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Top 20 Art and Design Competitions for High School Students

16 minute read

For creatively-inclined, crafty high school students, art and design competitions are great opportunities to distinguish yourself from admissions officers and demonstrate your commitment to a creative practice. Whether you hope to study art and design in college or another discipline entirely, creating projects to enter into competitions reflects brightly on your motivation, self-organization, and ambition. And, of course, you can earn scholarships, grants for your school, cash prizes, and more!

Regardless of your artistic or design medium, we have compiled 20 of the best competitions to suit your needs in the following list. Some solicit works related to a particular theme, whereas others leave student artists complete creative freedom.

Keep in mind that entry requirements and specific deadlines may change year to year, so it's a good idea to use the specific competition websites to conduct additional research about those that interest you.

What are the 20 best design and art contests for high school students?

Our ranked list of the top 20 art and design contests for teenagers was evaluated based on:

  • Affordability (free entry ranks higher than entry fee)

  • Name recognition or prestige

  • Competitiveness

  • Prize value

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20. Youth Art Contest

Hosting institution: Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art

Entry fee: $10

Deadline: Early June

Prizes: Prize package

Eligibility: 1st-12th grade students

This long-running art contest for teens, which seeks to inspire the next generation of wildlife artists, is in its 30th annual installment at Ned Smith Center in Millersburg, Pennsylvania. The theme for the 2023 contest was “Creatures of the Night,” requiring contestants to depict one or more nocturnal animals. Students can submit work in any 2D medium,  you must physically submit your artwork via mail or hand-delivery. You can have it returned to you for an additional $10 postage fee. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place and honorable mentions are chosen in four different grade categories, and one “Best in Show” Award is given. 

Because of the logistical complications physically submitting work may create for students, as well as the entry fee and lack of a cash prize, this competition comes in at the bottom of our list.

19. Langley Student Art Contest

Hosting institution: NASA’s Langley Research Center

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Late December

Prizes: Certificate and NASA swag

Eligibility: U.S. K-12 students

This free-to-enter teenage art contest is ideal for students interested in the intersection of art, science, technology, and space exploration. The NASA Langley Student Art Contest calls on artists in grades K-12 to craft an art piece or design based on a space and technology-related theme which changes each year. The 2023 contest asked students to envision what comes next in science, aeronautics, and exploration.

A grand prize winner as well as first, second, and third runner-ups are be selected from each grade level. By picking winners in each grade level, this competition provides many opportunities for certificates of distinction accompanied by NASA swag bags.

18. Reflections

Hosting institution: National PTA

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Early February

Prizes: Awards given at district, regional, state, and national levels

Eligibility: K-12

This competition organized through PTA networks at local, state, and national levels has been running annually since 1969. The theme for the 2023-24 competition is “I am hopeful because…” Students of all ages can submit artwork in any of six categories – film production, music composition, visual arts, dance choreography, literature, and photography.

The contest sees over 300,000 participants every year, more than 200 of which go on to receive national-level awards. If you’re looking for an art contest with many opportunities for distinction at local, regional, and national levels, talk to your school’s PTA about entering Reflections.

17. NYC Film Invitational

Hosting institution: All-American High School Film Festival

Entry fee: $250-$500

Deadline: Late September

Prizes: $5,000 for winning team

Eligibility: U.S. High school students and incoming college freshman

In the NYC Film Invitational, high schoolers on teams of up to ten with an adult mentor compete to write, shoot, and edit a film in ten weeks. For an extra fee, the team can receive a comprehensive official critique of their work from expert filmmakers. All competing films are screened at the AMC Theaters in Times Square in late October. Films are  judged and nominees and winners are announced live at the Teen Indie Awards that same weekend. The major financial barrier of this contest leads us to put it low in our rankings; however, it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for aspiring young filmmakers to have their work shown and judged in a legitimate film festival.

16. International Art Competition

Hosting institution: Never Such Innocence

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Late May

Prizes: Publication and digital certificate

Eligibility: International students ages 9-18

Never Such Innocence began as a World War One memorial project for children and young people, and since 2019, it has broadened its scope to engage with conflicts in all forms throughout history. Students can submit artwork, poems, songs, and speeches to their contest. Winners have their work published in the Conversations on Conflict magazine. If you are interested in research and artmaking that processes the tragedies of war and conflict, consider entering this international contest. The 2023-2024 theme is “How Does War Affect People’s Lives?”

15. Art Contest

Hosting institution: Celebrating Art

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Varies based on season

Prizes: $25 gift cards for top ten students and art supplies for teachers

Eligibility: U.S. K-12 students

The contest contains four different grade-level divisions and runs three times each year, with a spring, summer, and winter deadline. Students can enter one piece of art in any medium to each competition deadline. This contest is a great option if you’re looking for an art publication to include on your college applications – the top 25% of students are invited to publish. Additionally, thousands of dollars in art supplies are awarded to the schools of winning students, so it’s a great opportunity to support your school’s art program. 

We appreciate the frequency of this contest, which gives students many chances to be recognized, and the publication opportunities it provides to many contestants.

14. Art Contests

Hosting institution: Teen Ink

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Varies (contests are run monthly)

Prizes: $25 Amazon gift card and publication

Eligibility: International teens ages 13-19

Teen Ink is a print and digital magazine run by teens, for teens, which hosts monthly contests in art and creative writing. These contests are free to enter, and honorable mentions receive publication in the magazine, while the winner receives an additional $25 gift card. We value that 

Teen Ink provides students with many free opportunities to win contests and to share their work with a large audience of fellow creative young people.

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13. World Wildlife Day Youth Art Contest

Hosting Institution: United Nations

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Early February

Prizes: Presentation at World Wildlife Day Event

Eligibility: International youth ages 4-18

If you enjoy depicting animals in your artwork and have a passion for ecology, look no further than the World Wildlife Day Youth Art Contest, which received over 1,500 entries from 60 countries last year. The theme for the 2023 contest was “Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation”, and sought work that highlighted the efforts of individuals and organizations in protecting and conserving wildlife. Artists aged four to 18 are invited to participate by choosing a species that has benefited from such partnerships and illustrating it individually or in its natural habitat. Winners will be selected by an international panel of judges and announced at the annual World Wildlife Day event hosted by the United Nations. This contest provides an opportunity for young artists to receive high-profile recognition from an international organization.

12. Science Without Borders Challenge

Hosting Institution: Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Early March

Prizes: Scholarships ranging from $50-$500

Eligibility: International students ages 11-19

This contest challenges students to engage in ocean conservation through artmaking. The theme of the 2023 contest was “The Sixth Extinction,” which centered on endangered and recently extinct species. The 2024 contest theme is “Hidden Wonders of the Deep”.

Works are judged on quality, originality, and adherence to the theme, and submissions can come in any non-digital 2D medium. This is an excellent free opportunity to win prize money for students who enjoy making artwork that engages with environmental themes. Winners' works are also displayed on the Living Oceans Foundation website.

11. Ocean Awareness Art Contest

Hosting institution: Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Mid-June

Prizes: Cash prizes up to $1,500

Eligibility: International students ages 11-18

If you seek to spread awareness of environmental issues through artistic practice and creative communication, consider entering the Ocean Awareness Art Contest. The 2024 theme is “Tell Your Climate Story”. A wide variety of cash prizes are available in five different tiers in both Junior (ages 11-14) and Senior (ages 15-18) divisions, as well as special awards. U.S. students who identify as Black, Indigenous, and/or Latine are also eligible for the We All Rise Prize, which awards $750 to ten artists in the Junior and Senior divisions. We value that this contest is free to enter while still offering generous cash prizes to winning students.

10. High School Competition 

Hosting Institution: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, College of Fine & Applied Arts (FAA)

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Early April

Prizes: Scholarships to college and summer programs

Eligibility: 9th-12th grade students

Every year, the College of Fine & Applied Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIC) hosts an art competition for high school students in a wide variety of exciting and unique categories, from self-portraiture to landscape design to urban planning. The winning freshman, sophomore, and junior will receive a $ 1,000 scholarship to attend a UIC summer program, while the winning senior will win a $ 1,000 scholarship to attend the College of Fine & Applied Arts. This is an excellent high school art competition, particularly for students interested in attending UIC for college or summer programs.

9. Celebrate The West

Hosting instituition: Western Governors’ Association

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Late April

Prizes: $200-$1,500

Eligibility: High school students in Western states

This contest, organized by the Western Governors Association, is open to high school students living in any one of 18 Western U.S. states and territories, encouraging them to create a work in any 2D medium that explores what their state and the American West mean to them. Artworks are judged based on their originality, creativity, technical skill, expression of the Western theme, and the emergence of voice/vision. This is the perfect contest for young artists with a particular interest in the American West – students can check out this episode of the WGA podcast to learn what inspired the 2022 contest winners and hear contest judges talk about the judging process.

8. Artists to Watch Art Competition

Hosting institution: Artists Network

Entry fee: $20 for members, $30 for non-members

Deadline: Mid-June

Prizes: Publication in Artists Magazine and a one-year membership to Artists’ Network ($99 value)

Eligibility: Must be at least 16 years of age as of February 1st of the contest year

The Artists to Watch Competition was created by Artists Magazine to highlight emerging artists of any age (16 and up) who have yet to win a major award or grant. Contestants can use any medium and enter five different subject categories: Animal/Wildlife, Abstract/Experimental, Landscape/Cityscape, Portrait/Figure, and Still Life/Interior. Winning this contest is a highly prestigious achievement for young artists and gives them access to a powerful network of fellow creatives.

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7. Custom Culture High School

Hosting institution: Vans

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Mid-April

Prizes: Up to $50,000 for school art budget

Eligibility: U.S. high school students

This team contest is an amazing opportunity to earn a substantial grant to support art education at your high school through collaborating with a major fashion brand. Every high school in the U.S. is eligible to register for Vans Custom Culture and receive Vans shoes to custom design and decorate. If you’re interested in team contests that can bring your school together and benefit your community, ask your school’s art teachers about getting involved with Vans Custom Culture.

6. Visual Arts Scholarship

Hosting institution: National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS)Entry fee: $90 for NSHSS membership (fee waiver available)

Deadline: Mid-October

Eligibility: High school students and recent graduates

Prizes: $2,000 scholarship

Every year, the NSHSS offers six prestigious scholarships to high school visual artists and photographers, judged on the merit of your artistic work as well as your transcript, teacher recommendation, and resume. Students can enter two categories – Photography/Digital Photography and Painting/Drawing/Mixed Media/Visual Art. This contest is unique for its holistic evaluation of student artists and thus is best suited for exceptional students who also have a strong artistic portfolio.

5. Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Hosting institution: Alliance for Young Artists & Writers

Entry fee: $10 per individual entry, $30 per portfolio (fee waiver available)

Deadline: December and January, depending on region

Eligibility: Students grades 7-12 (age 13 and up)

Prizes: Scholarships of up to $12,500

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is one of the longest-running and most prestigious arts competitions for American youth. With 28 different competition categories ranging from architecture and design to fashion and comic art, students can win substantial college scholarships. Entries are blind-selected for awards by panels of leaders in the visual and literary arts, based on the core criteria of originality, skill, and the emergence of a personal voice or vision. This opportunity is ideal for young artists and writers with a strong passion and aptitude for a specific medium. 

4. Design Challenge

Hosting institution: Cooper HewittEntry fee: None

Deadline: Mid-February

Prizes: $500 gift card, mentorship program, online exhibition

Eligibility: U.S. students, grades 9-12

This premier design contest challenges students as individuals or in teams to create a data visualization that addresses an important issue in their community. Entries are judged for their innovation, impact, relevance, and communication. This design challenge is a great opportunity for high school students seeking mentorship experiences – finalists have the opportunity to attend an in-person Mentor Weekend at the MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism in Cambridge, MA, with accommodations and travel paid for, where they receive feedback on their designs from expert mentors.

This competition is on hiatus for the 2023-2024 school year.

3. Doodle for Google

Hosting institution: Google

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Mid-March

Prizes: Display on Google homepage for 24 hours, Scholarships, Technology package for school, Google swag

Eligibility: K-12 students in US

If you’re looking for a competition that is maximally competitive with the biggest prize at stake, look no further than Doodle for Google. K-12 students can submit one doodle per year to Google in five different age divisions. One winner from each state and territory will receive Google products, Google swag, and their Doodle featured in an online gallery. Five national finalists will receive a $5,000 scholarship, while the national winner will receive a $30,000 scholarship as well as a $50,000 technology fund for their school – not to mention, their design displayed on the Google homepage for 24 hours!

2. Congressional Art Competition

Hosting institution: United States House of Representatives

Entry fee: None

Deadline: Spring (varies by district)

Prizes: Year-long display in the U.S. Capitol Building

Eligibility: U.S. 9th-12th grade students in participating districts

This prestigious high school art competition has seen more than 650,000 participants since its founding in 1982. Students can submit artwork in any 2D medium including photography – winners will ship their art piece directly to Washington, D.C., where it will be displayed in the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S. Capitol Building for one year. Be sure to research guidelines for your specific district and submit your work through the office of your U.S. Representative. This is the competition for you if you’re looking for the most distinguished opportunity to publicly exhibit your work.

1. National Arts Competition

Hosting institution: YoungArts

Entry fee: $35 (fee waiver available)

Deadline: Mid-October (contest opens in June)

Prizes: Cash prizes, scholarship nominations, lifetime access to grants, funding, networking, and more

Eligibility: U.S.-based 9th-12th grade students (15-18 years old)

This highly prestigious art competition allows high schoolers to enter ten different discipline categories, and winners receive a whole host of prizes and unmatched benefits. They gain lifetime access to YoungArts’ network of emerging and accomplished artists which can connect them to resources and opportunities. They are also nominated for the U.S. Presidential Scholarship in the Arts, recognized at the national level, and receive cash prizes ranging from $100 to $10,000. Take a shot at earning the ultimate recognition for a high school artist by entering the YoungArts Competition, which guarantees fee waivers for students who fill out their form about financial need.

Why Should You Enter An Arts & Design Competition? Will Help Your College Admissions?

For creatively-inclined high school students, art and design competitions offer a unique opportunity to bolster college admissions and achieve personal growth. Here's why you should consider entering these competitions:

  • Distinguish Yourself: Art and design competitions set you apart from other applicants, showcasing your creative abilities and commitment to your craft.

  • Motivation and Ambition: Participating in these contests demonstrates your motivation, self-organization, and ambition to college admissions officers.

  • Portfolio Building: These competitions help you build an impressive portfolio of creative work, which is crucial for admission to art and design programs.

  • Financial Benefits: Many competitions offer scholarships, grants for your school, cash prizes, and other financial rewards, easing the burden of college expenses.

  • Recognition: Winning or even participating in these contests can earn you recognition and accolades that enhance your application.

  • Publication Opportunities: Some competitions publish winning entries, providing wider exposure to your work.

  • Feedback and Mentorship: Competitions often offer feedback from judges, helping you improve your skills. Some also provide mentorship opportunities.

  • College Admissions Boost: In addition to showcasing your artistic talents, participating in these competitions demonstrates your commitment to creative practice, dedication, and the ability to excel in a competitive environment—all qualities that can significantly enhance your college admissions prospects.

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