4 Elite STEM Competitions 2018-2019

Amanda Orbuch
Amanda Orbuch

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We’ve likely all heard the story: “Intel ISEF Finalist gets into (top choice school)!Following, common-sense wisdom tells us that elite STEM competitions, like Intel ISEF, are “golden tickets” into any top-choice school. While generalizations like this are problematic and often promote unhealthy behavior, there is something worth considering within it. Ultimately, elite stem competitions provide students room to grow.

The Intel ISEF competition is highly prestigious and competitive. As a result, performing well in that pool of competitors indicates academic competence and initiative. On the other hand, for colleges, success is a great signal of future academic success at the higher education level. This is why so many of these students will get into their top choice schools; often Ivy League or Ivy League-adjacent schools.

Therefore, if you’re hoping to shape your college application around your passion for STEM, it can be a useful channel to focus your energy. Here are 4 competitions to consider, and key information on each.

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)


This competition gives high school students (grades 9 through 12) the opportunity to conduct and present their own independent research. The research separates into 22 categories. After submission, “doctoral level scientists” conduct judging. They also award extensive prizes. In order to attend the international competition, however, students must qualify at their regional or state level, which may be preceded by an even smaller-scale competition.

Key Dates and Locations:

Regional Competitions: See here

ISEF: Phoenix, Arizona, May 12-17, 2019

Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)


This competition, designed for individual students entering 12th grade, is designed to allow students who’ve completed independent research to present this research in the form of a journal-quality paper. The papers, in conjunction with other academic and extracurricular materials, are judged by experts in relevant fields, and prizes are awarded accordingly. The application process involves several essays, transcripts, and recommendations in addition to the research paper. Finalists will have the chance to present their research and be interviewed before top winners are chosen.

Key Dates and Locations: 

2019 Application Opens: Early Summer 2018

2019 Application Closes: November 15, 2018 (8:00 PM ET)

Finalists Announced: Late January 2019

Regeneron STS Institute: Washington, DC, March 2019

Microsoft Imagine Cup


This coding competition allows teams (up to 3 members) of high school and/or college students to generate software innovations created with Microsoft technologies. It involves competing first in a National Final involving an in-person presentation of the technology as well as the ideas and people behind it to judges, an actual piece of software for judges to try, and a plan of how the team would choose to see this new technology used. Students whose countries do not have a National Final may compete in the Online Finals. Those who succeed in these competitions will move on to compete in the World Finals.

Key Dates and Locations:

National Final: country-specific (must have an account for further details)

Online Final End Date: 30 April 2018

World Finals: July 2018

Google Science Fair


This online competition for students between the ages of 13 and 18 allows competitors to develop their own research to solve some problem they see in the world, locally or otherwise. Projects are judged much as a professional research paper would be, by the problem it seeks to solve and the proposed solution, the actual research done, the results found, and the conclusions drawn from said results.

Key Dates and Locations:

Competition Opens: Fall 2018

Many more competitions exist (such as Toshiba ExploraVision). In the meantime, hopefully this article can give you some direction on elite STEM competitions to pursue. Empowerly’s research tools can also make finding your perfect competition that much easier; talk to us to learn more.

Questions? Let us know!