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Prestigious Visual Arts Competitions for High School Students

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The more selective college admissions become, the more important extracurricular activities are on your college application. Gone are the days when stellar grades and test scores alone might set a candidate apart at the most selective schools. Now, it’s sometimes surmised that top colleges could fill their entire freshman class with students who received a perfect score on the SAT. If you really want to stand out, it’s going to take more than just good grades and superb standardized test scores.


Students who stand out in college admissions also boast a number of impressive accomplishments outside the classroom. They often play sports or are involved with student government. They might participate in service projects or claim annual victories at state or national science fairs. There are many ways to set yourself apart with your extracurricular pursuits.


But some extracurriculars are harder to quantify. If you’re an artist, you might find it’s difficult to communicate how driven and successful your out-of-classroom experiences have been. After all, there are no art team captains or regional playoffs. It’s a much more subjective field.


That being said, there are some prestigious art competitions open to high school students. By receiving formal recognition through an art competition, you have concrete evidence of the level your work has achieved. You also exhibit your initiative and drive in seeking out such experiences and pursuing them independently.


If you’re a student artist, specializing in any of the visual arts ranging from painting and photography to prints or digital design, and you are interested in submitting your work to an art contest, this is the post for you. By doing so, you can hopefully gain some external recognition for your hard work and impress college admissions committees along the way. To learn more about seven top visual art competitions open to high school students, keep reading.


Congressional Art Competition 

What’s the Big Deal:

The Congressional Institute sponsors a national high school visual art competition every spring to recognize and encourage artistic talent in the nation. Since its inception in 1982, more than 650,000 high school students have participated.

Student artists submit entries directly to their representative’s office, and panels of district artists select the winning entry from each district. Winners are recognized both in their district and at an annual awards ceremony in Washington, D.C..


  • Paintings: oil, acrylics, watercolor, etc.
  • Drawings: colored pencil, pencil, ink, marker, pastels, charcoal (It is recommended that charcoal and pastel drawings be fixed.)
  • Collages: must be two dimensional
  • Prints: lithographs, silkscreen, block prints
  • Mixed Media: use of more than two mediums such as pencil, ink, watercolor, etc.
  • Computer-generated art
  • Photographs

How to Enter: Contact your representative to confirm your district’s participation and obtain specific guidance.

Rules: 2017 Rules and Regulations

What You Could Win: The winning artists are invited to an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. and their works are displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol.


National YoungArts Foundation

What’s the Big Deal:

The National YoungArts Foundation “identifies and nurtures the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, design, and performing arts and assists them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development.”

In this competition, students aged 15-18 submit applications for a spot at the elite National YoungArts Week where they receive mentorship from top artists and vie for nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who exemplify academic and artistic excellence.

Categories: Not limited to just visual arts. Also includes:

  • Writing
  • Voice
  • Visual Arts (All mediums)
  • Design Arts
  • Jazz
  • Photography Theater
  • Classical Music
  • Dance
  • Cinematic Arts

How to Enter: Apply online by mid-October.

Rules: Available here.

What You Could Win:  

• Up to $10,000 in cash awards

• Master classes with accomplished artists

• Nomination as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts

• Lifetime of mentoring and professional support

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

What’s the Big Deal:

Junior high school and high school students apply to regional competitions in 29 categories of art and writing. Regional Gold Key winners are automatically considered for national recognition.

In 2016, more than 330,000 students submitted work. About 2,500 were recognized at the national level, with 16 students receiving the highest honors, including $10,000 scholarships.


  • Architecture & Industrial Design
  • Ceramics & Glass
  • Comic Art
  • Design
  • Digital Art
  • Drawing & Illustration
  • Editorial Cartoon
  • Fashion
  • Film & Animation
  • Jewelry
  • Mixed Media
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Printmaking
  • Sculpture
  • Video Games
  • Art Portfolio (graduating seniors only)

There is a separate category for written submissions as well.

How to Enter: The Scholastic Awards will open annually in mid-September. Deadlines vary by region. Work can be submitted directly through online accounts.

Rules: Complete information about guidelines and deadlines is available here.

What You Could Win: National medalists are recognized at a National Ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Several sponsored awards offer scholarships up to $10,0000.

A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them  

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Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Science without Borders Challenge

What’s the Big Deal:

Sponsored by the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, the Science without Borders Challenge is “an international art competition that engages students to promote the need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources.”

The contest has a different theme each year, but it always centers on ocean conservation and aims to inspire creativity while learning about conservation issues.

Mediums: Must be two-dimensional visual artwork, such as a painting or drawing. Acceptable media include: paint, pencil, marker, crayon, ink, and oil pastel. Digitally created artwork, including photographs, is not accepted.

How to Enter: Entry forms can be completed online or sent via mail. Original artwork must be mailed to:

Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation Science Without Borders Challenge

130 Severn Avenue, Suite 100

Annapolis, MD 21403 USA

Deadlines for submission are typically mid-April each year.

Rules: Contest Rules are available here.

What You Could Win: Cash awards from $200 to $500.


Discover FAA High School Competitions

What’s the Big Deal:

The Discover FAA High School Competition is sponsored annually by the College of Fine and Applied Arts in Illinois. The awards seek to provide a platform for high school students to “demonstrate their talents and earn opportunities to explore the wide variety of classes and majors offered within the College of Fine and Applied Arts.”

Mediums: Not limited to visual arts. Entry categories exist for:


Art and Design


Landscape Architecture



Urban Planning

How to Enter: Information regarding the annual contest is released on the website each fall. Winners are announced in the spring.

Rules: Complete rules available on the website each fall when the annual contest is announced.

One winning high school senior receives $1,000 to be applied toward their first-year college expenses. The student must enroll in a program within the College of Fine and Applied Arts to receive the award and must meet all requirements for entry to the University of Illinois and the intended FAA program.

The winning freshman/sophomore/junior receives one scholarship to attend an FAA summer program. Eligible programs include: FAA Summer Intensive, Discover Architecture, Illinois Summer Youth Music, and iSTEAM.


Doodle 4 Google

What’s the Big Deal:

Each year, over 100,000 students nationwide participate in the Doodle 4 Google contest, which challenges entrants to create a Google homepage image centered on a specific theme. The winning doodle is featured on the Google homepage and hefty prizes are also rewarded.


Artists create their doodles using any materials they want, but all doodles will be reviewed and scanned in a two-dimensional format. If students create a three-dimensional doodle, it should be entered as a photograph rather than the original. Original 2D scannable doodles made with materials such as paint, pencils, crayons, markers, chalk, pastels, charcoal, cray-pas, or a 2D collage are acceptable. Computer-generated images will also be accepted.

How to Enter: Entrants can mail the completed entry form or submit it online as a .png, or .jpg.. Each doodle must feature the word GOOGLE somehow incorporated into it. Artists must also write a 50-word statement describing their doodle, their message behind the artwork, or their artistic process.

Rules: Learn more about the contest here.

What You Could Win: One national winner receives a $30,000 college scholarship and his or her school receives a $50,000 technology grant. His or her doodle is also featured as the Google homepage for one day.

Four national finalists also each receive a $5,000 scholarship.

The winner and each finalist all receive a trip to Google headquarters, a Google Chromebook, and an Android tablet.


National Geographic Student Photo Contest

What’s the Big Deal:

This annual contest sponsored by National Geographic prompts high school photographers to capture an image that “conveys what exploration and adventure means to them.” This year, over 2,000 students entered, submitting photography that ranged in location from far corners of the world to their own backyards. All photographs are submitted along with a written description of the moment captured and how it reflects a sense of exploration or adventure.

Photos were judged on photographic quality (50%), extent to which the photograph conveys a sense of exploration or adventure (25%), and the quality of the description and its relationship to the photograph and theme (25%).

Mediums: Photographs only, submitted as digital files in JPG or JPEG format, 20 MB or smaller.

How to Enter: All entries must be submitted online in digital format through the online entry form. The deadline to submit is the end of January each year.

Rules: Complete rules can be found here.

What You Could Win: The Grand Prize is the winner’s choice of one National Geographic Student Expedition Photography Workshop. It includes roundtrip coach air transportation as well as accommodations, meals, and activities.

The Second Place Winner receives a LowePro PhotoSport 300 AW II and National Geographic’s Fundamentals of Photography DVD, while the Third Place Winner receives a LowePro Passport Sling III and National Geographic’s Fundamentals of Photography DVD.


If you’re an artist wondering how to quantify your experiences in art, be they painting, photography, or graphic design, a well-known visual art competition is a great way to highlight your dedication and success, along with its importance as an extracurricular in your high school career. Not only can you win hefty scholarships or even cash awards, but also the award itself earns a valuable spot on your college application.


Don’t hesitate to enter an art contest just because you don’t think you will win. Some contests offer feedback, and even if they don’t, by participating and perusing the successful winners, you will gain more exposure to and understanding of art competitions. You can begin with smaller, local contests if you’re feeling unsure, and then build your way up to the bigger contests above, or you can leap right in and enter a national competition right from the start. There’s no penalty for putting yourself out there.


If you’re still feeling uncertain about entering an art contest, or you can’t seem to find a contest that fits your particular niche just right, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Early Advising Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college graduates.


For more information about art and extracurricular activities in high school, check out these posts:



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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.