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10 Science Research Competitions for High Schoolers

What’s Covered:

 

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 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 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 the field.

 

10 Science Research Competitions for High Schoolers

 

1. AAN Neuroscience Research Prize

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Type: National

 

The AAN Neuroscience Research Prize competition challenges students to investigate problems regarding the brain or nervous system. The competition is open only 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.

 

2. Envirothon

 

Grades: 9th-12th

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 year—for example, in an open range of the western U.S. one year and a Maritime coastal community of eastern Canada the next—and offers participants the chance to win thousands of dollars in scholarships. 

 

3. Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Type: National

 

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.

 

4. National Science Bowl

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Type: National

 

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.

 

5. National Science Olympiad

 

Grades: 9th-12th

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 (equalling more than 2,000 total students) squared off in a variety of events for the chance to be named the Science Olympiad National Champions and the opportunity to win prizes and scholarships, including a one-time $10,000 Science Olympiad Founders’ Scholarship, 

 

6. Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)

 

Grades: 12th

Type: National

 

Established in 1942, this talent search is a program of the Society for Science and is considered the most prestigious high school science research competition in the nation. The competition tasks young scientists to present their original research before a panel of nationally recognized professional scientists. Of the 1,800 entrants, 300 Regeneron STS scholars are selected and 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.

 

7. Stockholm Junior Water Prize

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Type: Regional, State, and National

 

In this competition, students 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.

 

8. TOPSS Competition for High School Psychology Students

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Type: National

 

To participate in this competition, students must submit a 1,500-word essay citing peer-reviewed psychological research on a topic that changes annually. The 2022 essayists were asked to address five points: 

 

  1. Describe a societal systemic problem of your choice.
  2. Discuss how this problem impacts a specific group of people.
  3. Describe one way that the study of psychology can help you and others understand an aspect of human behavior related to this systemic problem.
  4. Discuss one way in which the study of psychology can help you understand an aspect of human thought related to this systemic problem.
  5. Discuss one way in which a concept in psychology can help inform a solution to this systemic problem.

 

Competitors must also cite two peer-reviewed sources and include a 120-250 word cover page and abstract. Up to three winners are chosen to receive a $300 scholarship. 

 

9. Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) National Competition 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

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 and is designed to emulate a professional symposium. Research projects are organized into categories such as Environmental Science, Engineering and Technology, and Medicine and Health. 

 

10. Spellman Clean Tech Competition

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Type: Regional and National 

 

The Spellman Clean Tech Competition is technically open to students across the globe, however, all submissions are required to be in English, which may provide U.S. students an advantage. The Clean Tech Competition challenges students to identify a problem with the natural world and resources they would like to change and design a sustainable solution to it. The winning entry receives a $7,000 prize!   

 

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 it. That said, the four tiers of extracurricular activities provide a good guideline 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 with colleges than their higher-tiered counterparts. However, lower-tiered extracurriculars are still valuable, as they show colleges a more well-rounded picture of you as a student and highlight a 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 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.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.