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10 Computer Science Competitions for High Schoolers

What’s Covered:


Are you a high school student who is interested in computer science? If so, you might be participating in computer science competitions as an extracurricular activity. In this post, we’ll explain how participating in a computer science competition impacts your extracurricular profile and share 10 computer science competitions for high schoolers you could consider joining.


How Impressive Are Computer Science Competitions?


Understanding the Four Tiers of Extracurricular Activities


Before we start, it’s important to understand the four-tier model of extracurricular activities. The tiers are defined as follows:


  • Tier 4: These are basic participation activities. They require regular involvement but no leadership role or notable achievements.


  • Tier 3: These activities still involve participation, but with some level of distinction, like a minor leadership role or local recognition.


  • Tier 2: These are activities where you either have significant leadership roles, statewide recognition, or both.


  • Tier 1: These are the most impressive activities where you demonstrate national level recognition, exceptional leadership, or extraordinary achievements. Tier 1 activities are the least common, but because of that, they are highly regarded by admissions officers.


How does your involvement in a competition stack up against the four tiers? Let’s take a look at how various computer science extracurriculars would be viewed by admissions committees. 


Tier 4: General Participation


At this tier, activities mainly involve regular participation without significant leadership roles or exceptional achievements. These activities demonstrate your interest and consistent involvement in computer science.




  • Participating in your school’s coding club: This shows your dedication to learning and practicing coding. It demonstrates your willingness to work with others and improve your skills.

  • Enrolling in online computer science courses: By taking the initiative to learn outside the traditional classroom, you illustrate a strong interest in computer science. This could range from basic programming courses to advanced topics like machine learning or artificial intelligence.

  • Volunteering to help maintain the school’s website: This shows your practical application of computer science skills, as well as your willingness to contribute to the school community.


Tier 3: Participation with Distinction


Tier 3 activities involve a higher level of commitment or achievement, often including minor leadership roles or local recognition.




  • Participating in a regional coding competition: While participating in competitions is impressive, standing out in these events can push your activity into Tier 3. This could mean scoring high, even if you don’t win the competition overall.

  • Holding a leadership position in your school’s coding club: As a leader, you’re not just participating—you’re organizing activities, guiding club members, and making decisions that affect the club. This can show colleges your ability to manage and lead.

  • Earning a certificate of distinction in an online CS course: Beyond simply taking an online course, earning a certificate of distinction often means you’ve scored in the top percentage of learners. This shows a high level of understanding and mastery of the topic.


Tier 2: Significant Leadership or Statewide Recognition


At Tier 2, your involvement in computer science activities has led to substantial leadership roles, statewide recognition, or both.




  • Leading a team to a state coding competition: This involves not just competing, but guiding your team to compete at a higher level. This demonstrates significant leadership and team management skills.

  • Developing and launching an app locally that gains a significant number of users: This shows that you can apply your skills to create something that others find useful. The popularity of the app demonstrates the impact and relevance of your work.

  • Winning a state-level award for a CS project: Winning such an award signifies that your work stands out among a large number of students. This recognition illustrates your high level of skill and creativity in computer science.


Tier 1: National Level Recognition or Extraordinary Achievement


Tier 1 activities showcase exceptional talent and commitment, demonstrated through national recognition or extraordinary achievements.




  • Winning or achieving a high rank at a prestigious national or international CS competition, such as the USA Computing Olympiad: This type of recognition puts you among the top students in the nation or the world, indicating an elite level of skill and dedication.

  • Creating a widely-used app or software: If your app or software gains significant usage beyond just your local area or state, that shows a high level of impact and achievement. It demonstrates that you have used your skills to create something that meets the needs of a broad audience.

  • Having a research paper published in a renowned CS journal: Research publication, especially in a prestigious journal, is a rare and impressive achievement for high school students. This indicates that you’re producing work at a near-professional level, contributing new ideas to the field of computer science.


Computer science competitions can be a fantastic way to demonstrate your passion for the field and showcase your problem-solving skills. However, as you’ve gathered, their impressiveness, in terms of college admissions, largely depends on the level of the competition and your performance or role in it. Simply participating in competitions usually falls under Tier 3 or 4. If you take on a leadership role, guide your team to significant achievements, or win prestigious awards, your activity could reach Tier 1 or 2 status. These higher tiers are especially noteworthy to college admissions officers, as they denote exceptional talent, commitment, and initiative.


10 Computer Science Competitions for High Schoolers

In order to better streamline the process of finding and searching for computer science competitions, which as mentioned earlier are great ways to create a more competitive and appealing application, here are 10 computer science competitions for high schoolers:


1. USA Computing Olympiad (USACO)

Dates: Dec 16-19, 2022/Jan 27-30, 2023/Feb 24-27, 2023

Type: National followed by an international competition


USACO is a highly esteemed competition that can challenge and develop your computer programming skills. To enter, you must first register on the USACO website and select the division that aligns with your proficiency, starting from Bronze to Platinum. The competition involves solving algorithmic problems that require logical reasoning and knowledge in various programming languages like Java, C++, and Python.


2. American Computer Science League (ACSL)


Dates: Nov 1-Jan 13, 2024/Jan 2-Mar 2, 2024/Feb 5-Apr 6, 2024/Mar 11-May 11, 2024

Type: International competition


ACSL provides an excellent platform for K-12 students to showcase their knowledge in computer science and programming. Interested schools need to register on the ACSL website. Participants are required to have foundational knowledge in computer number systems, Boolean algebra, data structures, and programming basics. ACSL encourages teamwork, so you’ll also have to collaborate effectively with your peers.


3. CyberPatriot


Dates: May 11-Jun 13, 2023/Jul 20-Aug 22, 2023

Type: National competition


CyberPatriot aims to inspire students towards careers in cybersecurity or other STEM disciplines. It’s a team-based competition, where each team is given the task of managing the network of a small company. To participate, a coach, usually a teacher or adult coordinator, must register the team online. Participants should have a basic understanding of cybersecurity, though part of the competition’s aim is to educate students on these topics.


4. PicoCTF


Dates: Mar 14-28, 2023

Type: International competition


PicoCTF is an exciting way to immerse yourself in the world of cybersecurity. To participate, you’ll need to register online and assemble a team, which can be done a few weeks before the competition starts. Each challenge’s difficulty gradually increases, but they are all designed to be educational, so even beginners can enjoy the competition while learning about cybersecurity.


5. Google Code Jam


Dates: April 15, 2023

Type: International competition


Google Code Jam offers you the chance to prove your coding skills on a global stage. To enter, you’ll need to sign up on the Code Jam website. This competition requires problem-solving skills and a strong grasp of one or more programming languages, such as Python, Java, C++, or JavaScript.


6. CodeWars


Dates: Continuous (Year-Round)

Type: International


CodeWars offers you a flexible, continuous platform to hone your coding skills. It’s less of a competition and more of a platform for self-improvement, but it does feature a ranking system. To start, you’ll need to sign up, select your preferred programming languages, and start solving the available challenges.


7. Microsoft Imagine Cup Junior


Dates: Jan 11-May 15, 2023

Type: International


This competition, aimed at students aged 13 to 18, encourages participants to explore and integrate technology to devise innovative concepts that address global social issues. The goal is to empower students to leverage their technological and creative thinking skills to devise and develop solutions. To participate, educators or adults must first register their students or youth group. Participants are then expected to learn and brainstorm about AI and its implications, and develop a technological concept that could potentially have a positive global impact. Resources and materials are provided to aid the students in their journey.


8. CoderZ League

Dates: Sep 12-Dec 7, 2023

Type: International


The CoderZ League offers an engaging, educational, and competitive environment where students learn and apply STEM and coding skills. The competition is cloud-based, which means it can be accessed from anywhere, provided you have a computer with an internet connection. To participate, educators register their students, who then form teams and compete against others internationally. It’s a competition that not only cultivates programming skills but also encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. Throughout the competition, participants learn how to code virtual 3D robots to complete a variety of tasks and challenges.


9. Technovation Challenge


Dates: Submission due April 18, 2023
Type: International (girls only)


The Technovation Challenge is a global tech competition exclusively for girls aged 10 to 18. The competition fosters a combination of technical and entrepreneurial skills as it requires participants to identify a problem in their community and develop a mobile app to address that problem. A business plan outlining the app’s viability is also a component of the competition. To enter, girls need to form a team and register online. Each team is paired with a mentor who guides them throughout the competition, providing valuable insights into the world of technology and entrepreneurship. The competition nurtures not only coding skills but also promotes business planning, public speaking, and collaboration.


10. Topcoder Events

Dates: Year-Round events

Type: International


The Topcoder High School competition is a global platform that promotes competitive programming among high school students. The competition primarily focuses on problem-solving skills using various programming languages. To participate, students need to sign up on the Topcoder website and select the relevant competition. They are then presented with problems of varying difficulty levels, which they need to solve using algorithms and code within a given time frame. In addition to problem-solving, participants also learn about time management and how to perform under pressure. This competition is a great opportunity for students to gauge their coding skills against other students globally. Top performers are often rewarded with prizes and recognition.


More Extracurricular Resources for Computer Science

From intensive residential programs like the Carnegie Mellon University’s Summer Academy to online courses on platforms like edX, Coursera, Udemy, and Codecademy, there’s something for every learning style and interest. 


Consider joining local computer science clubs or participating in internships offered by prestigious institutions and organizations like Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI), or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These not only provide practical experience but also open doors for networking and mentorship. 


Finally, explore opportunities from nonprofits such as Kode With Klossy and The Coding School’s Code Connects, which offer affordable or even free programs.


Whether it’s online or in-person, summer or during the school year, there are numerous opportunities out there for those passionate about computer science. The key is to stay curious, keep learning, and seize the opportunities that come your way.


As you explore and take advantage of these computer science resources, it’s equally important to understand how these experiences could impact your college admissions journey. Knowing where you stand in the college admissions landscape can be an empowering tool, allowing you to strategize effectively and maximize your chances of success. To that end, we strongly recommend you utilize CollegeVine’s Admissions Calculator. It provides personalized guidance based on your unique profile, helping you understand your competitiveness for different colleges using your unique applicant input factors, like extracurriculars, GPA and more!

Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!