Students applying to top universities must prove themselves to be strong candidates for the college’s rigorous educational environment. Therefore, when it comes to the college application process, academics play a central role. To stand out from the crowd, earning accolades via academic competitions seems a sure way to land your first-choice acceptance letter! Nonetheless, there’s more than meets the eye in the world of high school academic competitions.
Today, we’ll focus on STEM competitions, and what it takes to compete at the highest levels. We’ll also investigate what opportunities are available to high school students just starting out.
Top Tier Academic Competitions for High School Students
National and international academic competitions are incredibly intense. Particularly for mathematics and computing tournaments or olympiads [that is to say, skill-based STEM competitions], the students who qualify for these competitions are nearly all already experts in their respective fields. What’s more, they are able to perform at an incredibly high level under pressure. In fact, these students excel in the face of such rigorous challenges.
Due to the requisite intellectual discipline, a strong place in these elite competitions definitely stands out to college admissions officers. After all, these students are some of the very best in their whole country. If your student has an aptitude for advanced mathematics and thrives in a competitive environment, this could be the right area to show off extraordinary talents!
The following are some of the most well-known competitions:
- American Invitational Mathematics Exam (AIME)
- American Mathematics Competition (AMC)
- USA Computing Olympiad (USACO)
- USA Junior Mathematics Olympiad (USAJMO) and Mathematics Olympiad (USAMO)
Often, for elite competitions like this, students are invited to participate based on qualifications or submitted scores. Therefore, not all high school students will be eligible to compete.
Even if a student qualifies, you must keep in mind that preparation for these tournaments should match the intensity at this level. Top students spend hours each week drilling and practicing. Logically, students just starting out in the world of academics shouldn’t expect to jump in right away. For those who wish to test their mettle, begin as soon as possible.
Considering All Your Options
That said, there are plenty of other ways to make an impact on admissions officers with academic activities. In fact, some brilliant mathematicians don’t even enjoy the high-pressure environment of these tests. Therefore, there are plenty of other types of mathematical or computational ways to engage in your academic interests that are not centered around these elite global tournaments.
Furthermore, if you are looking to get your foot in the door of academic competitions, we’d recommend starting closer to home. District, city, and regional-wide competition pools may be a better fit.
How to Find Local Academic Competitions for High School Students
For those of you looking to start out in the world of academic competitions in middle or high school, there are plenty of avenues to channel your enthusiasm!
You’ll notice that the majority of the academic competitions we focus on here are dependent on STEM knowledge and capabilities. If you’re interested in getting involved with a more broad spectrum of knowledge, there are also options like Quizbowl.
You could also consider:
- National Science Bowl (https://science.osti.gov/wdts/nsb)
- The American Rocketry Challenge (https://rocketcontest.org/how-to-compete/)
- The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (http://www.artandwriting.org/what-we-do/)
As you search, if none of these competitions seem to work for you, don’t give up. You can also check out this student resource that provides a good number to start researching, as well as this list of academic competitions for gifted students.
Don’t forget that Empowerly’s Research team is always ready to help you find opportunities like this! From STEM competitions to summer internships, our team of experts can help ensure you don’t miss a single deadline. Our counselors can help you strategize for your entire high school experience and maximize your chances of admission to your top schools.
How to Balance Academic Competitions with Your Regular Classload
You’ve done the research. Ready to commit time to academic competitions during high school? Here are a few more things you should know.
No matter what your extracurricular commitments are, you’ll still have homework and exams during high school. From attending classes during the day to studying late at night, your academics are certainly a priority. However, if you hope to become a truly well-rounded student, you’ll also need to consider extracurricular activities… and hopefully, social activities, too! How do you choose?
In the context of your college strategy, your grades should come first—but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice everything else. For instance, use your free period or lunch break to review flashcards for your next tournament. Try to make sure you turn in all your homework and finish assignments before a big competition weekend so you can focus on doing your best! And always remember to schedule breaks and rest time so you can recover.
All in all, balancing your practice and competition schedules on top of everything else can be quite challenging. If you choose to pursue academic competitions in order to stand out in college admissions, make a solid plan you can stick to. Even when things get difficult, you’ll need to ace your time management strategies to get everything done!
Need Support Managing Your Academic Competition Strategy in High School?
Empowerly is here to help you achieve your best future. From balancing your workload to creating a manageable schedule to complete your college and scholarship applications, you can succeed. Our counselors are here to eliminate some stress from the equation and keep you on the right track. Book an exploratory call to learn more about how our community of expert college counselors can help you reach for the stars.