Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

Free Competitions for High School Students

4 minute read

There are plenty of competitions that you can participate in as a high school student that will give you great experience and help you develop technical and collaborative skills, but what if you don’t want to pay the high registration fees? Some competitions will charge students for entering in the competition and that can discourage many students from participating. However, there are many competitions that you can participate in free of charge while also having the opportunity to win prizes! With these competitions, you can put your best foot forward in the competition without having to worry about financial costs that may come up as you advance in the competition.  High school students can explore a variety of free competitions, including essay contests and poetry contests, which often offer an attractive award amount. In this article, we’ll share our list of top free competitions for high school students. In our list we’ll prioritize competitions that are fully covered, meaning that they are free to register for and cover expenses like transportation and lodging if you make it to the in-person final round of the competition.

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Top Free Competitions for High School Students

#1 Brain Awareness Video Contest

This contest, hosted by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), accepts video submissions that must focus on a neuroscience concept and be no longer than 5 minutes. This competition is particularly suited for students who have competed in a science olympiad or other STEM competition. You can watch SfN’s video on how to create and submit a video to the contest, but in general it’s important that the video is entertaining, unique, and catches the viewer’s eye. You can look through SfN’s website to also see what kinds of videos have been done in the past. The one challenging part of this contest is that you must be an SfN member to submit or have an SfN member sponsor you. While becoming a member is difficult as a student, you can try to find a sponsor by checking out SfN’s Find a Neuroscientist database. You can reach out to them via email or LinkedIn and explain your interest in neuroscience and tell them about your video idea! In reaching out, it’s important that your passion for neuroscience comes through.

Submission Format: Video 

Competition Dates: TBA

Prize: First place: $4,000 plus complimentary registration for one* person to attend Neuroscience event in Washington, D.C. Second place: $500. Third place: $250. People’s Choice: $500. 

Eligibility: Entries must be submitted by a Society for Neuroscience (SfN) member by June 3. You can find an SfN member through the Find a Neuroscientist page.

Application deadline: Has passed for this year, but should be July for next year 

#2 National Personal Finance Challenge

This team competition organized by the Council for Economic Education offers high school students the opportunity to build and demonstrate their knowledge in the concepts of earning income, spending, saving, investing, managing credit, and managing risk. In the first round of the competition, student teams compete in a fun, online 30-question challenge. The high-scoring student teams are invited to their state finals.  State champions then proceed to the National competition, where teams use their knowledge to create a financial plan for a fictitious family scenario. The top 16 teams in the National Finals will advance to compete for the national championship title in a Quiz Bowl in Cleveland, Ohio on an all-expenses paid trip

This competition combines both quiz bowl-style competition as well as a case study format in the National competition. Most importantly, participating in this competition can help you to better understand personal finance so that you can manage your money more effectively in the future! Check out our full blog article on finance competitions for high school students.

Submission Format: Online questions + case study

Competition Dates:  Exam Period is from March 27 - April 26. Finals on May 19 - 20

Prize: $250-2,000 for 1st - 4th place winners + all expenses paid trip

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: Not specified

#3 Illinois State University (ISU) Fashion Design Competition

In ISU’s Fashion Design Competition, participants submit a design sketch or window display photo to be displayed at Illinois State University's Annual Fashion Show. If you’re one of the first 10 submissions, you will receive a $1,000 scholarship to pursue Fashion Design and Merchandising at ISU. If you’re a top design winner, you’ll receive a $4,000 scholarship to ISU and also receive travel funds to attend the annual ISU Fashion Show. 

The theme for the 23-24 competition is Artisanal. The theme is centered around sustainability and the competition encourages participants to experiment with some type of sustainable practice. For example, this could be patchwork with different scraps of fabric that would usually be thrown away or upcycling. Along with your design entry, you will need to submit a typed description explaining your design process and the inspiration behind your design. Interested in clothing and fashion, check out our full blog article on fashion design competitions for high school students.

Submission Format: Design sketch + written description of design

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: $1,000-$4,000 scholarship to pursue Fashion Design and Merchandising at ISU. Top winners will also receive $200 in travel funds to attend ISU’s Annual Fashion Show

Eligibility: All high school students

Application Deadline: March 15

#4 Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs

The Diamond Challenge is an international competition for high schoolers running from September to April. The goal of the competition is to encourage and support young people as they imagine and develop solutions in the categories of business innovation and social innovation, as well as in various other rotating fields. The competition is free to enter for all participants. This event is designed to nurture student entrepreneurs and foster a spirit of innovation. If you’re interested in exploring more international competitions, check out our article on international competitions for high school students.

Submission Format: Business idea proposal

Competition Dates: Running from September to April

Prize: Participants compete for grand prizes worth $12,000 in each major category and an overall prize pool of over $100,000

Eligibility: Open to teams of high schoolers from anywhere in the world

Application Deadline: The first round deadline is in January

#5 American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) DNA Day Essay Contest

The Annual DNA Day Essay Contest, supported by the American Society of Human Genetics, is a great medical competition for high schoolers that encourages students to think critically about significant questions in the field of genetics in the form of an argumentative essay. For example, in 2024, participants were prompted to “Provide an example of how the interplay of genetics and environment can shape human health.” This competition is a great opportunity to show what you know about science and also practice your writing skills. Writing awards are given to high schoolers who excel in properly arguing their perspectives. This is likely not the competition for young writers who specialize in creative writing. You can check out the competition website to understand the rubric for how essays are graded.

Submission Format: Written essay with bibliography. Check out our guide to creating a great bibliography!

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: 13 cash prizes are awarded in amounts ranging from $100-$1000, with top essayists earning equal grant money for their high school

Eligibility: Open to individual students in grades 9-12

Application Deadline: March 6

#6 Federal Reserve High School Challenge

The Fed Challenge is a dynamic competition hosted by the Federal Reserve, inviting high school students to act and think as economists. Every year, the Fed will choose a competition theme, and each team will write a 1,500-2,500 word paper on the topic. The best submissions to the essay contest are chosen to be published in the Journal of Future Economists by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Participants will have the chance to analyze economic data, create forecasts, and present their findings to a panel of expert judges. High school students can participate in the high school Fed Challenge to enhance their economic education and potentially win a cash prize. 

Submission Format: Essay submission

Competition Dates: March 15

Prize: Present findings to expert judges

Eligibility: High school students

Application Deadline: February 15

#7 Congressional App Challenge

Spanning across the entire United States, the Congressional App Challenge invites students to unleash their creativity, design, and coding skills to develop applications that address real-world issues. The programming competition not only serves as a prestigious avenue for recognition but also offers winners the unique honor of having their work displayed in the U.S. Capitol. Embark on your data science journey with these thrilling competitions that not only showcase your programming skills but also provide opportunities for networking, mentorship, and in some cases, internships. Choose the competition that best aligns with your interests, and let the data exploration begin! For more data science competitions check out our blog article.

Submission Format: Build an app

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: National recognition, gift cards

Eligibility: High school students

Application Deadline: November 1

#8 American Chemical Society (ACS) High School Chemistry Olympiad

The ACS High School Chemistry Olympiad is a prestigious national competition that culminates in an international event. It tests your knowledge of chemistry concepts, theory, and practical applications. The competition comprises a series of rigorous exams, starting at the local level and progressing to the national exam. Top-performing students have the opportunity to represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad. If chemistry is more of your thing then check out our article on best chemistry competitions for high school students.

Submission Format: Exam

Competition Dates: N/A

Prize: Cash prizes up to $300

Eligibility: U.S. high school students, including those in U.S. territories

Application Deadline: January 19

#9 Davidson Fellows

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. The award amount in these competitions can vary in size depending on your placement.

Submission Format: Research report

Competition Dates: Winners announced later in the year

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

Eligibility: All students 18 years old or younger

Application Deadline: February 14

#10 Bridge Building Contest

If you’re interested in hands-on building, the International Bridge Building Contest hosted by Illinois Tech is a prestigious competition challenging students to engineer and construct model bridges using specified materials. With a history of promoting hands-on learning and creativity, the contest inspires participants to apply structural engineering principles in a practical setting. Participants in the International Bridge Building Contest must have placed first or second in a Regional Contest.

Submission Format: Model bridge

Competition Dates: Regional contest on Jan 30; International contest on April 27

Prize: Trophies and certificates for outstanding bridge designs

Eligibility: Participants must place first or second in a Regional Contest

Application Deadline: Varies annually; check official competition guidelines

#11 Duke Math Meet (DMM)

Duke University hosts 45 high school teams (made up of 6 students each) from around the country to compete in a math league. This mathematics competition offers students the chance to compete and win a significant math prize. Registration happens on a first come, first served basis - so register early. The event is made up of a Power Round, Team Round, Individual Round, Relay Round, and Devil Round (a fun final round meant simply to decompress).

Submission Format: Math problems

Competition Dates: Early November

Prize: Undisclosed, breakfast and lunch for students and t-shirts

Eligibility: Must be in a team made up of 6 students

Application Deadline: Mid-October

#12 TOPSS Competition for High School Psychology Students

In this competition, high school students submit a three-minute video that demonstrates their grasp of a psychological concept and how this concept can be used to make people's lives better in the "real world". The video should fall into one of the following categories: social psychology, personality, multiculturalism and gender, or motivation and emotion. To be eligible to compete, students must have completed or be currently enrolled in a psychology course. Each video submission must include a reference to at least one reputable outside source. Learn more about the different psychology competitions that are out there!

Submission Format: Video submission
Competition Dates: Not provided
Prize: Not mentioned
Eligibility: All students who have completed or currently enrolled in psychology course
Application Deadline: March 1

#13 Langley Student Art Contest

This free-to-enter teenage art contest is ideal for students interested in the intersection of art, science, technology, and space exploration. High schoolers can enter this scholastic art competition to showcase their artistic talents and win a cash prize or receive an honorable mention. 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. You can also explore the contest website to learn more about NASA Langley research focus areas and gain some inspiration for your art.

Submission Format: Art piece
Competition Dates: Not provided
Prize: Certificate and NASA swag
Eligibility: U.S. K-12 students
Application Deadline: December 31 (you have the entire month of December to submit)

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