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Popular Science Essay Contest

ScienceThrillers.com, the only website dedicated to page-turning fiction with real science, is proud to compile the internet’s most comprehensive list of 2016-2017’s top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions. Please share, tweet, re-post this list to parents, educators, potential sponsors and judges.

Encourage your kid to participate. Help your niece, nephew, grandchild, or the neighbor kid complete a science project. Volunteer to work at your local science fair; if you’re a scientist, technician, or engineer, volunteer to be a judge or mentor a team at your neighborhood school. Make a donation or sponsor a special award. Get involved to support STEM education!

K-12 eligible:

1. Future Engineers’ Mars Medical Challenge: sponsored by American Society of Mechanical Engineers and NASA. The challenge: Create a digital 3D model of an object that could be used by an astronaut to maintain physical health on a 3-year mission to Mars. Your design must be intended to be 3D printed and could be used for a range of medical needs including diagnostic, preventative, first-aid, emergency, surgical, and/or dental purposes

  • K-12 students in US
  • 5-12 year-old and 13-19 year-old divisions
  • Top winners earn trip to Houston/Johnson Space Center; also MakerBot 3D printers
  • Entry deadline: January 25, 2017

2. ExploraVision:ExploraVision is a science competition that goes beyond the typical student science competition and into what it takes to bring ideas to reality. Students work in groups to simulate real research and development. A teacher will guide his or her students as they pick a current technology, research it, envision what it might look like in 20 years, and describe the development steps, pros & cons, and obstacles. Past winners have envisioned technologies ranging from a hand-held food allergen detector to a new device to help people who have lost limbs regain movement in real time.

  • K-12 students in US and Canada in public, private, or home school
  • 2-4 students per team; four age categories
  • Entry deadline: February 6, 2017
  • Entry consists of an abstract, project description, bibliography, and 5 web pages
  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba
  • Prizes include travel and thousands of dollars in savings bonds
  • View summary brochure

3. US FIRST Robotics & Tech Programs: World-wide eligibility. Team competitions. You’ve probably seen winners of these competitions featured in the media.

  • FIRST Lego League Jr.: For kids ages 6-10. Team event. Event season is now until April 2017. This year’s theme is “Creature Craze” (the animal kingdom). Kids use basic engineering concepts to build a model made of LEGO elements. They will also present information through a Show Me Poster.
  • FIRST Lego League: For kids grades 4-8. Team event. This pdf is a nice summary. Season starts in the fall. This year’s theme: Animal Allies. Identify a problem when people and animals interact. Design a solution. Share with others.
  • FIRST Tech Challenge: For grades 7-12, teams of 10+ members. Big scholarship prizes at stake. Kickoff on September 10, 2016.

FTC is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and is programmed using a variety of languages. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

Combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. We call FIRST Robotics Competition the ultimate Sport for the Mind. High-school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of 20 or more students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team. Each season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship.

4. Science Olympiad:School-basedteam competitive science tournaments for K-12.

  • Elementary Science Olympiad (K-6) (Division A) Wide-ranging, hands-on content using kids’ natural curiosity. Host an all-building Science Olympiad Fun Day. Can be used as a feeder program for middle school Science Olympiad. Some people even use the content for birthday parties!
  • Grades 6-9 (Division B): Up to 15 students allowed per team. Here are the events for 2017.
  • Grades 9-12 (Division C): Up to 15 students per team. Division C events 2017

5. National STEM Video Game Challenge: Grades 5-12; Solo or small team.

  • Goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games. No programming experience required. Competitors may use a variety of game design platforms including Scratch, Gamestar Mechanic, and others
  •  Categories for middle school(grades 5-8) and high school. Also prizes for educators. Homeschoolers are eligible.
  • To enter, you or your team of up to 4 people must design a “video game” (defined at the site) that incorporates STEM learning
  • Game can be fully programmed and playable (in one of the platforms suggested) or submitted as detailed written game design documents
  • Entry dates are different from most other competitions, which match the school year. For this one, last year they STARTED accepting entries in April, with a deadline in August.
  • Prizes: laptop computers + $2000

6. American Statistical Association poster and project competitions: Grades K-12

  • Poster competition for K-12; entry deadline April 1
  • Project competition for grades 7-12; entry deadline June 1
  • “A statistical project is the process of answering a research question using statistical techniques and presenting the work in a written report.”
  • “A statistical poster is a display containing two or more related graphics that summarize a set of data, look at the data from different points of view, and answer specific questions about the data.”
  • Cash prizes in the hundreds of dollars

7. Odyssey of the Mind: A wide-ranging intellectual team competition for gradesK-12+ that includes solving problems in these categories, most of which involve STEM:

  • Each year, five new competitive problems are presented for the teams to solve. These long-term problems are solved over weeks and months. Some of the problems are more technical in nature, while others are artistic or performance based.
  • Worldwide
  • Find dates for coaches training in your state/country here. Most are in September.
  • Categories: Mechanical/Vehicle; Classics; Performance; Structure;Technical Performance

8. EngineerGirl Essay Contest: Grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

  • Individual contest; open to girls and boys
  • Write an essay describing a promising new technology (see website for details)
  • Deadline: February 1
  • Cash prizes

For middle school only:

9. 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge: 

  • U.S. students in grades 5-8
  • Submit entry December-April
  • To enter, students need to submit a 1-2 minute video which describes a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem related to: [1] the way we move; [2] the way we keep ourselves healthy; or [3] the way we make a difference. {These topics may change for this year’s Challenge.}
  • Ten finalists will be mentored by 3M scientists and win a trip to 3M headquarters in Minnesota
  • First place wins $25,000. All finalists win a Discovery Student Adventures trip
  • Finalists announced June-July

10. eCyberMission: is a web-based STEM competition free for students in grades 6 through 9 sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams can compete for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community.

  • Registration deadline: December 7, 2016
  • Project submission deadline: February 22, 2017
  • 3 or 4 student members in the same grade and state, with an adult team advisor. US citizens or permanent residents only.
  • Team chooses one category of “mission challenge”, asks a question, and tests it using scientific method. Basically an online science fair with lots of structure.
  • 1/5 of final score is based on project’s potential benefit to the community
  • Virtual judges and other volunteers needed. Can you help?

11. Junior Solar Sprint: Grades 5-8

  • “free educational program for 5th through 8th grade students where students design, build and race solar powered cars using hands-on engineering skills and principles of science and math.”
  • Timeline: late fall, webinars and local training for teachers and students; January-March: build cars; spring: competitions

12. Future City: Grades 6-8 

  • A national, project-based learning experience where students imagine, design, and build cities of the future that showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue.
  • Students (up to three) work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February, travel expenses paid.
  • This year’s topic (2016-17): Power of Public Space.
  • Educators can do the program without competing if they wish. Teams of 3 students + educator + engineer mentor. More students can participate but only three will present.
  • Register by October 31, 2016

13. MathCounts Competition Series: Grades 6-8. Live, in person, competitive math contests.

  • School, chapter, state and national contests. National competition is a major event held in May; 12 students vie for title of Raytheon Mathlete Champion
  • Enroll your school online now to get your MathCounts handbook (early deadline: November 18, 2016; final deadline: December 16, 2016). Homeschools are eligible. Club program is free. Competition teams of 1-4 students: fee $25-$100.
  • Competitions begin in January

14. MathCounts Math Video Challenge: Grades 6-8, through schools or non-school groups. Free.

  • Students develop their math, communication, and technology skills in a collaborative video project. Must solve a math problem from this year’s handbook and show a real-world application of the math concept used in the problem. Link to FAQ.
  • Teams of four
  • Video less than five minutes
  • Video entry deadline: February 13, 2017

15.Bright Schools competition: Grades 6-8; teams of 2-4

  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association
  • “The goal of the Bright Schools program is to create a learning experience that will help students, parents and teachers better understand the link between light, sleep and student health and performance. Through the Bright Schools competition, students in grades 6-8 will select a topic related to light and sleep and select one of three exploration options (developing a prototype, creating an awareness campaign or writing a research proposal) to create an original project.
  • Submissions due February 6, 2017
  • Cash prizes up to $5,000 per student

For grades 7-12:

16. Team American Rocketry Challenge:Teams of 3-10 students in grades 7-12

  • Design, build and fly a model rocketthat reaches a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year. (This year: carry two raw eggs to an altitude of 850 feet and return uncracked within 44-46 seconds)
  • The contest is designed to encourage students to study math and science and pursue careers in aerospace. The top 100 teams, based on local qualification flights, are invited to Washington, DC in May for the national finals. Prizes include $100,000 in cash and scholarships split between the top 10 finishers. Overall winning team will travel to United Kingdom to compete in International Rocketry Challenge at the Farnborough Air Show in July.
  • Enter your team before December 2, 2016

17. Verizon Innovative App Challenge: Grades 6-12, teams of 5-7 students

  • Registration opens in August
  • Submission deadline is November 18, 2016
  • The app challenge is a nationwide contest in which students are challenged to develop concepts for mobile apps that solve a problem in their community. It’s a unique, hands-on activity that teaches collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and entrepreneurship, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills and coding.
  • Prizes: up to $20,000 and chance to work with app development experts from MIT

18. National Science Bowl: Grades 6-8 and 9-12

  • Teams of 4-5 students
  • School-based. Regional competitions feed into national event (all expenses paid to Washington, DC in April)
  • “The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl® is a nationwide academic competition that tests students’ knowledge in all areas of science and mathematics. Middle and high school student teams from diverse backgrounds are comprised of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an advisor and coach. These teams face-off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format, being tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy, and math.”

19. Technology Student Association TEAMS:Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is an annual competition for Grades 7-12 students to discover engineering and how engineering can help make a difference in the world.  Students work collaboratively to solve real-world engineering challenges, applying their math and science skills in practical, creative ways.

  • Teams of 4-8 students
  • Open to any group or organization (homeschoolers, Scouts, 4H, etc.)
  • Register online starting in September
  • One-day competition (sometime between Feb. 13-March 19, 2017) includes essay and multiple choice test and hands-on build. The 2017 TEAMS competition “Engineering the Environment” focus on topics such as geothermal heat pumps and wastewater treatment.
  • Events are held at schools and universities around the U.S.
  • National finals June 21-25, 2017 Orlando, FL. TEAMS take a multiple choice test to apply math and science to novel situations, then offer ideas for engineering solutions in response to five tasks.

20. World of 7 Billion video contest: Grades 6-12

  • Create a short video – up to 60 seconds – about human population growth that highlights one of the following global challenges: Climate Change, Ocean Health, or Rapid Urbanization. All videos must include a) how population growth impacts the issue and b) at least one idea for a sustainable solution.
  • Entry deadline February 23, 2017
  • Cash prizes in multiple divisions

21. Science without Borders Art Challenge: Ages 11-19. International.

  • Purpose: to get students and teachers more involved and interested in ocean conservation through various forms of art. This annual contest inspires students to be creative while using different types of media to promote public awareness of the need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources
  • Submission deadline: April

22.Technovation Challenge: Teams of girls only. Worldwide.

  • Challenges girls all over the world to build a mobile app that will address a community problem
  • Depends on volunteers coaches/mentors; volunteers needed
  • Middle school (age 14 and under) and high school (age 18 and under) divisions
  • Top teams win $10,000 and trip to San Francisco
  • Registration begins in October

23. Engineering For You video contest: Happened in 2016, not sure if it is annual

24. Intel International Science and Engineering Fairs (ISEF) and their affiliated regional fairs are the granddaddies of the science fair world. I can only summarize this massive global enterprise and direct you to the website of the sponsor, Society for Science and the Public.

Traditional science fairs like these require students to perform actual research / do experiments. Many other contests in this list are more “thought experiments.”

Science fairs were a crucial formative experience for me.  I’m competitive by nature but not interested in sports. I loved science and I was smart. Science fairs were a perfect match for me. Competing in three ISEFs truly changed my life. (Thank you, Minnesota State University SC/SW Regional Science Fair–so happy to see you’re still honoring kids with a passion for science!)

  • Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to compete in affiliated regional fairs. ISEF itself is for high school students only.
  • Individuals or small teams perform a real scientific investigation (sometimes engineering, math, or computer programming) with well-designed experiments following the scientific method. This can be from the most basic level (such as, testing effect of water on seed germination) to the most advanced (ISEF national winners often have worked in university laboratories on cutting-edge science).
  • Check your regional fair’s website for deadlines. Regulations for use of human subjects, chemicals, etc. are quite strict and most projects require pre-approval as early as December, but certainly before the student starts work.
  • ISEF is May 14-19, 2017 in Los Angeles. Volunteers needed. Local/regional fairs always need qualified judges. Find your local fair and volunteer.
  • Broadcom MASTERS competition is part of the ISEF enterprise, a kind of junior ISEF. Top winners in grades 6-8 at ISEF-affiliated regional science fairs are nominated to enter their work in Broadcom MASTERS. Entry is by nomination only. Semifinalists are announced in August/September from the previous school year.

25. The Google Science Fair: Ages 13-18, worldwide

  •  “an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. All you need is an idea. Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions.” As best I can tell, Google Science Fair entries are traditional science fair projects (real experiments performed using the scientific method and following all safety/ethics rules of the sponsoring fair) that the student enters online in a virtual science fair. You are allowed to enter a project that you also entered in a “real” science fair. Ideal for kids who don’t have access to an ISEF-affiliated regional fair.
  • Individual or team entries (up to three students per entry)
  • Entries begin in February; close in May
  • Awards in 3 age divisions. Big prizes: previous year’s winners won tens of thousands of dollars, media coverage, a trip to Google, and even a visit to the White House, and a grand prize ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Only for high school (grades 9-12) and up:

26. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Team event (2-5 kids) for high school students, ages 13-18.

  • Season is September through April
  • Choose one of four categories: Aerospace & Aviation, Energy & Environment, Cyber Technology and Security, and Health & Nutrition
  • Challenges high school students to create innovativeproduct or service that solves a real-world problem in their chosen industry. Open to students worldwide.
  • Initial entry is Investor Pitch and video, conducted online (deadline: early November). Entries chosen for semifinals work in prototype development and submit a Draft Development business Plan.
  • Teams compete for the opportunity to attend Innovation Summit and share an anticipated $500,000+ in awards including: seed funding grants, investment opportunities, patent support, business services, scholarships and other opportunities (as provided by our partners and sponsors) to grow their solution into a real business.

27. NCF-Envirothon: Grades 9-12. Teams of five.

  • Nationwide team competition for high school students in U.S. and Canada.
  • Teams organized in schools, homeschools, scout groups, etc.
  • In-class learning + hands-on outdoor activities to learn environmental science.
  • Key topics: soils/land use; aquatic ecology; forestry; wildlife. 2017 focus: Agricultural soil and water conservation
  • Students are tested at local competitions. National event is five-day competition held July 23-29, 2017. Hosted at a different location each year.
  • Registration will open in late fall.

New listing!National Ocean Sciences Bowl: Grades 9-12. Teams of 4 or more. The NOSB is an academic competition and program that addresses a national gap in environmental and earth sciences in public education by introducing high school students to and engaging them in ocean science, preparing them for ocean science-related and other STEM careers, and helping them become knowledgeable citizens and environmental stewards.

  • Teams can be formed by schools, homeschools, or youth groups
  • Teams compete at regional “bowl” location for chance to attend national bowl event
  • Teams score points by answering questions in a live, head-to-head “buzzer” format, plus team challenge questions
  • Winning teams awarded trips to unique hands-on field and laboratory experience in the marine sciences.

28. Microsoft’s Imagine Cup: Ages 16 and up. Global. For budding tech entrepreneurs, teams of up to four. Three technology competitions for high school & university students worldwide. Imagine Cup World Finals 2016 will be in Seattle in July. Huge cash prizes. Contests:

  • Code Hunt Challenge: 24-hour intense individual coding event. Next challenge begins April (probably). Play/practice any time at codehunt.com
  • Games: Best new game made by students. $50,000 prize.
  • Innovation: “Incredible, world-changing software innovations often come from students. Social networks, music services, digital photography apps, gadgets and robotics – the list goes on. We’re looking for the next big thing and we know students like you are going to make it.” Top team wins $50,000.
  • Competitions begin in September; final submissions deadline March 15

29. CubeSat Competition: Grades 9-12, US and abroad *2016 event over; uncertain if it will be repeated*

  • Sponsored by the Museum of Science Fiction
  • “CubeSats are small, grapefruit-size spacecraft that use commercially available space technologies and simple logistics for launch and operation. CubeSats usually have a volume of about one liter (a 10 cm cube) and a mass of no more than 1.33 kilogramsto offer the most compelling concept for a new CubeSat.”
  • Competitors submit a CubeSat mission design proposal

30. M3 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: Grades 11-12. Teams.

  • Math competition to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue. Sample problems here.
  • High school juniors & seniors. Homeschoolers eligible.
  • Teams of 3-5 students have 14 hours over one Challenge Weekend to do the problem; prepare by working on problems from previous years. In 2016, challenge weekend was February 27-28.
  • Entirely internet-based
  • Scholarship prizes total $150,000
  • Registration begins in November, closes in February.

31.Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.Grades 9-12.

  • Registration opens May 2017; all materials due in September
  • Scholarship awards from $1,000-$100,000
  • Individual, or two or three team members
  • “The Competition is the nation’s premier science research competition for high school students and seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects. It fosters intensive research that improves students’ understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines.”
  • Lots of regulations governing research; make sure you know the rules ahead of time.
  • Students entering this competition likely should also enter an Intel science fair

32. The BioGENEius Challenge: Grades 9-12; US and others

  • Along with Intel ISEF and Siemens, another option for big-time high school science projects/research
  • Specifically for biotechnology research
  • Categories: Global Healthcare (medical biotech); Global Sustainability (agricultural biotech); Global Environment (industrial/environmental biotech)
  • Students in US and Canada enter science projects that meet criteria in a local BioGENEius Challenge fair to be held in April

33. Stockholm Junior Water Prize: Grades 9-12

  • “The Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) is the world’s most prestigious youth award for a water-related science project. Projects should be aimed at enhancing the quality of life through improvement of water quality, water resources management, or water and wastewater treatment. The competition is open to any high school student in grades 9-12, and are 15 years of age by August 1st of the competition year.
  • Deadline to enter state competition: April 15th
  • All state winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SJWP National Competition.  The national winner will receive $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Stockholm, Sweden to participate in the SJWP International Competition.
  • Eligibility and rules here

34. I-SWEEEP: Grades 9-12

  • “I-SWEEEP, The International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering, and Environment) Project, is a groundbreakingscience fair competition open to high school students. It is the largest science fair event of its kind world-wide. I-SWEEEP works with local, national, and international science fair organizations to bring top-ranking participants and qualifying projects to Houston each year.”
  • “promotes engineering inventions and energy efficiency/management discoveries, that will nurture environmentally friendly technology concepts”
  • Affiliated with the Intel/ISEF science fair network, this is a specialty science fair and symposium that targets the best science projects on sustainability themes.
  • Most participants are nominated from their local/state science fair but you can apply directlyhere

35. MIT THINK competition: Grades 9-12

  • Students submit a proposal; finalists receive free trip to MIT, mentorship from MIT students, funding and support to complete their project, and superb networking opportunities
  • “THINK project proposals are science, technology, and engineering ideas that span many fields from green technologies and practical devices to software applications. As long as it can be completed in one semester with a $1,000 budget, almost anything is fair game! A good proposal has an insightful idea, clearly defined goals, and a well thought-out procedure for implementation.”
  • Application deadline: January 1, 2017

Local & Regional competitions:

36. The Tech Challenge:Grades 4-12. Teams. This is an awesome program with tons of support (workshops and clinics throughout the preparation process) but everything is at The Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA) so contest is effectively restricted to Bay Area teams.

  • The Tech Challenge is an annual team design challenge for students in grades 4-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem.
  • Teams of 2-6 people compete in three divisions: Elementary (grades 4-6), Middle (grades 7-8), High (grades 9-12)
  • Teams put their solutions to the test in front of judges at the showcase on April 29-30, 2017 at the Tech Museum.
  • This year’s challenge: Build a device to help explorers cross an ice field with multiple ravines
  • Registration begins in October 2017

37. Jet Propulsion Laboratory Invention Challenge: Southern CA middle & high schools

  • a friendly, yet challenging competition open to JPL employees and contractors, their family members, and students from local middle and high schools. Each year, a different engineering challenge is selected. The goal of the Invention Challenge is to show students that math, science, and engineering can be fun.
  • The theme for this year’s contest is:“Don’t Waste a Drop Contest” Create a device that can transport water in a plastic cup into the water vessel located 2 meters away in the fastest time without wasting a drop of water. The winner will be the team whose device accomplishes the task in the fastest time.
  • Monday, August 29 – Saturday, October 1, 2016

38. Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research poster contestFor K-12 studentsin Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia only.

  • Students illustrate different aspects of biomedical research through art
  • Prizes $25 and feature page in a calendar. Entry deadline: April 2, 2017.

Do you know about another contest which should be on this list? Please leave a comment!

Teachers: Combine science learning with thriller fiction. Use the PETROPLAGUE Teacher Guide to easily incorporate Dr. Amy Rogers’ page-turning eco-disaster novel Petroplague into your advanced biology or microbiology curriculum. For more information or to schedule a virtual visit from Dr. Rogers, email amy@AmyRogers.com

What if bacteria turned all the gasoline in Los Angeles into vinegar?
Carmageddon doesn’t begin to describe it.
Petroplague does.
A microbiology-themed science thriller in the style of Michael Crichton

Want to know more about how to do a science project? Need project ideas? ScienceBuddies.org will walk you through everything.

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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.

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