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The Ultimate Guide to Academic Decathalon

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There is no question that extracurricular activities are important to any high schooler’s experience. Students often join clubs or teams that mesh with their outside activities like athletics or the arts. But what about students whose many extracurricular interests are still considered academic?


If you want an intellectually challenging extracurricular experience,  Academic Decathalon might be right for you! AcaDec is a competition that allows high school students to compete against one another and improve their knowledge in many different subject areas, from music to economics to public speaking. AcaDec has a lot to offer its participants,, and it’s a great opportunity to meet other like-minded students who are passionate about acquiring new knowledge and building upon their academic skills! If you think Academic Decathalon might be right for you, read on.


Introduction to Academic Decathalon

Academic Decathlon is an academic competition for high school students. This activity is often abbreviated as just “AcaDec,” (though some regions might refer to it as “AcDec” or “AcaDeca”).


AcDec is run by the nonprofit United States Academic Decathlon Association (USAD).The first ever Academic Decathlon occurred in 1986 in Bolsa Grande, California, and today is still going strong. Although it is mostly based in the United States, it has recently started expanding abroad as well. For more information about the history of Academic Decathalon, you can check out this webpage.


How AcaDec works

In AcaDec, student teams from different high schools meet and compete at the local, state, and national AcaDec competitions. Each year will have a theme around which all events’ topics are centered (the theme for 2016-2017 is World War II).


School teams will study these themes and specific topics relating to them in fields like math or music using curricula that is provided by the overarching US AcaDec organization. Events will include multiple-choice tests in different fields like the aforementioned math and music. Events might also include prepared and impromptu speeches, written essays, interviews with judges, and the Super Quiz (which is a quiz-bowl-type competition that takes place in front of a live audience).


According to the United States Academic Decathalon website, there are 10 events, each of which allows students to:


  • Visualize art history
  • Participate in an interview
  • Experiment with science
  • Become versed in languages in literature
  • Experience the music
  • Master mathematics
  • Excel in social science
  • Author an essay
  • Prepare a speech
  • Study economics


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Team and competitive structure of AcaDec

The formal AcaDec team is composed of up to nine students divided into GPA-based groups. The three students on the team with an “A” grade point average are called Honor students, students with a “B” average are Scholastic students, and students with a “C” average are called Varsity students.


School teams might be much larger than the alotted ninestudents, in which case the choice of which nine students get to represent the school in competitions is usually determined by placement examinations.


Members who are not on the formal AcaDec team might still be able to participate in the events at local competitions in order to practice, but their scores typically won’t count towards the formal competition between school teams. Participating in AcaDec as a non-competing member is a good way to get practice without having to worry about affecting your school team’s scores!


In general, teams will first compete at the local level against schools in the nearby area. If your team is successful, you will likely move on to regional, state, or national competitions.


Benefits of participating in AcaDec

There are many upsides to participating in AcaDec as a high school student. First of all, practicing on a team for an academic competition will help to improve your knowledge of certain academic topics, whether they be in the fields of mathematics, literature, or even geology.


AcaDec competitions  also give students practice in performing under pressure. This is an important skill to have for applying to colleges, entering today’s competitive job market, and many other occasions in your life. Though nervousness is a natural part of any activity that involves presenting a speech in front of many people or taking a timed multiple choice test, practicing these types of scenarios in AcaDec will help you develop strategies to conquer nervous feelings before an important interview or a presentation at work.


There is also the opportunity for students in Academic Decathalon to take on different leadership roles and responsibilities. As with any academic team, there is a designated team captain and depending on your team there may be deputy captains as well. You can choose to take on as much responsibility as you want, keeping in mind that this might be a good opportunity to build upon and improve your leadership skills.


Another benefit is that AcaDec is a well-respected extracurricular with which colleges are familiar. When it comes time to apply to schools and list your extracurriculars,  colleges will already have context as to what this activity is and the amount of time and effort that students are expected to devote to it.


Lastly, Academic Decathalon is a competitive activity in which you are rewarded in a tangible way for good performance and for investing your time in this activity. This will be helpful when it comes time to recount your accomplishments on college applications.


Learning more

To learn more about extracurriculars that allow you to use your academic skills, check out these blog posts:


Affordable Academic Summer Programs for High School Students

How to Win Best Delegate in Model UN

A Guide to Excelling at Speech and Debate

How to Get a Research Assistant Position in High School


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Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).