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17 Engineering 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 a future English major publish a short story and those preparing to study pre-med to have experience in a research lab. 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 build 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!


17 Engineering Competitions for High Schoolers


1. Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) ROV Competition


Date(s): Vary by region, but competitions are generally held early in the year

Type: Regional and International


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.


Past prizes have included Visa gift cards worth hundreds of dollars, memberships in the Marine Technology Society, and specialized parts from Blue Robotics!


2. Rube Goldberg Machine Contest


Date(s): 2024 dates TBA, rolling submissions accepted until late March usually

Type: International


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 be able to compete. The competition provides students with a fun, low-cost opportunity to gain hands-on experience engineering a working machine.


Past prizes have included $200 Visa gift cards, award trophies and plaques, and Rube Goldberg contest swag like stickers & buttons!


3. The High School Bridge Building Contest


Date(s): Vary by region

Type: Regional and International


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 into 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 regional and international levels. All registered high school students are encouraged to compete.


4. FIRST Robotics Competition


Date(s): New competition begins January 6, 2024

Type: Regional, national, and international


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 aged 14-18, the competition helps students 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.


CRESCENDO, presented by Haas, is a brand new FIRST Robotics Competition event debuting January 6, 2024. Teams are invited to “use their engineering skills and creative power to entertain and move the world.”


5. VEX Robotics Competition


Date(s): Regional events begin in August

Type: Regional, National, and International


This engineering challenge is presented to students from 3rd grade through college across the globe. Students in teams compete in a game using robots they built and programmed. The game involves robots operating both autonomously and with a driver, which allows students to hone different kinds of robotics skills.


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.


7. NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge


Date(s): TBA

Type: National


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. The 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 aerospace engineering experience with the organization that pioneered human space travel.


The prizes for the competition are:


1st Place: $3,000

2nd Place: $1,000

3rd Place: $500


8. Solar Car Challenge


Date(s): Usually late January to late July

Type: National


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.


9. The American Rocketry Challenge


Date(s): Registration is open until December 1, 2023. Qualification flights are due by April 8, 2024. The 2024 National Finals Fly-off is on May 18, 2024.

Type: National


The American Rocketry Challenge is the biggest student rocket competition in the United States. It was originally designed to help the U.S. defense industry develop a more advanced STEM workforce, and now about 5,000 students from across the nation compete annually. Every year, the contest rules and specific challenge change to encourage a fresh approach to rocket design. The prize for the first-place team is $20,000, with a $1,000 prize for the winning team’s school. There are other monetary prizes for the teams that place 2nd to 10th.


10. The Destination Imagination Challenge Experience


Date(s): Team registration opens July 17, 2023. Challenge deadlines vary by region.

Type: Regional and Affiliate


The Destination Imagination Challenge Experience was made to help students hone their skills in one of several different domains—there are Technical, Engineering, Scientific, Fine Arts, Improvisational, Service Learning, and Early Learning challenges. 


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 studentsto develop critical thinking and creativity by solving Team Challenges in the following categories: technical, scientific, fine arts, improvisational, engineering, service learning, and early learning.


11. Technology Student Association (TSA) High School Competitions


Date(s): Vary by particular competition

Type: State, Regional, and National


The Technology Student Association is a national organization of students engaged in STEM subjects. Members are eligible to compete in 40 different high school competitions in categories including:


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


Specific eligibility requirements vary by event and by state. Particular competitions aspiring engineers should keep an eye out for include Engineering Design, Technology Problem Solving, Video Game Design, Biotechnology Design, and System Control Technology.


12. Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF)


Date(s): Vary by state (often between January and April annually)

Type: Affiliated regional and state fairs to qualify, but ISEF is international


The Regeneron ISEF is a renowned pre-college science competition open to high school students. The competition offers 21 STEM categories in which students can compete. Specific engineering categories include Biomedical Engineering, Engineering Technology: Statics and Dynamics, Environmental Engineering, Materials Science, Robotics and Intelligent Machines, and Systems Software. Each category has several subcategories, so if you have any particular interest or specialty, chances are ISEF has something just right for you.


To gain entry to the ISEF regionals and nationals, students must first win an affiliated local or state fair. At the international level, 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.


13. TSA TEAMS Competitions


Date(s): TBA (qualifying state competitions are generally between February and March 2023)

Type: State and National


Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is a STEM competition for middle school and high school students. The competition has three parts: design/build, multiple choice, and essay. The goal of each of the parts is to help students engage with STEM and contribute to the annual competition theme—the 2023 TEAMS theme is “Engineering & Everyday Devices” (the 2024 theme will be announced soon).


Teams first compete on a state level, and teams whose combined overall state level score is among the top 20% nationally will move on to compete for Best-in-Nation at the 2023 National TEAMS Competitions. Certificates and awards will be awarded to state and national winners.


14. CyberPatriot – National Youth Cyber Defense Competition



  • Registration closes October 3, 2023
  • Training rounds: July to October
  • High school division rounds: mid-October 2023 to mid-March 2024

Type: State and National


Interested in computer science or computer engineering? CyberPatriot’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition tasks teams of students with finding and fixing cybersecurity vulnerabilities in virtual operating systems. Team scores are based on how secure they are able to make the virtual OS. Top-scoring teams in the online round of competition will advance to the in-person National Finals Competition.


Winning teams at the state level will receive certificates, and winning teams at the National Finals will receive trophies. Additional awards or scholarships may be presented for individual challenges and various competition components.


15. Shell Eco-marathon


Date(s): 2024 dates TBA (Vary by region)

Type: Regional and International


This international competition, presented by Shell, challenges participants to construct the most energy-efficient vehicle. STEM students from across the globe unite to design, build, and operate vehicles that will help shape a lower carbon future for the world.


In the spirit of collaboration and innovation, students will design either a Prototype or Urban Concept vehicle in one of three energy categories: internal combustion engine (gasoline, ethanol, or diesel), battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell. Two vehicles can be designed per institution, provided they are of different vehicle classes and different energy categories.


16. Microsoft Imagine Cup


Date(s): 2024 dates TBA, registration is open

Type: International


Sponsored by Microsoft, the Imagine Cup is a STEM competition open to international secondary school students who are at least 16 years old. Student developers are tasked with designing software using Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud computing platform, and other tools to solve real-world problems.


Over the course of the competition, students will build valuable domain skills, as well as skills like teamwork and leadership, all while interacting with like-minded peers to develop potentially groundbreaking technological solutions.


Various prizes are offered at all levels of competition. They include thousands of dollars, Microsoft Azure credits, and mentoring. Teams that make it to the World Championship compete for $100,000, the Imagine Cup trophy, and a mentorship call with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.


17. Samsung Solve for Tomorrow


Date(s): 2024 dates TBA

Type: State and National


Solve for Tomorrow, presented by Samsung, is a national competition that challenges U.S. public school students in grades 6-12 to explore STEM and its potential role in helping solve important community issues. Students have the opportunity to improve their STEM skills, get hands-on experience for higher education and resumes, and make a substantial difference in their communities.


Prizes are offered at all levels of competition in the form of Samsung products and classroom resources:


  • State finalists receive a $2,500 prize package.
  • State winners receive a $12,000 prize package.
  • National finalists receive a $50,000 prize package.
  • National winners receive a $100,000 prize package.


How Do Engineering Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?


The effect engineering 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.


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.


Generally, participation in an engineering academic contest will be considered at least a Tier 2 activity. As stated before, this varies depending on the competition and your performance. For example, being a finalist or winner in something like the Shell Eco-marathon, a prestigious international competition, is very likely to be considered a Tier 1 achievement.


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!


Nick Vidal
Blog Writer

Short Bio
A graduate of NYU, Nick majored in psychology and minored in data science. He lives in New York, where he enjoys writing essays and music.