Introduction to STEM Fields

STEM, an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, encompasses a group of some of the fastest-growing industries and career opportunities in the world. Because these fields have such a huge impact on the world—in terms of the environment, technological advances, the economy, and many other sectors—many organizations, businesses, and governments are providing incentives for young people to enter STEM careers. (You can read more about the importance of and practice involved in STEM fields in A Day in the Life of a STEM Major.)


If you are interested in a STEM discipline—whether it be a passion for computer programming, a knack for chemistry experiments, or an interest in inventing—you don’t have to wait until college to put your talents to good use. There are many opportunities for high school and even middle school students to showcase their STEM skills in competitions and contests. We describe some of those opportunities in A Guide to STEM Scholarships. While that post looks at opportunities that specifically offer funding for postsecondary education, this post will describe more general competitions that aren’t limited to scholarship awards.

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STEM competitions for high school students

There are a number of STEM competitions available for high school students to demonstrate their skills. Here are just a few to start. Click the hyperlinks to find out more about these competitions.


  • The Regeron Science Talent Search is the oldest science and math competition specifically for high school seniors. In this competition, students showcase original research in science and math areas. Three hundred semifinalists are awarded $2,000, along with $2,000 to be donated to their high schools to support STEM education. Forty finalists receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the Regeron Science Talent Institute, where they will explain their research to some of the country’s top scientists. The top 10 finalists are awarded monetary prizes of up to $250,000 each.


  • The Intel International Science & Engineering Fair is a precollege science competition open to students in grades 9-12. There are 22 different subcategories of STEM fields (see the website for a complete list) in which students may choose to compete. Students must first win local affiliated fairs before competing in regional and national competitions. Six hundred individual awards are given in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th places of each of the 22 categories, with monetary prizes of $3,000, $1,500, $1,000, and $500 awarded respectively. The top winner of the Intel ISEF receives the Gordon Moore Award, and $75,000, with the next top two winners each receiving a $50,000 award. Additional awards worth approximately $4 million are provided through the Intel ISEF Special Awards program, and include tuition scholarships, summer internships, scientific field trips, and laboratory equipment.


  • Google Science Fair is an online science and technology competition open to individual students and teams comprised of students ages 13-18. Students compete in regional competitions across the world, and 16 global finalists will travel to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California to present their projects to the judges. All 16 finalists receive a variety of swag, including magazine subscriptions (check the website for more details on the prizes). The grand prize is $50,000 in scholarship funding. There are also seven other individual awards, which range from $5,000-15,000 in scholarship funding.


  • Sponsored by Microsoft, the Imagine Cup is a competition open to students who are at least 16 years old and enrolled as a student in a secondary school. Participants build software using Microsoft technology and tools. Students may enter as teams of up to three participants. The top prize is $100,000, and 2nd and 3rd places win $25,000 and $15,000 respectively.


  • The Siemens Competition in Science, Math, and Technology promotes intensive research “that improves students’ understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines” for high school students. There are awards for six top participants—both teams and individuals—of $100,000, $50,000, $40,000, $30,000,$20,000, and $10,000 respectively.


  • Open to students in grades 7-12, the First Tech Challenge is a competition in which teams comprised of at least 10 members design, build, program, and operate robots to compete in a challenge. The competition awards one top award and one finalist award, as well as several smaller awards for criteria such as motivation and inspiration. Learn more about the details of the awards here.


  • Sponsored by and held in conjunction with the U.S. Army, eCYBERMISSION is web-based Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics competition open to teams of students from grades 6-9. Teams will propose a solution to a real problem in their community and compete for State, Regional, and National Awards. First place national awards are $5,000 in savings bonds, and smaller state awards (also savings bonds) are available as well.


  • One of the more well-known STEM competitions, Science Olympiad is a contest in which teams of 15 students compete in 23 events from various scientific fields, such as Anatomy and Physiology, Tower Building, Rocks and Minerals, Forensics, and more. Events can generally be separated into three categories: Study, Build, and Lab. More more information and tips for success, check out CollegeVine’s Ultimate Guide to the Science Olympiad.



For more information

These are some of the larger and most well-known STEM competitions for high school students, but this list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other global, national, state, and regional STEM competitions for students, so be sure to talk to your science, math, or other STEM teachers if you’re interested in competing in other competitions. They might also be willing to help or coach you with your project. Your guidance counselor might know of competitions as well. Additionally, if you know adults in your community who work in STEM fields, talk to them about your interest in pursuing a career in a STEM and see if they have advice or guidance to offer. They might be able to give you some tips on how to get involved, as well as ideas of majors and internships to pursue.


For more advice on getting involved in STEM fields and what you can expect if you choose this route, check out some of our posts below:


A Day in the Life of a STEM Major

A Guide to STEM Scholarships

How to Spend Your Summer as an Aspiring Engineer

Guide to National Youth Science Camp


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills. The ultimate goal is for college admissions to just be the next step in series of successes driven by the student.


Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine