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Top Psychology Competitions For High School and Middle School Students

8 minute read

If you are currently conducting a research project in psychology or just completed one, you should consider participating in a psychology competition! While it may seem intimidating in the beginning, there are many benefits to participating in psychology competitions. Here are a few:

  • Develops your ability to explain complex ideas and your research to a new audience 

  • Gives you a deadline, which in turn provides motivation for you to complete your research project

  • Provides opportunities to practice following guidelines and submission requirements, which are skills you will need in high school, college, and beyond

  • Looks great on a college application 

  • You might win! (Don’t sell yourself short!) 

In assessing each competition, I considered the academic rigor of its hosting institution, its relevance to psychology, and its accessibility for students. Accessibility of course comes in many forms. I considered whether the competition was accessible to students of different ages and in different geographical areas. None of the competitions required an entry fee, which is something else I looked for. (If you ever have to pay a lot of money for a competition, that’s a bad sign.)

What are the Top 8 Psychology Competitions For Students?

1. Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

  • Hosting institution: United States Department of Defense

  • Format: Written Research Report 

  • Application deadline: The regional symposiums vary by region, but the deadlines are usually between September and December. The regional symposiums are actually held from January through March. The national symposium is held sometime in April or May. 

  • Individual or team: Either, but in the case of a team project, only one person presents/submits the work. That person will be presented with any scholarships/awards that they win. 

  • Eligibility: Citizens or permanent residents of the United States only

This competition is for high school students (grades 9 - 12) who have conducted original research in a STEM field. First, students submit a written research report detailing their findings. Judges select a portion of those submissions to be considered in the appropriate regional symposium based on the applicant’s location. Winners from the regional round move on to the national symposium. 

This is a great competition since students of many different ages can compete. One difficulty is that students generally have to travel to the regional symposium to present their work (a few are online). While there is at least one symposium in all 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the Pacific, in some states there is only one symposium.

2. International Psychology Olympiad

This competition has an academic test format with 3 different sections: concept understanding, application and analysis, and research design. In preparing for this test you should have a good understanding of psychology concepts and be able to apply this theory to actual problems. After registration, students will receive study materials to help prepare them for the test. You register for this competition through your school or an organization, so try to find classmates who might be interested as well, and reach out to school teachers or administrators early so they can sign you up!

3. Minds Underground Psychology Essay Competition

  • Hosting institution:Minds Underground

  • Format: Essay

  • Application deadline: Passed for this year, but based on last year’s date should be April 2024 for the upcoming year

  • Individual or team: Individual

  • Eligibility: Worldwide

This essay competition offers three essay prompts to choose from every year (you can submit one essay per category prompt). Past essay prompts have included questions like “Can we think without language?” and “How can the mind be altered by changes in the brain?” These profound questions are quite open-ended, so it forces you to do a good amount of research to support your perspective. As a result, you can learn quite a bit about psychology in the process while also developing your own opinions about the space.

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!

4. Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge (JIC)

  • Hosting institution: Society for Science in partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific

  • Format: Submission to a local science fair 

  • Application deadline: Varies depending on the local fair, but most fairs take place between January and April  

  • Individual or team: Either. Up to three people can form a team, but each student must submit an individual application. Students on the same team are judged separately. Students can complete a team project and submit their application even if the other team members do not submit one. 

  • Eligibility: The only criteria is that the student competes in an affiliated fair in the U.S. or a U.S. territory. You will have to check the fair’s rules to see if you are eligible to compete. 

I like this competition because it is only for middle school students (6th, 7th, and 8th grades) - many opportunities are only for high school students. These students first compete in a local fair that is affiliated with Thermo Fisher. Judges at the local fair can then nominate up to 10% of the students to participate in the national competition. The Top 300 students receive awards, and the finalists chosen from the Top 300 travel to Washington, D.C., to compete for awards with even bigger prizes.

One drawback of this competition is that students must compete in a local fair first, which has the same transportation costs as I discussed earlier. Additionally, the site says that there is a fair “in nearly every state and territory in the U.S.,” which means there are a few states or territories that do not have a fair. 

5. TOPSS Competition for High School Psychology Students

  • Hosting institution: TOPSS (American Psychological Association Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools)

  • Format: Video 

  • Application deadline: The deadline for this year has passed, but check back soon!

  • Individual or team: Individual, although competitors also “must work with a teacher prior to submitting the entry to ensure the submitted content follows competition guidelines and rules.”

  • Eligibility Worldwide

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. You can check out this article to learn how to skim research papers effectively while looking for your outside source(s). Pro-tip: A major part of this competition is explaining the psychological concept and all research that you cite in your own words!

This competition is accessible for a variety of students, which is great. Even though it is hosted by the American Psychological Association, international students can compete. Applicants don’t have to pay for common research expenses (e.g., getting materials, paying participants) since the competition focuses on students’ understanding of existing research. However, I think this is also a potential limitation of the competition. Some students may not be as interested in reading articles and instead prefer to conduct their own research. 

Also note that the video format may feel awkward for some students, but the 2022 competition submission was an essay, so perhaps that changes from year to year.

6. Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS) 

  • Hosting institution: Society for Science

  • Format: Research Paper 

  • Application deadline: The 2024 application opens on June 1, 2023. Check back on their website for the 2024 deadline. 

  • Individual or team: Individual

  • Eligibility: United States citizens and students (of any citizenship) studying in the U.S. can compete.

This competition goes back to 1942 and is the oldest science and math competition in the United States! Since it has that background, it is very prestigious and academically rigorous. Applicants complete original scientific research projects and submit their findings in a formal research paper. Experts in the appropriate scientific field carefully review each project, leading to the Top 300 and Top 40 finalists. The Top 40 finalists compete in an in-person Finals Week in Washington, D.C., for the Top 10 awards. Each Top 40 scholar receives at least $25,000! ($25,000 seems like a typo, but don’t worry, I double-checked!)

Read our article about How to Write a Research Paper

The downside of this competition is that only high school seniors can compete. Applicants can conduct their research in any year of high school; however, it still limits younger students who want to compete earlier in their academic careers.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to the Regeneron Science Talent Search for more information about this competition

7. United States Army’s eCybermission Competition 

  • Hosting institution: United States Army

  • Format: Scientific Report 

  • Application deadline: Currently closed, but the previous deadline was in early 2023. Registration for the 2023-2024 competition opens in the fall. 

  • Individual or team: Team 

  • Eligibility: U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents of the U.S. 

This entirely virtual competition ranked high on the list because it is another rare opportunity for younger students. It is a team-based STEM competition for U.S. students in the 6th - 9th grades. Students form a group with 2 - 4 members total, along with an adult advisor. The team then completes a scientific research project or designs an engineering prototype to solve a problem in their community. Teams submit a paper describing their experimental research or engineering design process. They can win awards at the state, regional, and national levels. 

The requirement to have 2 - 4 team members can be a pro or a con depending on the student and their goals and resources. On the one hand, it develops key collaboration skills which are useful in many different areas and can provide a sense of community. Each team member will also bring unique strengths to the project. On the other hand it might be challenging to find team members who have similar interests and vision for the project.

8. Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

  • Hosting institution: Society for Science

  • Format: Submission to a local science fair

  • Application deadline: Varies depending on the local fair 

  • Individual or team: Either. Students can form teams with up to three members total. Unlike the Theromo Fisher competition, in ISEF teams compete as a unit. 

  • Eligibility: Worldwide

The Society for Science also hosts this competition, which is essentially the high school version of the Thermo Fisher competition. 9th-12th grade students first compete in a local science fair that is affiliated with Regeneron, and judges at that fair nominate a certain percentage of participants for the international level. These finalists compete for over 600 individual and team awards, with substantial monetary prizes. 

This competition is accessible for all high school students and for international students. There are fairs in nearly every U.S. state as well as over 70 other countries, regions and territories. Students can submit projects in one of 21 categories that span all engineering and science disciplines, including the psychology subcategory under “Behavioral and Social Sciences.” We also have an ultimate guide to competing and winning in the Regeneron International Science Engineering Fair.

How Can I Prepare for a Psychology Competition?

All of these research competitions are great and hosted by reputable organizations, so consider each one and make the best decision based on your interests, goals, and resources. You can’t go wrong! Also remember that when you are submitting research involving human subjects for competitions, you will need to get IRB approval before conducting your research.  If you would like any help conducting research that you want to submit to a competition, please apply for our flagship mentorship program here. You can also check out these articles to learn about research opportunities for high school students, internship opportunities for high school students, and creative ways to explore your passions.

Have any Polygence Students Completed Psychology Projects?

We also wanted to highlight some amazing psychology research projects that Polygence student alumni have completed in the past. Whether you’re submitting the project for a competition or not, the process of working on one is a great way to learn and explore your passions!

Janani’s project assessed how emotional intelligence affects a person’s lifestyle and wellbeing. Janani developed a questionnaire to assess people’s emotional intelligence and after completing the survey found some interesting insights about what provokes human anger and the connections between memories and emotions experienced. Janani also wrote a research paper to share her findings!

Valeria’s project explored the neglected mental health crisis and how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted minority groups and youth in the United States. Valeria researched the harmful mental health effects of the pandemic and also provided suggestions for potential solutions within healthcare and education systems. Valeria’s research paper was published in the Curieux Academic Journal!

Luke researched the topic of nepotistic hiring and how favoritism plays a role in the job market. What started for Luke as an initial survey about mental health during the pandemic eventually transitioned to a psychological study where he predicted that cultural differences and different socioeconomic status would lead to nuances in manager behavior in certain job-hiring situations. Luke’s research paper was published in Frontiers, a peer-reviewed academic journal. 

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