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15 Academic Competitions to Boost Your High School Profile

What’s Covered:

 

It’s no secret that extracurricular activities can make or break a college application. The most prestigious colleges receive thousands of applications each year and students need more than high GPAs and SAT scores to stand out from the pack. However, some activities are more likely to make an impression than others. When it comes to college applications, academic competitions are the best of both worlds—they showcase a student’s intellectual prowess and reveal their ability to work as part of a team.

 

Why Should You Enter an Academic Competition?

 

If thinking on your feet and problem-solving are your strengths, an academic competition is a fantastic way to demonstrate your skills. It can also give your application a boost, especially if traditional extracurriculars, such as sports and music, aren’t your thing.

 

Even if your team doesn’t win an award, these competitions will still show colleges that you are capable of teamwork and staying confident in high-pressure situations. 

 

15 Academic Competitions to Boost Your High School Profile

 

1. Academic Decathlon

 

Featuring ten different events, this academic competition has teams of high schoolers vying for the top spot. Every team features nine students, including:

 

  • three students with GPAs between 3.75 and 4.0
  • three students with GPAs between 3.0 and 3.75
  • three students with GPAs below 3.0

 

During the event, students will answer multiple-choice questions, give speeches, respond to interview questions, and write essays. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local, State, and National

 

2. Academic Decathlon: Individual Competition

 

Designed for homeschool students or those attending alternative programs, the individual version of the Academic Decathlon takes place online. Of the ten original events, eight are offered in the individual competition. Testing categories include art, economics, literature, math, music, science, and social sciences. Additionally, students are required to complete an essay.

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local, State, and National

 

3. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge

 

If you prefer working in small groups, you might try out for the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge. Teams of two to five students work to find solutions to serious global problems. Finalists can earn scholarships, patent assistance, or receive help to license their IP,  fine-tune their innovations, and create their companies. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: National

 

4. Davidson Fellows

 

If you’re looking to earn money for your college career, the Davidson Fellows competition has plenty to offer. Open to students 18 and under, the competition features the following categories: science, technology, engineering, math, literature, music, philosophy, and outside the box. Entrants must have completed a “significant work” in one of those categories to compete for up to $50,000.

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: National

 

5. Destination ImagiNation

 

If you have a penchant for problem solving, Destination ImagiNation can help you refine your skills. An international competition for students in kindergarten through college, Destination ImagiNation teaches life skills while encouraging imagination. Work in groups of two to seven to develop your critical thinking and creativity by solving Team Challenges in the following categories: technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, engineering, service learning, and early learning. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: National

 

6. National Academic Championship – Questions Unlimited

 

Whether you’re a math whiz or a language arts all-star, the National Academic Championship Questions Unlimited challenge is a place to test your skills. For a chance to earn prize money, students work in teams to answer questions in different subjects.

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Regional and National

 

7. National Academic League

 

Designed to teach students “it’s cool to be smart,” the National Academic League is a fun, fast-paced competition for high schoolers around the country. Featuring questions based on high school curriculum, this competition gives academically-inclined students the kind of attention and publicity that athletes and musicians typically enjoy. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local and National

 

8. Odyssey of the Mind

 

Encouraging high school students to think outside the box, this challenge involves identifying problems and brainstorming creative solutions. Competition occurs at the regional, state, and national levels after the purchase of membership by a school or community group. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local, State, and National

 

9. University Interscholastic League

 

Whatever your area of expertise, odds are that UIL has a contest for you. This educational event features competitions in:

 

  • accounting
  • computing
  • current events
  • writing
  • literary criticism
  • social studies
  • spelling & vocabulary

 

Participants learn teamwork while broadening their educational horizons.

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local and National

 

10. NAQT High School National Championship Tournament

 

The top quiz bowl teams from across the nation and globe compete against each other head-to-head annually in the High School National Championship Tournament by the National Academic Quiz Tournaments. Participants are tested across a broad spectrum of fields of knowledge, including history, literature, science, fine arts, current events, popular culture, and sports. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local, State, and National

 

11. American Mathematics Association (AMC) 12

 

The AMC 12 is a 75-minute test consisting of 25 multiple choice questions covering the entirety of the high school math curriculum, including trigonometry, advanced algebra, and advanced geometry, but excluding calculus. The aim of the AMC 12 is for high schoolers to develop positive attitudes toward analytical thinking and mathematics, however, it also serves as the first in a series of competitions that culminate in the International Mathematical Olympiad.  

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: National

 

12. U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad

 

The U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) is a multi-tiered competition for high school students aimed to stimulate and promote achievement in high school chemistry. Participants work through a series of tiers of exams and camps with the hopes of being one of the four students chosen to represent the U.S. at the International Chemistry Olympiad. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: National

 

13. Harvard/MIT Mathematics Tournament (HMMT)

 

The entirely student-run HMMT is one of the most prestigious academic tournaments in the world and it’s common for top scorers from the international olympiads to compete in it. Two tournaments are held annually—one in November and one in February—with Harvard and MIT each hosting an event. The two tournaments differ in everything from team size to format to difficulty.

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: International

 

14. North American Computational Linguistics Open Competition

 

The North American Computational Linguistics Open (NACLO) competition challenges high schoolers to learn about language and tests their logic skills. The competition involves solving puzzles in linguistics and computational linguistics through the use of analytic reasoning. Winners of NALCO are eligible to compete in the International Linguistics Olympiad. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: National

 

15. National History Bowl

 

Students form teams of up to six people to take part in this buzzer-based competition. Questions cover a wide swath of eras and fields—including everything from ancient Egypt to today—and reference the history of the arts, sciences, religion, philosophy, language, geography, sports, and entertainment. 

 

Grades: 9th-12th

Competition Type: Local, State, and National

 

How Do Academic Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances

 

Participating in an academic competition can have varying degrees of influence on your odds of college admission. Everything from the prestige of the competition to your performance to the weight a college places on extracurriculars, like academic competitions, can factor into your chances of admission. 

 

The four tiers of extracurricular activities are useful for gaining a better understanding of how colleges view your activities outside of the classroom. Top tier activities—tiers one and two—are reserved for well-known, highly competitive, and international events like the Harvard/MIT Mathematics Tournament (HMMT). Participating in a high-tier competition can significantly improve your college admissions odds. 

 

Lower-tiered activities—tiers three and four—are where less-selective and less-prominent activities are placed. These activities don’t have the same clout with admissions offices as their higher-tiered counterparts do. That said, they still look good on your profile, as they highlight your interests and demonstrate a willingness to pursue them outside of school. 

 

Interested in learning how your participation in an academic competition influences your odds of getting into your dream school? CollegeVine can help! Our free chancing calculator uses factors like grades, test scores, and extracurriculars to calculate your odds of getting into hundreds of colleges and universities across the country while also providing insight into how to improve your profile.


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.