10 STEM Competitions for High Schoolers
Students passionate about STEM may have trouble sharpening their skills in a team setting and demonstrating their expertise to colleges outside of the classroom. A STEM competition, however, is an ideal way to expand your knowledge base while showing colleges you can work with a group, and excel in high-pressure environments.
Taking part in STEM competitions can have a profound effect on students’ future goals. STEM contests support students in thinking critically while teaching them to work both individually and with others. Additionally, STEM competitions allow students to develop their skills in areas like robotics, coding, game design, and more. The end result is that they gain valuable insight into their talents and preferences while increasing their desirability among top schools.
10 STEM Competitions for High Schoolers
1. Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair
Registration Dates: Vary by state (Most between late 2022 and Feb. 2023)
Type: Affiliated Regional and State Fairs to Qualify, but ISEF is International
The Regeneron ISEF is a pre-college science competition open to students in grades 9 through 12. There are 21 STEM subcategories in which students may compete. Students must first win an affiliated local or state fair to gain entry to the ISEF regionals and nationals.
1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places are awarded in each category with prizes of $5,000, $2,000, $1,000, and $500, respectively. There are also Top Awards given to selected 1st place category winners, which range from $10,000 to $75,000. Additional awards are granted in the form of scholarships, internships, and other prizes to hundreds of student Finalists.
2. Regeneron Science Talent Search
Registration Dates: Opens June 1, 2023 and closes in mid-November 2023
The Regeneron STS is the oldest science and math competition for high school seniors in the United States. In this competition, students present original science or math research, conducted independently or in collaboration with teams at universities, hospitals, or private research laboratories.
300 semifinalist scholars are awarded $2,000, along with $2,000 for their respective high schools. The top 40 finalists chosen from the 300 semifinalist scholars win a trip to Washington, DC, where they will present their research to thousands of visitors. The top 10 finalists will be awarded prizes ranging from $40,000 to $250,000, the largest scientific prize available to United States high school students.
3. MathWorks Math Modeling Challenge (M3 Challenge)
Registration Dates: November 2022 – February 24, 2023
Type: International (Participants from United States, England, Wales)
The M3 Challenge is a competition open to high school juniors and seniors in the U.S. and sixth form students in England and Wales. Students compete in teams over the Internet to solve a specific real-world problem that is not announced until Challenge weekend, March 3-6, 2023. The problem is always one that can be tackled with applied mathematics, math modeling, and computer programming.
$100,000 in scholarship prizes are awarded to the top teams in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $20,000.
4. Microsoft’s Imagine Cup
Registration Dates: Open until early December 2022
Sponsored by Microsoft, the Imagine Cup is a STEM competition open to international students of secondary schools who are at least 16 years of age. Student developers are tasked with designing software using Microsoft tech and tools to solve real-world problems.
There are regional finals with $20,000 in prizes for top 3 finalists, as well as a World Championship, where students compete for $100,000 and the Imagine Cup trophy.
5. Science Olympiad
Registration Dates: Vary by state (Most between December 2022 to early 2023)
Type: Multi-level (Invitational, Regional, State, and National)
Science Olympiad is an American STEM competition in which students solve problems and complete projects in various branches of science that fall into five categories: Life, Personal & Social Science; Earth & Space Science; Physical Science & Chemistry; Technology & Engineering; Inquiry & Nature of Science.
Students can join their school organization and compete at the local level with the chance to advance to states and nationals. Prizes include medals, certificates, and thousands of dollars in scholarships.
6. USAEOP eCYBERMISSION
Registration Dates: August 15, 2022 – January 5, 2023
Type: National (Also open to students in US Army schools in other countries)
The US Army Educational Outreach Program eCYBERMISSION is an online science fair. Students in grades 6 through 9 work in teams to solve a community problem. Teams can choose to pursue the science route, which involves asking a question or exploring a problem, or the engineering route, which involves solving a problem.
The competition is conducted online. Students create Mission Folders to be judged at the end of the competition. National winners are awarded several thousand dollars in savings bonds. Smaller state and regional savings bonds are also awarded to respective winners.
7. NASA eClips Spotlite Design Challenge
Registration Dates: Fall: December 9, 2022; Spring: March 24, 2023
Sponsored by NASA eClips, the Spotlite Design Challenge is a competition in which students in grades 6 through 12 work in teams to research and confront a scientific misconception. After exploring the issue, students compile their questions, observations, research, and findings into a 90-to-120-second video.
Videos will be judged by several criteria, with winning entries being featured on the NASA eClips website to be used by educators across the country.
8. Toshiba | NSTA ExploraVision
Registration Dates: Project due January 31, 2023
ExploraVision, jointly sponsored by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association, is a K-12 scientific competition in which students are tasked with exploring a specific technology of their choice. Students create a presentation with an overview of the current technology, a description of its history, a theory about its future using detailed scientific principles, and a discussion of breakthroughs and consequences necessary to this technology.
Savings bonds worth $5,000-$10,000 at maturity are awarded to top teams, with smaller gifts and certificates awarded to other finalists.
9. Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) Program
Registration Dates: Vary by region (Most between Nov. 2022 and February 2023)
Type: Multi-level (Regional, State, National)
Sponsored by the US military, the JSHS program is a series of competitions intended to mentor students and prepare them for careers in STEM. Students from grades 9 through 12 conduct original research and present it at regional symposia.
Winners of regional competitions present at the JSHS National Symposium. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in regional competitions are awarded $2,000, $1,500, and $1,000, respectively. Each of the 1st place national finalists is awarded $12,000. 2nd place finalists win $8,000, and 3rd place finalists win $4,000.
10. The TEAMS Competition
Registration Dates: September 2022 – January 27, 2023
Type: State, National
Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is a STEM competition for middle school and high school students. The competition consists of three parts: design/build, multiple choice, and essay. All three parts are meant to engage students and help them contribute to the annual theme – the TEAMS 2023 theme is “Engineering & Everyday Devices.”
Certificates, badges, and banners will be awarded to the top 3 teams at each level per state. Additionally, teams whose combined overall state level score is among the top 20% nationally will move on to the national competition.
How Do STEM Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?
Your participation in STEM competitions can influence your chances at college admission, but this depends on many factors, including the scope of the event (e.g., state vs. national), the prestige of the event, your individual performance in the event, the event’s connections to or sponsorships by certain colleges, and even how much weight a college places on extracurricular activities in general.
There are four tiers of extracurricular activities that colleges think about when reviewing applicants’ activities. Selective, competitive, and prestigious activities are often found in the top tiers, Tier 1 and Tier 2. Tier 1 includes things such as being a highly recruited basketball player or an award-winning national science fair competitor. Tier 2 is similar, but is usually reserved for activities that are more common than those in Tier 1. Tiers 3 and 4 are reserved for more common extracurricular achievements, such as holding school leadership positions or being a member of a debate team.
Very prestigious national STEM events such as the Regeneron Science Talent Search are Tier 1 events whereas regional or local competitions may fall more into Tier 3 or Tier 4, depending on the competition and your performance.
Do you want to get a sense of how the STEM event you competed in might change your admissions chances at your dream college? CollegeVine has created a free chancing calculator to estimate your odds of getting into hundreds of different colleges and universities! It uses a multitude of factors such as your high school grades, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities, while also providing feedback on how you can improve your odds.