdisciplinary18 and underSubmit a "significant work" in a STEM or Humanities category.
DECABusiness/Finance High school teams must be comprised of one sponsor and ten membersVariety of competitive events including decision-making, project management, and marketing.
Destination ImaginationInterdisciplinaryGrades 9-12Touraments of 8,000 competitors participate in a wide range of challenges, from engineering to fine arts.
Diamond Challenge for High School EntrepreneursBusiness/Finance Teams of 2-4, ages 14-18Students pitch innovations in the business and social realms to a team of judges. Hosted by University of Delaware.
First Robotics CompetitionRobotics Grades 9-12, ages 14-18660,000 students around the world participate, contests entail building robots and draw 4-8k teams.
Future Business Leaders of AmericaBusiness/Finance Grades 9-12 5,200+ high school chapters- must qualify through business knowledge and skills at the state level.
Harvard MIT Mathematics TournamentMathematics High school students, teams of 4-6 or 6-8. 1,000 compettors from around the globe- individual, team, and "guts" rounds.
Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA)Medical Grades 9-12, maximim 3 competitors per division Variety of events including: Health Professions, Leadership Emergency, Preparedness, and Health Science.
High School Fed ChallengeBusiness/Finance Grades 9-12, teams of 3-5 students Teams gives 12-minute presentation on the economy and engage in a 13-minute Q&A with judges.
iGEMSTEMPrimarily undergrads but high school students can join teamsCan present synthetic biology projects at Giant Jamboree to compete for prizes.
International BioGENEius ChallengeSTEMGrades 9-12, enrolled in biology or science-related courseStudents generate solutions in the areas of healtcare, sustainability, and the environment. Operates local and at-large contests.
Knowledge @Wharton Investment CompetitionBusiness/FinanceGrades 9-12, teams of 4-7 students Students manage a virtual portfolio- the winner is the team that can best articulate their strategies (not based on pure growth).
MathWorks Math Modeling ChallengeMathematics 11th and 12th gradersChallenge Weekend presents a problem that students work on over 14 consecutive hours.
Microsoft Imagine CupSTEM16+ for global competition, teams of 3 max Massive contest with 2 million+ student competitors over the past 17 years. Teen developers create projects that address the world's most challenging problems.
MIT Inspire (Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences)Humanities/Social ScienceUnder the age of 19, enrolled in high schoolPresent original research on topic of your choice. Top 100 in the world are invited to the final round.
MIT THINK Scholars ProgramSTEM/InnovationFull-time high school students STEM project proposals that can be completed in one semester on a $1,000 budget. Finalists selected get facuty mentorship as they complete their project.
Model UNHumanities/Social ScienceGrades 9-12 (for high school Model UN)Conference participants research and formulate positions to represent an assigned country. Top performers are given awards.
Modeling the FutureMathematics11th and 12th grade, take advanced math, teams can be 1-5 studentsStudents complete and submit four scenario problems; the top 10-20 teams are selected to present at the MTF Symposium.
National Economics ChallengeHumanities/Social ScienceAll high school students, teams of 3-4Tests knowledge of micro and macroeconomic principles. State winners advanced to National Semi-Finals and then National Finals.
National French ContestForeign Language Grades 7-12, eligible regardless of French coursework A 60 minutes test leads to prizes at the Chapter and National levels.
National Junior Science and Humanities SymposiumInterdisciplinary Grades 9-12Students present original research in the sciences or humanities to a panel of judges at the regions, state, national, and international levels.
National Mock TrialDebate All high school studentsMock Trial teams argue cases either for the defense or prosecution. District, Regional, and State tournaments lead to one team from each state being invited to Nationals.
National Scholastic Press Association (Pacemaker and Individual Awards)Journalism All high school studentsThe Pacemaker is scholastic journalism's premier award. There are nine competitions with 43 total categories.
National Science BowlSTEMGrades 9-12, teams of 4 or 5 studentsStandards-based challenges to 8,000 teams; hosts 450 annual competitions.
National Science OlympiadSTEMGrades 9-12, teams of up to 15 students Close to 8,000 teams compete in a variety of STEM categories in Regional, State, and National tournaments as well as unofficial "Invitational" events at high schools and colleges.
National Speech and DebateHumanities/Social ScienceMust be members of the NSDA Honor Society (with 25 points)Qualified districts from around the U.S. are invited to participate in the National Tournament.
North American Computational Linguistics OlympiadHumanities/Social ScienceOpen to all high school students Students solve linguistic puzzles and excercise logic skills in an Invitational and Open round.
Odyssey of the MindInterdisciplinary Various age groups, maximum of 7 team membersA creative problem-solving competition where teams present their solutions. The World Finals are open registration.
Physics BowlSTEM Open to all high school students Test is 40 multiple choice questions on everything from conceptual physics to AP Physics B/C.
Quiz BowlSTEMOpen to high school-age studentsLocal touraments of more than three high schools send the top 15% of finishers to the High School National Championship Tournament.
Regeneron Science Talent SearchSTEMHigh school seniors only 1,800 students engage in original research. The top 300 scholars are recognized and the top 40 are invited to participate in the finals in Washington, D.C.
Stemanities Research CompetitionSTEMUnder 19Students submit a research study of up to 20 pages in length with no more than two authors.
Stockholm Junior Water PrizeSTEMGrades 9-12 as long as they are age 15 by August 1 of the competition yearThousands of participants submit their original research on environmental issues related to he global water supply.
The Stock Market GameBusiness/FinanceOpen to all middle and high school students, teams of 3-5A simulation of the global markets where teams of students invest. Capital Hill Challenge selects ten winners to meet with members of Congress and fiscal policy-makers.
Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVisionSTEMGrades 10-12, groups of 2-4Contest to project the uses for a given technology 20 years in the future through research and brainstorming.
USA BiolympiadSTEMGrades 9-1210,000 competitors go through two rounds of exams with 20 Finalists being invited to the National Finals.
USA Mathematical Talent SearchMathematics All middle and high school studentsStudents have an entire month to work through their solutions and write justifications which are then graded by mathematicians.
Vex Robotics CompetitionRobotics Grades 6-12Teams build robots that play against other teams in a game-based engineering challenge. More than 11,500 teams play in 900 tournaments at the local, regional, national, and world levels.
We The People (Constitutional Scholars)Humanities/Social ScienceAll high school studentsTeams apply an understanding of constitutional principles by holding mock congressional hearings and are scored according to a standardized rubric. 1,200 students participate in the National Finals.
National Spanish ExaminationsForeign Language Grades 6-12Students take a standardized Spanish test, earning gold, silver, bronze, and honorable mention distinctions at the national level.
Goethe-Institut International German OlympicsForeign Language Ages 14-17Top 5% of scorers on a German language exam compete in the USA Final Round.
National Latin ExamForeign Language High school students enrolled in a Latin courseStudents take a 40-question, 45-minute exam and are awarded a range of certificates.
Chinese Bridge Proficiency CompetitionForeign Language Open to all high school students who were not born in China.Participants must demonstrate an understanding of Chinese language (including delivering a speech), knowledge of China, and Chinese cultural skills (art, music, caligraphy, etc.).
Technology Student Association High School CompetitionComputer Science/STEMGrades 9-12, between 1-3 teams per state/chapter qualifyParticipants enter one of 38 contests in CS, STEM, or other assorted categories.
USA Computing OlympiadComputer ScienceOpen to all secondary school studentsSeries of competitions in one of five programming languages. Four students emerge to represent the USA at the International Olympiad in Informatics.
National Robotics ChallengeComputer ScienceGrades 9-12 (for high school level)Students demonstrate understanding of robotics and technologies through application as they solve a real-world problem as part of a team.
National Junior Classical LeagueHumanities/Foreign LanguageMust be members in good standing with te JCL (Latin/Greek)Contests in areas including Ancient Geography, Grammar, Hellenic History, Mythologies, Roman History, and more.
American Foreign Service National H.S. Essay ContestWriting Grades 9-12Submit essay focused on a challnege to U.S. peace and prosperity.
Profile in Courage Essay ContestWriting Grades 9-12Submit 700-1,000-word essay identifying an act of political courage by an elected U.S. official.
The Emerson PrizeWriting All high school studentsAwarded annually to 10+ students per year who were published in The Concord Review and show promise in the area of historical writing.
Letters About LiteratureWriting Grades 9-12 (for Level III)Contestants compose a letter to an author (living or dead) who inspired them about how their book affected them personally.
Columbia Scholastic Press Association AwardsJournalism Middle and High School publications Judges award Gold and Silver status to high school publications - literary magazines, newspapers, and yearbooks.
NCTE Student Writing AwardsWriting High school juniors nominated by their schoolsParticipants are judged on two submissions: themed writing and best writing.
Scholastic Art & Writing AwardsWriting/the ArtsGrades 7-12 Awarded to students whose work shows originality, technical skill, and personal voice or vision.
Congressional Art CompetitionThe ArtsAll high school students Produce an original 2-D work of art on a given annual American theme.
YoungArts National Arts CompetetionThe ArtsGrades 10-12 or age 15-18. Submission guidelines vary by category which include: classical music, vsiual arts, photography,. theater, film, and dance.
National Association for Music Education CompetitionsThe ArtsGrades 9-12 (for High School competition)Offers contests for traditional composers, electronic music composers, songwriters, and ensembles.
National High School Musical Theatre AwardsThe Arts All high school students The Jimmy Award is given to the top high school performances by actors and actresses. Finalists at regional competitions are considered for the national award.
National History BowlHumanities11th or 12th grade (for Varsity), teams of up to 6 students Team quiz competition where teams compete to qualify for the National Championships.
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