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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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10 Engineering Academic Competitions for High Schoolers

What’s Covered:


Colleges like to see applicants with a demonstrated interest in their intended major, whether through high school academics or extracurricular achievements. For example, they want to see writing experience for English majors and lab work for those preparing to study pre-med. Students thinking about careers as engineers—whether it’s mechanical, electrical, industrial, or one of the numerous other engineering fields—will want to get their hands dirty and begin building something.


Engineering academic competitions are a great way for high schoolers to learn what it takes to develop technologies and decide whether engineering is the right path for them. Some even sweeten the pot with prize money! 


10 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 the 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. The competition is a great opportunity to get involved in the movement to save the planet and gain valuable experience designing and building a prototype. All registered high school students are encouraged to apply.


The prizes for this competition are as follows:


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


Date(s): 10/26/21-8/11/22

Type: International


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


The MATE International ROV Competition gives students exposure to STEM and robotics by allowing them to experiment with and develop underwater robotics technologies. Participants build an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) demo and submit it to a regional competition in their area. The competition is broken down into classes that divide students by experience and age, with each class given a specific underwater robotics challenge whose difficulty is based on their age. Any student—whether in kindergarten, middle school, high school, or college—may apply.  


Date(s): 5/16/22-5/26/22

Type: Regional and International  


3. Rube Goldberg Machine Contest


This lighthearted competition requires participants to build hilarious machines to complete a simple task using discarded household items, or more simply, junk. The competition is inspired by the cartoons of Rube Goldberg and is designed for students of any age to compete. The competition provides students with a fun, low-cost opportunity to gain hands-on experience engineering a working machine. Ten winners are chosen and they each receive: 


  • A $200 Visa gift card
  • An award plaque
  • RGMC-2022 stickers & buttons


Date(s): 3/22/22

Type: International


4. 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 provides students with 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 levels. All registered high school students are encouraged to compete.


Date(s): N/A

Type: Regional, national, and international


5. FIRST Robotics Competition


The First Robotics Competition provides participants with real-world engineering experience—tasking them with building industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against competitors. Open to students in grades nine through 12, participants in the competition build more than just engineering skills, they also learn about coding, teamwork, communication, and entrepreneurship. Every participant in the competition is also eligible to apply for college scholarships. 


Date(s): N/A

Type: Regional, national, and international


6. VEX Robotics Competition


This engineering challenge is presented to middle and high school students across the globe. Students compete in teams in a game using robots they built and programmed. In addition to honing engineering skills, participants also build valuable soft skills such as teamwork, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Last season, more than 100,000 students competed in more than 2,600 events both in the U.S. and internationally. 


Date(s): Vary

Type: Regional, national, and international


7. 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 challenges high school students to design, develop, and test technologies that could operate and fulfill specific functions in simulated extraterrestrial environments. It’s also a chance for aspiring engineers to have an authentic engineering experience with the agency that pioneered human space travel. 


The prizes for the competition are:


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


Date(s): 6/29/21-4/30/22

Type: National


8. Solar Car Challenge


What makes this competition unique is that it teaches students while they are competing. Participants are provided with workshops, curriculum material, and virtual learning videos. Each two-year educational cycle concludes with a closed-track event that allows students to display and drive their solar cars. 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.  


Date(s): 3/1/22

Type: National    


9. IDEATE Engineering Competition


This SourceAmerica Design Challenge allows high school and college students to help people with disabilities succeed in the workplace. Competitors collaborate with a person with a disability in their community to identify a need for disabled people in the workplace and develop an innovative solution to the issue that makes a difference. Demonstrable results, not technological sophistication, is how winners are chosen. All registered high school and college students are welcome to participate in this competition.


Date(s): N/A

Type: National 


10. 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 U.S. defense industry develop a more advanced 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. The prize for the first-place team is $20,000. 


Date(s): 5/18/22-5/20/23

Type: National 


How Do Engineering Academic Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?


The effect engineering academic competitions and other extracurricular activities have on your college odds varies depending on numerous factors, including your performance in the competition, the prestige of the event, and the value a particular college places on activities outside the classroom. 


The four tiers of extracurricular activities are useful for understanding how colleges view extra-academic activities. The highest tiers—tiers one and two—have the most influence on college admissions and are reserved for the most distinguished and competitive extracurricular activities. Lower-tier activities—tiers three and four—are less well-known, less distinguished, and ultimately have less impact on college admissions than their higher-tiered counterparts. That said, lower-tier activities do have value in college admissions; for example, they highlight your interests and demonstrate a willingness to pursue your passions outside of school.  


How does participating in an engineering academic competition influence your odds of getting into your dream school? CollegeVine can help you find out! Our free chancing calculator considers factors such as grades, test scores, and extracurriculars—like engineering competitions—to estimate your odds of getting into hundreds of colleges and universities 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.