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30 Impressive High School Academic Competitions in 2023

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, academic competitions are a fantastic way to demonstrate your skills. They 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 show colleges that you are capable of working as part of a team and staying confident in high-pressure situations.


Academic Competitions to Boost Your High School Profile


1. Academic Decathlon


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: Local, State, and National


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.


2. Academic Decathlon: Individual Competition


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: Local, State, and National


Designed for homeschool students or those attending alternative programs, the individual version of the Academic Decathlon takes place online. Of the 10 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.


3. Conrad Innovation Challenge


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: National


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


4. Destination ImagiNation Challenge Experience


Registration Dates: July 17, 2023 – mid-August 2023

Competition Type: National


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, the Destination ImagiNation Challenge Experience teaches life skills while encouraging imagination. Work in groups of two to seven to develop critical thinking and creativity by solving Team Challenges in the following categories: technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, engineering, service learning, and early learning.


5. Questions Unlimited – National Academic Championship


Registration Dates: TBA in September 2023

Competition Type: Regional and National


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


6. National Academic League


Registration Dates: Mid-October 2023

Competition Type: Local and National


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


7. Odyssey of the Mind


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: Local, State, and National


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.


8. University Interscholastic League


Registration Dates: Varies

Competition Type: Local and National


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


  • Accounting
  • Computing
  • Current Events
  • Writing
  • Literary Criticism
  • Social Studies
  • Spelling and Vocabulary


Participants learn teamwork while broadening their educational horizons.


9. NAQT High School National Championship Tournament


Registration Dates: Varies

Competition Type: Local, State, and National


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, hosted by 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.


10. American Mathematics Association (AMC) 10/12


Registration Dates: Early September 2023 – early November 2023

Competition Type: National


Both AMC 10 and 12 are 75-minute tests 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. AMC 10 is for students in the 10th grade and below, while AMC 12 covers the entire high school curriculum.


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.


11. U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad


Registration Dates: TBA (local exams usually take place between March and April annually)

Competition Type: Local and National


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


12. Harvard/MIT Mathematics Tournament (HMMT)


Registration Dates: September/October 2023

Competition Type: International


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.


13. North American Computational Linguistics Open Competition


Registration Dates: Late September 2023

Competition Type: National


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.


14. The National History Bowl


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: Local, State, and National


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.


15. Microsoft Imagine Cup


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: National and International


This exciting academic competition requires students to work in teams of up to four to create a technology solution using Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud computing program. Throughout the competition, students can apply their passion for technology, build valuable skills like teamwork and leadership, meet like-minded peers, and create solutions that could possibly help shape the world.


16. NSS Gerard K. O’Neill Space Settlement Contest


Registration Dates: February 15, 2024 (deadline)

Competition Type: International


Students entering this academic contest are tasked with exploring space settlement through everything from research and essays to artwork and models. Projects must focus on free settlements in space, not on planets or moons, that are permanent homes, not temporary camps. Submissions can home in on different aspects of space settlement, including support systems, activities leading up to settlement, and social and economic issues.


Students can work as individuals, in small groups of two to five students, or in large groups of six to 12 students.


17. Congressional App Challenge


Registration Dates: November 1, 2023 (competition deadline)

Competition Type: Regional


One of the most prestigious computer science academic competitions for high schoolers in participating districts, the Congressional App Challenge tasks students with creating an original app. Students can compete as individuals or work in teams of up to four. Winning apps are displayed in the U.S. Capitol Building and featured on the House of Representatives website. Winning students are invited to a reception at Capitol Hill!


18. DECA Competitive Events


Registration Dates: Varies

Competition Type: Regional and National


DECA, an organization helping to grow the next generation of business leaders, hosts a variety of academic competitions of interest to high schoolers. The organization provides a range of events in fields such as:


  • Business Management and Administration
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Finance
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Marketing
  • Personal Financial Literacy


Students must be active DECA members to compete.


19. USA Computing Olympiad


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: National and International


The USA Computing Olympiad hosts up to six online programming contests annually and top students are invited to represent the U.S. at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), the most prestigious high school international algorithmic programming competition. In addition to contests, the organization provides a vast library of online training resources, allowing students to improve their programming and computational problem-solving skills.


20. Technology Student Association (TSA) High School Competitions


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: Regional, State, and National


The TSA, a national organization focused on STEM, offers 40 different high school competitions to high schoolers in categories including:


  • Architecture and Construction Technology
  • Communications Technology
  • Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Leadership
  • Manufacturing and Transportation Technology
  • STEM
  • Technology and Research


Eligibility requirements vary by event and by state. Over 5,000,000 students have participated in the TSA through competitions, intracurricular activities, leadership opportunities, community service, and more, since the organization was founded in 1978.


21. Botball Educational Robotics Program


Registration Dates: TBA (usually around January annually)

Competition Type: Regional


This team-oriented robotics competition challenges students to design, build, and program autonomous robots capable of playing the game of Botball. Students are provided with a kit containing all the parts and pieces needed to build a working robot, after which they have roughly seven weeks to build their robot. Students then bring the completed robot to compete against other students at a regional tournament.


22. Caribou Contests


Registration Dates: July 1, 2023 – June 30, 2024

Competition Type: International


This international online math competition holds six contests over two days during the school year. High schoolers can compete in one of two grade levels, either 9th/10th or 11th/12th—strong students are encouraged to compete at a higher level. At the end of the six contests, cash prizes are awarded to the top students.


Curious how you would perform in the Caribou Cup? Previous contests are posted for practice.


23. C-SPAN StudentCam


Registration Dates: January 19, 2024 (deadline)

Competition Type: National


C-SPAN’s StudentCam competition tasks students with creating a five- or six-minute-long documentary on a theme that changes annually. The theme for 2024 is ”Looking Forward, While Considering the Past.” Cash prizes totaling $100,000 are awarded to the top 150 submissions. Students can compete as individuals or in teams of two or three.


24. National Economics Challenge


Registration Dates: Varies by state

Competition Type: State and National


The National Economics Challenge is an online competition for high schoolers that tests the economic literacy of students. Competitors first compete statewide, where top scorers earn the opportunity to participate in the national competition. The first-place winner of the National Economics Challenge earns a cash prize of $1,000.


25. MATE ROV Competition


Registration Dates: Varies by region

Competition Type: State, National, and International


Students with an interest in STEM will want to check out the MATE ROV Competition, which challenges them to build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The focus of the competition changes annually; in 2023, participants were asked to build an ROV with sensors and tooling needed to support work to combat climate change, provide clean energy, feed our growing global population, monitor ocean health, preserve our maritime history, and deliver a healthy ocean for future generations.


The competition is open to everyone from middle schoolers to college students. Participants compete on five levels based on their sophistication and skill.


26. MIT Think


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: National


This student-run academic program is led by undergraduate members of MIT TechX,

the largest technology club at the school. The program asks high schoolers to submit potential research projects. Winners will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to MIT, weekly meetings with MIT mentors, and $1,000 in funding for their project.


27. National French Contest


Registration Dates: February 12 – March 6, 2024

Competition Type: Regional and National


The National French Contest, or Le Grand Concours, tests students’ knowledge of the French language. Students compete in two age brackets—grades 1 through 6, and grades 7 through 12—with students in the higher age bracket further divided into five divisions based on their background and experience with the language.


28. American Rocketry Challenge


Registration Dates: February 12 – March 6, 2024

Competition Type: Regional, National, and International


Billed as the world’s largest rocket contest, the American Rocketry Challenge sees nearly 5,000 students compete annually. Students in grades 6 through 12 are welcome to compete—designing, building, and launching a rocket—in teams of three to 10 students.


Top teams are invited to Washington, D.C., to vie for their share of more than $100,000 in cash prizes, along with the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the International Rocketry Challenge, an all-expenses-paid experience.


29. Regeneron Science Talent Search


Registration Dates: June 1, 2023 November 8, 2024

Competition Type: National


One of the nation’s most prestigious science research competitions for high schoolers, the Regeneron Science Talent Search has seen its winners go on to win Nobel Prizes, National Medals of Science, and Fields Medals. To compete, students must be in the 12th grade and must submit original research in a critically important scientific field of study.


The contest seeks to identify the most promising STEM students in the country, and more than $3 million are awarded to students and schools annually.


30. National High School Mock Trial Championship


Registration Dates: N/A

Competition Type: Regional, State, and National


The National High School Mock Trial Championship seeks to impart to students an understanding and appreciation for the American judicial system through competition. In addition to the Mock Trial competitions, separate contests are held for aspiring courtroom artists and courtroom journalists.


How Do Academic Competitions Affect Your Admissions Chances?


Participating in an academic competition can have varying degrees of influence on your odds of college admission. Factors such as the prestige of the competition, your performance in it, and 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. Tiers 1 and 2 are reserved for top-tier activities—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.


Tiers 3 and 4 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, extracurriculars, and more, 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.


Other Academic Competitions to Consider


Looking for more information about academic competitions? CollegeVine has you covered. Check out some of the posts below:


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.