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15 Arts Competitions for High School Students

What’s Covered:


Your extracurricular activities could be what makes your college application truly stand out from the crowd. Many excellent colleges receive thousands of applications every year, so it helps to differentiate yourself in meaningful ways; sometimes good grades and test scores simply aren’t enough.


This is where competitions come into play—showing that you have a deep interest and that you are skilled enough at it to compete with others is a great way to show your identity outside of the classroom. For students who are drawn to the visual arts, these 15 arts competitions could be the perfect addition to your extracurricular profile.


Why Should You Enter an Art/Design Competition?


Sports stars and singers have a distinct advantage when it comes to conveying their talents to college admissions committees. After all, it’s easy to list “soccer team” or “choir” on your application. Other extracurricular activities, such as photography, graphic design, and sculpture, tend to be more difficult to describe in a simple concrete way.


If you have an artistic passion, you might be struggling to showcase your skill and enthusiasm to colleges. Here’s where art competitions come in. Competitions are one way to show how your skills stack up against other students. One thing to note—these competitions can be very selective. Even if you don’t win, you will have produced something of quality, which could serve you well on college applications—perhaps in an arts supplement, for example.


If you’re considering submitting an arts supplement, be sure to get the feedback of an honest professional or art mentor. Arts supplements will only help your application if they are exceptional, and they can hurt you if they’re only so-so.


Ready to gear up for a competition? Here are 15 that can help you stand out:


15 Art/Design Competitions for High Schoolers


1. Congressional Art Competition


Grades: 9-12

Competition Type: National


Are you skilled in the visual arts? If so, consider applying to the Congressional Institute’s Art Competition. Designed to acknowledge and celebrate talented young artists, this contest is open to high school students around the country.


For one whole year, the winning artwork will hang in the Cannon Tunnel of the US Capitol, where it will be seen every day by members of Congress, international visitors, and thousands of tourists!


2. Doodle for Google


Grades: Grades fall into multiple divisions, including 8-9 and 10-12

Competition Type: National


Google is famous for its drawings and doodles, and now the search engine juggernaut is offering high schoolers a chance to get in on the fun. To enter, students create an illustration using a medium of their choice, and write artist statements explaining their work and why it’s meaningful to them.


Along with their artwork being displayed on the Google homepage, the national winner will also receive a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 technology package for their school/non-profit organization, Google hardware, and Google swag!


3. Vans Custom Culture


Grades: 9-12

Competition Type: National


Vans created this contest to empower high school artists and designers while bringing attention to dwindling arts budgets. This national competition asks that high school students use a blank Vans shoe as a canvas to showcase their creativity around a specific annual theme.


The grand prize winner’s school will receive $50,000 toward expanding their arts program, with four runner-ups receiving $15,000 each.


4. Ned Smith Center Youth Art Contest


Grades: 10-12

Competition Type: National


This annual competition is designed to inspire a new generation of wildlife artists. As the theme changes from year to year, students should study the theme closely when preparing to begin their art piece. Winners are announced around the end of July each year. They include 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places, and Honorable Mentions.


5. Teen Ink Contests


Ages: 13-19

Competition Type: National


Teen Ink is a magazine that holds many contests throughout the year to showcase art by teens. Winners and top nominees will be published in the magazine. Previous contests include creative portraits, poetry, and nature photography. The current contest is focused on pet photography!


6. Embracing Our Differences Art Exhibition


Grades: 9-12

Competition Type: International


Annually, Embracing Our Differences hosts an international art exhibition in Sarasota. The exhibit holds 50 billboard-sized artworks, each with an accompanying inspirational quote. Awards are given for “Best in Show Adult,” “Best in Show Student,” and “People’s Choice.”


Winning students receive $2000 to be split with their school’s art or writing program. Students should submit a digital file that is horizontal in orientation with a brief “Artist Statement” explaining their art, creative process, and/or what the theme means to them.


7. Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Contest


Ages: 11-18

Competition Type: International


In the fall of each year, Bow Seat offers the Ocean Awareness Contest as a catalyst for students to learn about environmental issues through art. The theme changes each year, so be sure to thoroughly review the information before planning your artwork!


There are several categories available for submission, and you can submit one entry per category. Along with your artwork, you will need to submit a reflection on your piece. High school students in the Senior Division can win between $250 and $1,500.


8. Sony World Photography Awards Youth Competition


Ages: Under 19 years old

Competition Type: International


The Sony World Photography Awards is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious photography competitions. Its mission is to celebrate the work of leading experts and emerging photographers alike. The Youth Competition is an opportunity for photographers under 19 years of age to showcase their skills.


The 2023 Youth Competition theme is “Through Your Eyes.” This theme asks you to consider your (and your generation’s) perception of the world. You can enter up to three images for free in any genre and with any technique and subject matter.


The overall winner will receive the title of Youth Photographer of the Year, a Sony digital imaging kit, and other prizes, including a trophy and inclusion in an exhibition. Other winners will receive global press exposure and promotion.


9. YoungArts National Arts Competition


Ages: 15-18

Competition Type: National


The YoungArts National Arts Competition is a prestigious program in which you can show your talents in one of 10 disciplines—Classical Music, Dance, Design, Film, Jazz, Photography, Theater, Visual Arts, Voice, and Writing.


The National Foundation for the Advancement of Artists seeks to identify exceptional young artists, amplify their potential, and invest in their lifelong creative freedom. To this end, award winners receive cash prizes (between $250 and $10,000), mentorship by accomplished artists, a lifetime of creative and professional support, membership in a robust network of artists, nomination for U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and national recognition!


10. Celebrating Art Contest


Grades: Grades fall into multiple divisions, including 7-9 and 10-12

Competition Type: State and National


This contest, offered by Celebrating Art, gives students of all ages from around the country a chance to show off their artistic skills and get published in an art book! The organization’s mission is to encourage and motivate students to allow their creative passions to flourish.


Top 10 winners received a $25 gift card and a free book. Their teachers also receive classroom supplies. The top 25% are invited to be published in the art book!


11. Alliance for Young Artists & Writers – Scholastic Art & Writing Awards


Grades: 7-12

Competition Type: Regional and National


This competition is the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens. The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers holds this competition in order to identify students with exceptional artistic and literary talent, so their visionary work can be presented through recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards were founded in 1923 and have inspired bold ideas for a century!


Winners are celebrated in ceremonies, exhibitions, and publications globally. In addition, there are various scholarships offered to winners, including The Flaunt It Award—a $1,000 scholarship for works that celebrate individual differences—and The New York Life Award—a $1,000 scholarship for works about personal grief, loss, and bereavement.


12. Artists Magazine Annual Artists to Watch Competition


Ages: 16 and older

Competition Type: National


This competition, intended for emerging artists, is a great opportunity for artists to get into the spotlight. The competition’s host, Artists Network, is a company dedicated to helping artists find inspiration and guidance, while advancing their skills and attaining exposure and recognition.


Winners of the Artists to Watch Competition will have their works published in an issue of Artists Magazine, and on the company’s website. They will also receive an Artists Network Membership for 1-year ($99.99 value) plus a digital award-winner badge. First-place winners in each category will receive a $50 ArtistsNetwork.com gift card as well.


13. The Lumen Prize


Grades: Any

Competition Type: International


Now more than ever, art and technology are woven together in fascinating ways. The Lumen Prize is an international award that celebrates this fusion. The global competition challenges entrants to create art using technology—there are few limits!


All art is eligible as long as it engages with technology in some form within one of the award categories—Still Image, Moving Image, 3D/Interactive, Immersive Environment, Metaversal Generative Art. Other awards are based on the artist’s background or concept. Prizes in these categories range from $500 to $4,000.


14. David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation – Global Canvas Children’s Art Competition


Ages: 12-16

Competition Type: International


The Global Canvas Children’s Art Competition is an annual international art contest, run by DSWF, that is meant to support creativity from young people and to encourage thought and concern for our planet’s environment and its diverse wildlife. Students are tasked with creating artwork within a given environmental theme. Previous themes include “Biodiversity – The Complex Web of Life,” “Forests of Land and Sea,” “We Can Heal the World,” and “Wild Wonders.”


The competition accepts both individual and group entries. Any art techniques can be used to create entries, including painting, sculpture, textiles, collages, and recycled materials. Competition winners will receive vouchers for art supplies, digital animal adoptions, and certificates!


15. The Science Without Borders Challenge: International Student Art Contest


Ages: 11-19

Competition Type: International


The Science Without Borders Challenge is an international contest that encourages engagement with ocean conservation through art. It inspires creativity in students while simultaneously promoting public awareness of the dire need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources.


The Challenge offers the following prizes to its winners:


  • 1st Place: $500
  • 2nd Place: $350
  • 3rd Place: $200


Additionally, a “People’s Choice” award is also offered this year. The winners of this award in each age group will receive a $50 scholarship.


How Do Art/Design Competitions Affect My Admissions Chances?


As you’re preparing for college, these and other art competitions can help set you apart from other applicants by showcasing your passion and creativity. Depending on the prestige of the competition, these contests will land in one of four tiers of extracurricular activities.


  • Tier 1 activities are selective, competitive, and prestigious. They require exceptional achievement or leadership, and are extremely impactful to admissions officers. Winning the Congressional Art Competition, Doodle for Google, or the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards would be an example of an activity in Tier 1 to include on your application.


  • Tier 2 activities show high levels of achievement and leadership, but are a little more common than those in Tier 1. Winning a prize in something like the Embracing Our Differences Art Exhibition would likely fall under Tier 2. These are very respectable activities to have on your application, and still serve to set you apart.


  • Tier 3 activities don’t have the special distinction of Tiers 1 and 2, but they still show your passion and ability. Winning a local or regional art competition would likely be considered a Tier 3 activity.


  • Tier 4 activities are fairly common, and are used to show the person behind the grades. These would include entering local or regional competitions and winning a lower-tier prize or not winning one at all.


Pay attention to these tiers, as extracurriculars are a key criterion that colleges review when deciding who to accept—these sometimes even constitute up to 25% of an admissions decision. Though grades are straightforward, these activities give admissions officers the chance to see you as an individual student, and evaluate how you would fit into the student body.


Having particularly prestigious extracurriculars can also demonstrate a readiness for college, as a strong-tiered profile, along with good grades and test scores, will show that you are able to juggle multiple activities and commitments.


For more information on your admissions chances, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. Our data-driven, free online tool considers factors such as grades, test scores, and extracurriculars—like arts 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.