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8 Engineering Academic Competitions for High Schoolers

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Colleges like to see applicants with a demonstrated interest in their intended major, whether through high school academics or extracurricular achievements. For an English major, they want to see writing experience. For a pre-med candidate, some time working in a lab would be great. If you you might want to be an engineer, whether it be mechanical, electrical, or otherwise, you should be getting your hands dirty and building something.


Engineering academic competitions are a great way for high schoolers to learn what it takes to develop great technologies and decide whether engineering is the right path for them. There may even be some prize money to sweeten the pot! To learn more about some popular engineering competitions for high school students, read on.

8 Engineering Academic Competitions for High Schoolers

1. The Clean Tech Competition


The Clean Tech Competition allows teens to learn about environmental preservation and develop technologies that could help preserve Earth’s natural resources. This national competition involves intensive research into a specific environmental issue, designing an innovative solution, and presenting this solution in the form of a paper and prototype. All registered high school students are encouraged to apply.


The prizes for this competition are as follows:

    • 20 Finalists: $200 stipend to develop a prototype for their design
    • 4-10th place: $1,000 each
    • 3rd place: $5,000
    • 2nd place: $7,000
    • 1st place: $10,000


Why You Should Enter The Clean Tech Competition: The issue of environmental preservation is extremely relevant as many scientists are reporting dramatic climate change effects set to permanently alter the planet within the next 10-20 years. Through this competition, you can get involved in the movement to save our planet. In addition, you would gain valuable experience trying to build a machine and learning the mechanics involved.


2. Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) International ROV Competition


The MATE International ROV Competition gives student exposure to STEM, engineering, and robotics by allowing them to experiment with and develop underwater robotics technologies. Students are given a specific underwater robotics challenge whose difficulty is based on their age. They will build an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) demo and submit it to a regional competition in their area. Any student, whether in kindergarten, middle school, high school, or college, may apply.


Why You Should Enter The Marine Advanced Technology Education International ROV Competition: This is a great opportunity to not only learn ROVs, but to also get exposed to ocean environments and learn how machines can navigate them. In summary, you’re gaining valuable experience in two distinct fields in one competition. In addition, with the international component of this competition, you may get exposed to other student winners in different countries, effectively broadening your professional network.


3. NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge


This is an annual challenge put on by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to get young people involved in developing the next generation of space travel technology. This competition allows high school students to design, develop, and test technologies that could operate and fulfill specific functions in simulated extraterrestrial environments. The prizes for the competition are as follows:

    • 1st Place: $3,000
    • 2nd Place: $1,000
    • 3rd Place: $500


This is a national competition open to any registered high school student.


Why You Should Enter the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge: This is a unique opportunity to learn about space exploration from the government agency that has pioneered human space travel. In addition, you will gain the opportunity to engineer and develop your own rover, giving you great exposure to best engineering practices.


4. Rube Goldberg Machine Contest


This is a more lighthearted competition for students who have a capacity to take ordinary household items (junk, as they call it) and turn them into hilarious machines that perform simple tasks. This competition is inspired by the cartoons of Rube Goldberg and is designed for students 18 years or younger. There are local versions of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest and a national competition for the local winners.


Why You Should Enter The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest: This is a very inexpensive and whimsical contest, so it might be the most fun. With this competition, you have the opportunity to learn how to engineer a piece of technology without having to spend lots of money. You also don’t have to follow an overly strict prompt, so you are free to use your creativity to develop your machine.


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5. Solar Car Challenge


This competition is unique in that it teaches students while they are competing. Students who participate in the Solar Car Challenge go through six on-site, national teaching workshops, an intense curriculum, and summer camps that teach them about the engineering of solar cars. The end of the educational experience allows students to race their solar cars and display their creativity to the country. In order to participate, you need to be a registered high school student, and your high school needs to participate in the Solar Car Challenge Program. If that is the case, you have multiple opportunities to learn and compete on the local, regional, and national level.


Why You Should Enter The Solar Car Challenge: The Solar Car Challenge is probably one of the best opportunities you will have to learn. While the other competitions expect students to have attained enough mastery in engineering practices to create a prototype, the Solar Car Challenge will teach you everything you need to know.


6. SourceAmerica Design Challenge


The SourceAmerica Design Challenge allows high school and college students to help people with disabilities succeed in the workplace. In the competitions, you will be matched with a company that helps disabled individuals find employment, or with a disabled employee to learn about their struggles in the workplace. The challenge is then to design an innovative solution that helps them to overcome workplace obstacles. All registered high school and college students are welcome to participate in this national competition.


Why You Should Enter the SourceAmerica Design Challenge: This competition is a great way to make a difference in someone’s life. The submission you make in this competition could enhance a disabled individual’s ability to work and standard of living. In addition, you will be connected with people who can remain a part of your professional network through college and beyond.


7. Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC)


The Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) is the biggest student rocket competition in the United States. It was designed to help the US defense industry develop a more advanced engineering and STEM workforce. About 5,000 students from across the nation compete annually. Every year, the contest rules and challenge changes to encourage a fresh approach to rocket design.


Why You Should Enter the Team America Rocketry Challenge: This particular competition offers great resources to help you learn about rockets and their models. Since the competition is so big, you are also likely to meet many students who have similar ambitions.


8. The High School Bridge Building Contest


The High School Bridge Building Contest allows students to dive into the realms of physics and engineering as they design and construct their own model bridge. This competition allows students to get a glimpse of the life of a civil engineer, and participants can even see their designs tested for functionality in the real world. This competition exists on the local, regional, and national level. All registered high school students are encouraged to compete.


Why You Should Enter The High School Bridge Building Contest: This is one of the most practical competitions you could enter. If you decide to pursue civil engineering or architecture in college, you will likely be presented with a similar task, so this will give you a head start.


How Can You Find The Best Competitions To Enter?


It’s not always clear which academic competitions are worth entering and which ones you should pass on. To help you in your competition search, here are some quick rules of thumb to follow:


1. Find competitions in specific topics that you might want to pursue. Many competitions specialize in a certain engineering field (e.g. mechanical, electrical, computer, etc.), so this could narrow down your options considerably.


2. Be realistic about what you can and can’t handle. Some competitions require you to submit a simple essay, whereas some require you to build your own invention and prototype. Be honest about how advanced your skillset is, and what you have time for as a student. There’s no use in signing up for a competition only to drop later or submit a product that is not your best work.


3. Go to your counseling office. Many high school counselors or college advisors have a repository of interesting opportunities for their students, including academic competitions.


4. Use your teachers. In particular, your science teachers. Your teachers may be a great resource in helping you find a competition that is right for you. They may also serve as a great mentor and assistant as you create your competition submission. Don’t be afraid to approach these people for help!


For More Information


Want to find more academic competitions for high schoolers? Check out these previous blog posts:


8 STEM Competitions For High Schoolers

6 Film Production Competitions For High Schoolers

11 Academic Competitions To Boost Your High School Profile

6 Art/Design Competitions For High Schoolers


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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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!