Why Participate in a STEM Competition? And Which One Should You Consider?



The rapid pace of development that we see in STEM fields is unprecedented in the course of human history. Many exciting careers are arising from technology that would seem impossible a mere decade ago. However, education that involves these developments is scarce at the high school level. What can a bright student do? Students passionate about STEM can satiate this thirst for knowledge in STEM based competitions.


Why Enter a STEM Competition?


Competitions can have a profound impact on students and how they experience STEM education. STEM competitions are often interdisciplinary, drawing upon many different types of science and tech to accomplish a singular goal. STEM competitions are also often team-based; they are an ideal way to expand your knowledge while demonstrating to colleges that you can work in a team and achieve in high-pressure, high-concept environments.


Additionally, valuable critical thinking skills will be developed in pursuit of solutions to abstract and concrete problems. STEM competitions teach students to work both individually and with others while allowing students to explore fascinating fields such as robotics, coding, game design, and more. Below is an extensive list of competitions Peninsula Academy has gathered for your reference.


Toshiba/NSTA Exploravision


Working in teams of two to four, students will research a particular technology and assess the ways in which it may impact lives moving forward. Participants are required to write a paper and create a webpage communicating their vision.

  • Grades: 9-12

  • Level: Local, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Project Deadline: Early February

International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition


Of course, you don’t have to be a tech enthusiast to take part in STEM competitions. Designed for students with an interest in biology, the iGEM competition has students work in teams to build genetically engineered systems with biological parts called BioBricks. The goal is to create projects that positively contribute to the world.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Level: Local, National

  • Registration Deadline: Late March

  • Project Deadline: Early October

The Conrad Challenge


In this challenge, students work in teams of two to five to develop products or services in response to key issues facing people around the world. A multi-step entrepreneurial competition, the Conrad Challenge empowers students to take control of their learning and apply it to real-life situations. Winners are eligible for $15,000 scholarships, laptops, and more.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Level: Local, National

  • Registration Deadline: Mid August

  • Event Schedule: November - January

eCyberMission


You can participate in this competition without leaving the house. eCyberMission is a web-based contest in which students use science, math, and technology to solve problems facing their communities. First-place winners receive $1,000 in savings bonds.

  • Grades Allowed: 9

  • Competition Type: Local, National

  • Registration Deadline: Mid December

  • Event Schedule: March - June

Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS) Program


The JSHS program is designed to prepare students for careers in research and development. Sponsored by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, this competition encourages students to conduct original research related to STEM. Students must first participate at the regional level before moving on to the national symposium.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: December

  • Event Schedule: January - May

TEAMS Competition


Held annually, TEAM invites students to use their engineering talent to contribute to the community. Working in groups, students complete real-life engineering challenges. The competition includes multiple-choice questions, an essay, and a design-build component.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Local, National

  • Registration Deadline: September

  • Event Schedule: February - March

Technology Student Association Competitions


Also known as the TSA, the Technology Student Association brings together students talented in STEM and invites them to participate in various challenges. Activities include animation, architectural design, board game design, and coding, among others. Along with the chance to develop their technological prowess, students gain the opportunity to network with other emerging leaders in tech.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: National

  • Registration Deadline: September

  • Event Schedule: Check Website

Generation Nano: Superheroes Inspired by Science


Superhero movies are enjoying a serious moment. If you love science and never miss a Marvel opening night, Generation Nano’s Superheroes Inspired by Science contest is a perfect choice. This STEM competition invites students to create a new superhero and explain his or her powers using scientific research. Along with a written component, participants submit either a short video or a comic. First and second-place individuals or teams can score scholarship money.

  • Grades Allowed: 6-12

  • Levels: National

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Event Schedule: September - January

Congressional App Challenge


A public challenge where students must code and build an app of their choice. The apps are judged in district-wide competitions hosted by Members of Congress. Winners receive recognition by their Member of Congress and have their work put on display in the Capitol Building. Students can participate in teams or as individuals.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Registration Deadline: June

  • Event Schedule: June to October

NASA Student Competitions


These are a collection of official NASA contests for the “next generation of explorers.” Topics range from creating a space app, illustrating a topic, or even bioengineering!

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Local, State, National

  • Registration Deadlines: Varies by Competition, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Competition, Check Website

The Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl and Competitions


This is one of the nation’s largest academic competitions that tests students’ knowledge on a range of science and math disciplines. Teams face off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format. Teams must qualify at the regional level to participate in the National Science Bowl.

  • Grades Allowed: 6-12

  • Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadlines: Varies by Competition, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Competition, Check Website

National STEM League


This is a practice league for future-professionals. Students can participate in the online competition or face-to-face competitions, depending on their interests, location, and budget. There is a place for all students to contribute to the team through race engineering, coding and automation, design and fabrication, graphic design, marketing, community outreach and data-driven design projects that ask students to follow their own interests.

  • Grades Allowed: 7-12

  • Competitions Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Varies by Series, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Series, Check Website

F1 In Schools


A competition that challenges teams of students (a team is made up of 3-6 students) to design, manufacture, and race the Formula 1 “car of the future." Competition takes place at regional, state, national, and world levels. Over 40 countries participate in the World Finals and the competition runs alongside the International F1 Grand Prix.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Varies, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies, Check Website

Emperor Science Award


A competition committed to helping develop students who have a passion for science join in the next generation of cancer researchers.100 winning students will be paired with a university-level mentoring scientist to collaborate on cancer research projects. Students will also receive a Google Chromebook and $1,500 for project expenses.

  • Grades Allowed: 10 and 11

  • Levels: Online

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Check Website

EngineerGirl Essay Contest


An essay contest challenging students to research and write about engineering and its impact on the world. Previous prompts include various topics, such as improving your community’s infrastructure, using engineering to improve the life of an endangered species, and the intersection of engineering and sports.

  • Grades Allowed: 3-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Essay Deadline: February

  • Event Schedule: October to February

Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)


The nation’s oldest and most prestigious science competition. Entrants to this competition must conduct an original research project and supplement their applications with recommendation letters and transcripts. 40 finalists are selected and receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for in-depth judging. A bit of trivia: 13 alumni have gone on to win the Nobel Prize!

  • Grades Allowed: 12

  • Levels: State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Early November

  • EVent Schedule: June to November

THINK Challenges


Organized by a group of undergraduates from MIT, this competition is for high school students who are in the early stages of an original research project. Selected finalists are invited to a 4-day all-expenses-paid trip to MIT’s campus to meet professors in their field of research, tour labs, and network with members of the THINK team! Finalists also have weekly mentorship meetings and are given $1,000 to fund their research project.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: State

  • Registration Deadline: Varies by Challenges, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Challenges, Check Website

Microsoft Imagine Cup


An annual global software and game design competition hosted by Microsoft since 2003, where teams create and build technology to solve the world’s most pressing problems. It is hailed as the "Olympic games for technology students." The challenge hosts tens of thousands of participants every year. Students can participate in teams of 3 or as individuals.

  • Grades Allowed: 10-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Registration Deadline: Varies by Region, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Region, Check Website

FLEET Competition


FLEET is an individual competition where students compete on a web-based platform to complete scenarios faced by naval engineers on a daily basis, using the application of STEM. The competition is held by the American Society of Naval Engineers. The competition spans 10 weeks with one challenge scenario per week.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Application Deadline: Early October

  • Event Schedule: May - June

LEGO Rebrick Contests


A collection of official LEGO contests. Anyone can participate by submitting digital photos and videos of their own custom LEGO creations online. Rules of each contest and requirements may vary. Each contest has its own theme, such as creating your own go-kart, creating a dream skyline, or creating stop-motion endings to LEGO YouTube videos!

  • Grades Allowed: 8-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies, Check Website

VEX Robotics Competitions


A collection of various robotics competitions held by The Robotics Education & Competition Foundation. Each team of students is tasked with designing and building a robot to play against other teams head-to-head in a game-based engineering challenge. The world championship is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s largest robotics competition. Tournaments are held year-round at the regional, state, and national levels. Winners are invited to the VEX Robotics World Championship each April.

  • Grades Allowed: Elementary to Collegiate.

  • Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Check Website

Rube Goldberg Machine Contests


A national contest that tasks teams of students to build a machine that completes a simple task (like “pour a box of cereal”) in an overly complicated way. The 2019 competition topic was "Put money in a piggy bank" and the 2020 challenge will be "Turn off a light." There are two categories—live competitions or online competitions. To compete at the National Finals, teams must win one regional level live competition.

  • Grades Allowed: Elementary to Collegiate

  • Levels: Regional, State, National, Online

  • Registration Deadline: Variable, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: January - May

BEST Robotics Competition


"BEST" stands for "Boosting Engineering, Science & Technology." A robotics competition where teams compete head-to-head in various challenges. Each year a new challenge is chosen based on real-world issues.

  • Grades Allowed: 7-12

  • Levels: Local, Regional, State

  • Registration Deadline: Varies by Region, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Region, Check Website

Zero Robotics Tournament


An international programming competition where students must program satellites to complete certain objectives (such as avoiding obstacles, collecting objects, etc.) while preserving resources such as fuel. The competition is provided through a partnership with various organizations including MIT and NASA. The competition culminates in the finals where winning teams’ satellites compete aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Students watch via a live feed from the ISS while NASA astronauts provide commentary.

  • Grades Allowed: 7-12

  • Levels: State, National

  • Registration Deadline: August

  • Event Schedule: August to December

FIRST Tech Challenge


A robotics competition where teams of students are responsible for designing, building, and programming robots in a 10-week period, and competing in a head-to-head alliance format against other teams. Winners of the regional/state tournaments are invited to take part in the FIRST National Championship! Each season is year-round. Registration typically takes place in May, competition season begins in September, regional/state tournaments from October–April, and the FIRST Championship in April.

  • Grades Allowed: 7-12

  • Levels: Regional, State

  • Registration Deadline: May

  • Event Schedule: May - April

FIRST Robotics Competition


An intense robotics competition typically described by students as “the hardest fun you will ever have." With limited resources and only six weeks, students are challenged to raise funds, design, build, and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against other teams.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Regional, State

  • Registration Deadline: May

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Year, Check Website

Team America Rocketry Challenge


The world’s largest student rocket contest. The contest challenges students to design, build, and fly a rocket carrying a raw egg to a specific altitude and back. The top 100 teams are invited to Washington, D.C. for the National Finals. The contest hosts approximately 5,000 students from across the nation to compete each year. The contest rules and scoring parameters change every cycle to challenge the students.

  • Grades Allowed: 7-12

  • Levels: State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Early December

  • Event Schedule: April - May

Future Engineers Challenges


A collection of innovation challenges for K–12 students, held in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation and NASA. Previous challenges have included designing a 3D-printed tool for astronauts to use in space!

  • Grades Allowed: K-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Registration Deadline: Varies by Events, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Events, Check Website

Google Science Fair


Based on the premise that every idea has the power to shape our world, Google’s Science Fair attracts entrants from a global pool. Competition where participants are challenged to create a hypothesis, perform an experiment, and then present the results.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Submission Deadline: December

  • State Winners Announced: March

  • Regional Finalists Announced: April

  • Global Finalists Announced: May

Science Olympiad / Southern California Chapter


One of the nation’s premier science competitions. Founded in 1984, Science Olympiad is one of the premier science competitions in the U.S., providing rigorous, standards-based challenges to nearly 8,000 teams in all 50 states. The Olympiad has a deep history, and strong ties to private and public STEM industries. Volunteers come from a myriad of STEM related backgrounds.

  • Grades Allowed: K-12

  • Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Varies by Event Types, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies by Event Types, Check Website

Intel ISEF


The world’s largest international pre-college science competition (basically, it’s the Superbowl of science fairs). The first step is to get involved in a regional affiliated Intel ISEF Science fair. These fairs exist in nearly every state in the United States as well as over 70 other countries, regions, and territories. Winners of regional, state, and national finals advance to the international finals.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Regional, State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Event Schedule: May

U Stockholm Junior Water Prize


A prestigious youth award for a water-related research project that seeks to address current and future water challenges. The competition consists of four levels: regional, state, national, and international. Awards are given at each level to recognize achievement in water-related research.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Check Website

  • Event Schedule: April (State) and June (National)

Spellman Clean Tech Competition


A worldwide research and design challenge. The competition encourages students to develop a scientific understanding of real-world issues. Past challenge topics include “Solving Climate Change,” “Feed the World,” “A Solution to Pollution,” and “Clean Water for All.”

  • Grades Allowed: 10-12

  • Levels: State, National

  • Registration Deadline: Late November

  • Event Schedule: Mid July

Google Change the Game


A competition that challenges high school students to use their creativity to imagine a new video game, and write an essay that represents what change they want to see about the video game industry.

  • Grades Allowed: 9-12

  • Levels: Online

  • Registration Deadline: Varies, Check Website

  • Event Schedule: Varies, Check Website

3M Young Scientist Lab


A unique learning opportunity that allows students to meet other science super-heroes and work with 3M mentors to turn their ideas into reality.

  • Grades Allowed: 5th - 8th

  • Levels: National

  • Submission Deadline: March 7th

  • Voting and Winner Selection: October


Determining the Best Competition for You


Given the plethora of options to choose from, you may feel a bit lost. To determine which competition(s) would be best for you, talk to your academic counselor, a trusted teacher or mentor outside of school. Leverage your parents’ and family’s network to see if they know anyone doing work in the fields that interest you. The most important thing you can do to determine what kind of event is best suited for you is simple due diligence. Read as much as you can about these various competitions to see which you would find interesting and excel at.


If your high school has well-developed teams for one or more of these competitions, try to join the team as early as you can. You will have a list of competitions that the team regularly participates in as well as resources to draw from.


If, however, your high school doesn’t have such a team for the competition you would like to participate in, you will need to take the initiative to find like-minded peers to form a team. This is a great opportunity to develop your leadership skills as well as demonstrate your commitment to STEM. Our STEM tutors, many of whom hold advanced degrees in the fields, and our college counselors are available to guide you through the process.

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