11 Academic Competitions to Boost Your High School Profile

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 It’s no secret that extracurricular activities can make or break a college application. After all, 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, you might not be aware that some activities are more likely than others to make an impression. When it comes to college applications, academic competitions are the best of both worlds, showcasing students’ intellectual prowess and revealing 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 strong way to demonstrate your skills. It can be a great boost to your application 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.

 

Here are 11 well-respected academic competitions sure to boost your high school profile:

 

11 Academic Competitions to Boost Your High School Profile

 

1. Academic Decathlon

 

Featuring 10 different events, this academic competition has teams of high schoolers vying for the top spot. Every team features nine students, including three with GPAs between 3.75 and 4.0, three with GPAs between 3.0 and 3.75, and three 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, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Local, State, 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 10 original events, 8 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, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Local, State, 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 for serious global problems. Finalists can earn earning grants, scholarships, and even investment opportunities.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 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: engineering, literature, math, music, outside the box, philosophy, and science. Entrants must have completed a “significant work” in one of those categories to compete for up to $50,000.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 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 five to seven to develop your critical thinking and creativity by solving Team Challenges.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: National

 

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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, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Regional, 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, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Local, 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 membership is purchased by a school or community group.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Local, State, National

 

9. Quiz Bowl Tournament of Champions

 

The Quiz Bowl Tournament of Champions invites high school students to show off their knowledge of general academics. Unlike some other competitions, this event features a triple-elimination tournament, so more students have the opportunity to participate.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Local, Regional, State

 

10. Stemanities Research Competition

 

Are you talented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), but also the humanities? The Stemanites Research Competition might be the academic event for you. A national competition, this event invites students to conduct research in STEM and the humanities to develop a more sophisticated understanding of a topic. Stemanities is sponsored by the Institute for Biomedical Sciences, and finalists are invited to La Jolla, California to present their work and compete for monetary awards.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: National

 

11. 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 Studeis, and Spelling & Vocabulary. Participants learn teamwork while broadening their educational horizons.

 

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Competition Type: Local, National

 

How Can Students Find the Best Competitions to Enter?

 

Not sure which competition is best for you? Do you want to know about more events? Ask your guidance counselor for resources or check with a film mentor.

 

Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.