20 Science Research Competitions for High Schoolers
- Why Should You Enter a Science Research Competition?
- 20 Science Research Competitions for High Schoolers
- How Do Science Research Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?
Participation in science research competitions offers many benefits to students; for example, it can make them more competitive candidates for college admissions and provide them with valuable experience in a sought-after field. There’s a wide variety of science research competitions for high schoolers, including the high-profile contests listed below.
Why Should You Enter a Science Research Competition?
Entering a science research competition demonstrates that you take initiative and that you care about academics beyond the grades in your courses, both of which are qualities that colleges appreciate in prospective students.
Participation in competitions is a strong extracurricular activity, and successes—like making the finals or winning—can provide you with a chance to earn a scholarship, make your college application more attention-grabbing, or even open doors, such as laying the groundwork for a career in science research and helping you land an internship.
Win or lose, taking part in a science research competition allows you to explore an interest and learn about a fascinating field.
20 Science Research Competitions for High Schoolers
The AAN Neuroscience Research Prize competition challenges students to investigate problems regarding the brain or nervous system. The competition is only open to individual students—group projects are ineligible. Teachers are encouraged to provide guidance and support; however, they should allow students to demonstrate their own creativity. Winners and their projects are highlighted at the AAN Annual Meeting.
Type: State and National
Envirothon is North America’s largest environmental education competition, with more than 25,000 students participating in the multi-level competition each year. Student teams are first challenged at state-level competitions with the winners moving on to face top teams from across the globe at the annual international competition.
The international competition is a six-day event held in a different location each summer—for example, in an open range of the western U.S. one year, and at a Maritime coastal community of eastern Canada the next. The competition offers participants the chance to win thousands of dollars in scholarships.
Type: Local, Regional, and International
The Regeneron ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition—more than 1,800 high school students, representing more than 75 countries, regions, and territories, take part. Students showcase independent research and compete for roughly $8 million in awards across 21 categories.
This is not a group-based competition—individual students enroll in local school science fairs before advancing to upper-level competitions in hopes of reaching the national stage.
Hosted by the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., the National Science Bowl is a highly publicized competition that tests students’ knowledge in all areas of science and mathematics, including biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, energy, and math. Students compete in teams of four (plus an alternate) and have a teacher who serves as an advisor.
The National Science Bowl is one of the largest science competitions in the country—roughly 330,000 students have participated in it throughout its 32-year history.
Type: State and National
One of the nation’s premier STEM competitions, the National Science Olympiad is the pinnacle of achievement for the country’s top Science Olympiad teams. In 2022, the U.S. top 120 teams, plus a Global Ambassador Team from Japan (for a total of more than 2,000 students) squared off in a variety of events for the chance to be named the Science Olympiad National Champions.
Teams also compete annually for the opportunity to win prizes and scholarships, including a one-time $10,000 Science Olympiad Founders’ Scholarship. About 6,000 teams compete each year, beginning at the regional level in hopes of reaching the national competition.
Established in 1942 and hosted by the Society for Science, the Regeneron Science Talent Search is considered the most prestigious high school science research competition in the nation. The competition tasks young scientists with presenting their original research before a panel of nationally recognized professional scientists.
Of the 1,800 entrants, 300 Regeneron STS scholars are selected—they and their schools are awarded $2,000 each. Forty finalists are then picked from the pool of scholars. They receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., where they compete for an additional $1.8 million in awards, with a top prize of $250,000.
Type: Regional, State, National, and International
In this competition, students from around the world seek to address the current and future water challenges facing the world. Competition for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize occurs on four levels: regional, state, national, and international.
- Regional winners receive a certificate and a nomination to compete in the state competition.
- State winners receive a medal and an all-expenses-paid trip to compete in the national competition.
- National winners receive a trophy, a $10,000 scholarship, and an all-expenses-paid trip to the international competition in Stockholm, Sweden.
- International winners receive a crystal trophy and a $15,000 scholarship, along with a $5,000 award for their school.
In order to participate, students can begin to research and develop a practical project proposal either as an individual or with a group. To reach the national level, students must be nominated by a national organizer representing their country.
To participate in this competition, students must submit a video of up to 3 minutes that demonstrates an interest in and understanding of a topic in psychology that they think could benefit their local community and improve lives. Students must also utilize at least one peer-reviewed research study on their topic, and must include a closing slide citing their source(s). Up to three winners are chosen to receive a $300 scholarship.
Type: Regional and National
The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium National Competition is one of the country’s longest-running STEM competitions—participants are required to submit and present scientific research papers and compete for military-sponsored undergraduate scholarships.
The JSHS national competition is the result of a collaborative effort between the Department of Defense and academic research institutes nationwide. It is designed to emulate a professional symposium. Research projects are organized into categories such as Environmental Science, Engineering and Technology, and Medicine and Health. After competing regionally, about 250 students are chosen to attend an annual symposium to showcase their work.
In the fall of each year, interested students can enter project proposals into competition for selection from a group of undergraduate students at MIT. If selected, students will be able to carry out their project—receiving up to $1000 in funding to complete their research. They’ll also be invited to a four-day symposium at MIT the following year.
Finalists are guided with weekly mentorship and will have the opportunity to present their findings to MIT students and faculty at the end of the program.
In this competition, students compete in groups of 2-4 to select a technology and forecast how it will evolve over the next decade or beyond, while discussing the scientific achievements that will need to be made to get there.
Students will submit an abstract as well as a detailed description paper that is not to exceed 11 pages. In doing so, they will be entered into competition and considered for a number of financial awards, as well as a trip to Washington, D.C., for the ExploraVision Awards Weekend. The competition is nationally recognized and is sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association.
12. Conrad Challenge
Teams of 2-5 students are tasked with designing and detailing project proposals to tackle various problems categories such as Aerospace & Aviation, Health & Nutrition, Cyber-Technology & Security, and Energy & Environment. In doing so, they will identify problems in the world and come up with a feasible and innovative solution, working with judges and mentors along the way.
Finalists will be selected from the competing teams and invited to the Innovation Summit in Houston, where they will pitch their projects to judges and potentially receive numerous prizes and awards, ranging from scholarships to consulting services.
Type: National and International
Over the course of two years, students will undergo multiple rounds of testing that will eventually pinpoint twenty finalists to be selected for training in a residential program with the goal of representing the USA in the International Biology Olympiad. As such, this is one of the most prestigious and difficult competitions, not just in biology, but in all high school sciences. However, the experience is second to none, and is the ultimate test for students devoted to the future of biology.
While not exclusive to STEM, the Davidson Fellows program offers various major scholarships for students interested in careers in sciences. Listed as one of the “10 Biggest Scholarships in the World,” this program requires students to submit a variety of components related to an independent research study with the broad goal of contributing positively to society through the advancement of science. Students will submit multiple essays as well as a video summary, and must include an additional visual model reporting their findings.
Type: Regional, State, National, International
Destination Imagination is another worldwide competition that includes a variety of subjects, but it specializes in science-based challenges. Students will form teams and choose from a list of different challenges to compete in in categories such as Technical, Scientific, and Engineering.
Students will solve these challenges and present their solutions in regional competitions. Regional winners will move on to statewide competitions before being invited to the Global Finals, where over 8,000 students from 28 states and 12 countries compete for awards. 150,000 students compete annually in the competition at some level.
Type: National and International
For students looking for a more creatively inspired and unconventional competition, the Breakthrough Junior Challenge tasks students with creating a short two-minute video in which they explain and demonstrate a complex scientific concept.
Does that sound simple enough? Over 2,400 students from over 100 countries submitted videos in 2022, meaning there’s no shortage of competition here. Winning applicants will need to demonstrate immense creativity and understanding of complex scientific concepts, but rest assured—the prize is worth the difficulty.
The winner will receive a $250,000 scholarship for accredited colleges and universities, as well as a $100,000 grant to the winner’s school for the development of a science lab, and a $50,000 award to a teacher of the winner’s choosing.
Type: Regional and National
Students from across the country are invited to participate in the Biotechnology Institute’s BioGENEius Challenge, where they’ll be able to choose to complete a project in the Healthcare, Sustainability, or Environment categories. If accepted, students will need to complete an extensive research project and demonstrate results, and then compete in either local or a virtual “At-Large” competition, with other student competitors from around the world.
18. Genes in Space
For students interested in the science of space and its overlap with our current understanding of the human genome, this competition combines these two worlds by tasking students with designing a DNA experiment that addresses challenges in space exploration and travel.
Students will submit a project proposal, and semifinalists will be selected to pitch their experiments in Seattle. After doing so, finalists will be selected to work with mentors and scientists from schools, such as Harvard and MIT, to design a real-life experiment. One finalist’s experiment will win the opportunity to be conducted at the International Space Station. The lucky winner will travel to the Kennedy Space Center to see the winning experiment’s launch!
Students will form teams to compete in a variety of STEM-based challenges in this global problem-solving competition, culminating in a World Finals competition that takes place in East Lansing, Michigan.
Over 800 teams from 33 states and 15 countries compete each year in challenges ranging from designing vehicles to building small structures that can withstand hundreds of pounds. These challenges are designed to encourage creativity in the performative and presentational elements of competition.
Type: Regional, National, International
Students interested in Chemistry are able to participate in the USNCO, in which they’ll take rigorous exams to prove their skills in the Chemistry field. Top test-takers will be selected to attend a prestigious Study Camp, where they’ll compete for the chance to represent the U.S. at the International Chemistry Olympiad. Interested students can contact their Local Coordinator, who can be found through the program’s website.
How Do Science Research Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?
The influence your participation in science research competitions can have on your college admissions varies—considerations such as how well you performed and the prestige of the event factor into how admissions officers view the competition. That being said, the four tiers of extracurricular activities provide a good general guide for understanding how colleges view your activities outside the classroom.
The most esteemed and well-known science research competitions are organized into Tiers 1 and 2. Extracurricular activities in these categories are extremely rare, demonstrate exceptional achievement, and hold considerable sway with admissions officers. Tiers 3 and 4 are reserved for more modest accomplishments—like winning a regional (rather than a national) competition—and carry less weight at colleges than their higher-tiered counterparts.
Generally, participation in a science research competition will be considered at least a Tier 2 activity. As stated before, this varies depending on the competition and your performance. For example, being a finalist or winner in something like the Regeneron Science Talent Search or the International Biology Olympiad—prestigious national and international competitions—is very likely to be considered a Tier 1 achievement.
However, lower-tiered extracurriculars are still valuable, as they show colleges a more well-rounded picture of you as a student, and highlight your desire to pursue your interests outside of school.
Curious how your participation in science research competitions affects your odds of college admissions? Collegevine can help. Our free chancing calculator uses factors like grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities—like science research competitions— to calculate your chances of getting into hundreds of colleges across the country! You can even use the information provided to identify where you can improve your college profile and ultimately bolster your odds of getting into your dream school.