Polygence blog / Research Opportunities and Ideas

12 Best Computer Science Competitions for High School Students

8 minute read

Computer science competitions are a great opportunity for students to practice their programming skills and learn how to solve problems. These events can involve writing code to create specific projects or apps, or to just solve programming problems. These competitions can also be fantastic opportunities for learning how to collaborate in teams, and provide a fun and low-pressure atmosphere to improve your programming skills. In this article, we’ll discuss different competitions that you can get involved in this year!

What Should I Consider When Finding a Computer Science Competition?

Keep in mind that not all competitions are the same! They will have key differences in their format and location. For example, if travel is not something you can manage during the school year, then perhaps competitions that rely on in-person events that are far away from you may not be practical. That being said, most computer science competitions for high school students are hosted virtually, so that’s not something you have to be too concerned with.

Some competitions may also have their own “seasons,” where you have a regular cadence of competition during a certain part of the year, and other competitions may just require a single project submission by a certain deadline. Think through what works best with your school workload and your other extracurriculars. If you also have a group of friends in school who are interested in programming competitions, you may also want to lean towards competitions where you can create your team, as that can often be a rewarding and fun experience.

What are the best Computer Science Competitions for High School Students?

1. Davidson Fellows

Location: Virtual

Hosting Institution: Davidson Institute for Talent Development

Awards: $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000 scholarships

Cost: Free

Entry Deadline: February 14, 2024

Competition Date: Winners announced later in the year.

The Davidson Fellows scholarship program is designed to recognize and support outstanding young individuals who have completed significant projects in various fields, including computer science, programming, and robotics.

To participate, students must submit a formal research report, visual model, and explain the project's benefit to society. In this competition, open to all students 18 years old or younger , you can work in groups of two.

2. American Computer Science League (ACSL)

Location: In-person, check the website for local event locations

Hosting Institution: ACSL Foundation

Awards: Certificates and cash prizes

Cost: Free

Entry Deadline: Varies by local contest

Competition Date: Four contests are held throughout the academic year, starting in November 2023 and ending in March 2024. Invitational Finals are on May 25, 2024.

The American Computer Science League is a series of contests designed to engage students in computer science and programming. Participants solve computer science problems that test knowledge of concepts like Boolean Algebra and Number Systems. There’s no need to worry about your current skill level with programming, as ASCL offers different divisions for varying skill levels, and you can participate in multiple divisions.

Do your own research through Polygence!

Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own.

3. CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition

Location: Virtual, then national finals in Maryland

Hosting Institution: Air Force Association (AFA)

Awards: Scholarships, teams that qualify for nationals get all expenses paid trip to Maryland

Cost: $205 registration fee per team

Entry Deadline: April 1 - October 3, 2024 (estimated based on previous year’s date) 

Competition Date: The competition season occurs one weekend per month from October to January

This competition challenges teams to fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and teams are scored based on how secure they make the operating systems. Teams will compete in online competitions, and the top-performing teams will then advance to the in-person National Competition in Maryland. The great part about this competition is that no prior experience is necessary; the competition caters to various skill levels and there are training resources available. You must enroll in teams of 2-6 students in association with a school or organization and also have a coach and technical mentor on your team, so there are a bit more personnel requirements in this competition.

4. USA Computing Olympiad

Location: Virtual

Hosting Institution: International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI)

Awards: Opportunity to advance to IOI

Cost: Not specified

Entry Deadline: TBA

Competition Date: Between December 16th, 2023 and December 19th, 2023 (tentatively, based on previous year’s schedule).

This competition is a very competitive and high-level event where finalists get to represent the USA in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), a prestigious event launched by UNESCO.

The contest consists of two  days of computer programming/coding and problem-solving of algorithmic nature. You can expect the problems to be very rigorous, but one of the positives of this competition is that it offers a ton of training resources to help improve your programming and problem-solving  skills.

5. Congressional App Challenge

Location: Virtual

Hosting Institution: U.S. House of Representatives

Awards: Winning apps are eligible to be displayed in the US Capitol Building and featured on the House of Representatives’ website. Winning students are also invited to Capitol Hill Reception in Washington D.C.

Cost: Free

Entry Deadline: November 1, 2023

Competition Date: Winners announced in December

In this competition hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives, students create apps using any programming language to solve specific challenges. You can work in up to teams of four. This competition has some of the most unique prizes out there and could be a great fit for you if you’re also interested in government/politics. Previous winners have created apps that help with college applications, and spelling bees, and introduce users to American history.

Dig deep into that code

Interested in Computer Science? We'll match you with an expert mentor who will help you explore your next project.

6. HPE CodeWars

Location: Can compete virtually, but locations in Ft. Collins, Colorado, Houston, Texas, and Roseville, California

Hosting Institution: HPE CodeWars

Awards: Raffle awards

Cost: Free (aside from travel expenses to competition)

Entry Deadline: Registration opens a month before the competition, and closes two weeks before the start date.

Competition Date: March 2, 2024

HPE CodeWars is a coding challenge involving teams of three who must tackle 30 progressively challenging problems within a 3-hour timeframe. The competition, held in languages such as C, C++, Java, and Python 3, helps participants refine their problem-solving abilities and practice competitive coding techniques like the two-pointer method and binary search for enhanced algorithm efficiency. Check this competition out if problem-solving is your thing!

7. Stanford ACM ProCo

Location: Stanford University campus (Palo Alto, California)

Hosting Institution: Stanford University

Awards: Prizes vary year to year. Previous first place prizes have included Raspberry Pis, iPad Minis, and Nintendo 3DSes.

Cost: Free (aside from travel expenses to competition)

Entry Deadline: TBA

Competition Date: April 15, 2024 (estimated based on last year’s date)

Students team up, with a limit of three members per group, to solve algorithmic problems competitively.. The contest will last 3 hours and consist of 9 - 15 unweighted problems. While the competition recommends having at least one year of programming experience, newcomers are welcome. The contest is split between two separate divisions: Novice and Advanced. The Novice category includes newcomers and students with under two years of programming experience, while the Advanced category is designed for returners and those students with two years or more of programming expertise.

8. Harker Programming Invitational

Location: San Jose, California

Hosting Institution: Harker Programming Club

Awards: Trophies, top eight  teams receive certificates

Cost: Free (aside from travel expenses to competition)

Entry Deadline: TBA
Competition Date: March 11, 2024 (estimated based on last year’s date)

This competition is designed to prepare participants for the Stanford ProCo Contest. Teams of up to three  students compete in a 2-hour contest round to score as many points as possible by solving a number of problems and submitting the answers online. Similar to the Stanford ProCo, the contest offers two divisions, Novice and Advanced. The problems are also similar to the USA Computing Olympiad format, so if you plan on doing either USACO or Stanford this could be a great warm-up  event.

9. Girls Programming League Challenge 

Location: San Jose, California

Hosting Institution: Harker Programming Club

Awards: Top three teams in each division will receive awards and trophies. Top eight  teams in each division will receive certificates.

Cost: Free (aside from travel expenses to competition)

Entry Deadline: A week before competition date (estimated September 9)

Competition Date: September 16, 2024 (estimated based on last year’s date)

This competition follows a similar problem-solving format to the Harker Programming Invitational, except this challenge is intended for students identifying as female or non-binary. In addition to the competition, participants get to listen to a keynote speech and speaker panel of female academic and industry leaders with backgrounds in AI and computer science! Previous speakers have been leaders at companies like Meta and DoorDash.

10. Bebras Computing Challenge

Location: Online

Hosting Institution: Bebras

Awards: Certificates

Cost: Free 

Entry Deadline: Not specified

Competition Date: November 6-19, 2024

​​Students from 6 to 18 years old work through a set of tasks that focus on different topics and skills within informatics and computational thinking. They will have 45 minutes to complete as many tasks as they can. The challenge has many more age groups than other contests in computer science, with six different age categories. You register for the competition through a teacher and it will also be a teacher who supervises the challenge.

11. picoCTF

Location: Online

Hosting Institution: Carnegie Mellon University

Awards: Cash prizes, specialty awards, and a chance to visit Carnegie Mellon University

Cost: Free 

Entry Deadline: February 1, 2024 (estimated based on last year’s date)

Competition Date: March 12-16, 2024 

Known as the largest high school hacking competition, the challenge gives participants a chance to learn about cybersecurity skills, which are in demand especially in today’s age. picoCTF also gives you online resources to help prepare you for the competition. The picoGym is a space where you can practice problems from previously released picoCTF competitions.

12. CoderZ League

Location: Online

Hosting Institution: CoderZ

Awards: Not specified

Cost: Costs to register, not specified on website

Entry Deadline: April 1, 2024 for Spring season(estimated based on last year’s date)

Competition Date: Spring season starts on March 27, 2024 and ends in May (estimated based on last year’s date)

In this virtual robotics and coding tournament, students learn how to code virtual 3D robots to complete specific tasks and challenges. You can compete in teams of 6. In both the Spring season and Fall season, there are two age divisions: Novice (4th-6th grade) and Junior (6th-9th). The Spring season is recommended for students who have participated in the Novice division in a previous year and want to challenge themselves.

What are some Examples of Computer science research projects completed by Polygence students?

We want to highlight some computer science research projects that Polygence student alumni have previously explored. Hopefully, these projects will  give you some inspiration as you explore the field yourself!

If you’re interested in computer science, Polygence’s programs are a great place to start your journey as they provide opportunities to work with, and learn from, excellent research mentors who are well-versed in the field of computer science.

Research and Prepare for your Competition or Fair

Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own. Our highly-specialized mentors can help guide you to feel even more prepared for an upcoming fair or competion. We also offer options to explore multiple topics, or to showcase your final product!