The beauty of learning STEM is that education continues even beyond the classroom. It is in this area especially, where students can engage with topics hands-on and learn about real-life applications for their work. Combine that with team collaboration, competitiveness, confidence, risk-taking, and exciting prizes and you’re entering the wonderfully exciting world of STEM competitions!

Apart from being great extracurricular activities, STEM competitions help students obtain amazing opportunities in their field of choice, and to demonstrate their intellectual capacity. Below we’ve compiled a list of the best STEM competitions for middle and high school students:

U.S. National Innovator Challenge
Dates: spring annually
Ages: K-12
Cost: Individual = $30 / Team of 2 = $60 / Team of 3 = $90
Format: online, multi-tier event
Description: The U.S. National Innovator Challenge is an annual challenge accepting entries of Ideas, Apps and Prototypes from individual innovators or teams of up to 3 innovators (at least one of the team members must reside in the U.S.). Innovators may participate in this challenge regardless of earlier challenges they may have participated in, and they are permitted to make changes/improvements to their submissions (in fact we encourage this!). Prizes typically include both cash and opportunity prizes and are awarded at the finale of the NIC. Top Innovators advance to the Global Innovation Challenge, by InventFuture.Global.

Invention Convention
Dates: spring annually
Ages: K-12
Cost: local team fee approx. $150; more fees for state & national competitions
Format: some in person, some online
Description: This is a STEM competition led by a K-12 invention education program that aims to teach students how to identify and solve problems through entrepreneurship, invention, and innovation. One of their biggest events of the year is the U.S. Nationals, a competition that brings the best innovative young minds of the U.S. together to do what they do best – invent! Once a team is formed, a Coach leads students through the invention process – identify a problem, come up with an invention to solve it, and related marketing/research. U.S. Nationals are invite-only, and you must qualify by winning the competition in your state. The entry period begins in December for local competitions, wil State competitions usually held April to May. and Prizes include cash and scholarships ($100, $500, $2,500), and even official patent letters.

Science Olympiad
Dates: Invitationals (late fall, early winter), Regionals (around February, March), State (early to mid-April), Nationals (early to mid-May)
Ages: middle schoolers and high schoolers
Costs: fee for team registration (depends on the state), approx. $125-275
Format: In-person
Description: Science Olympiad is a famous science competition for middle and high school students. They have two divisions, B for middle schoolers and C for high schoolers. There are typically 15 members on each team. Each competition consists of 23 events that cover a wide array of scientific topics. Each team member is responsible for three or four areas to specialize in for each competition. To participate, the first step is forming your own Olympiad team in your school. You need 15 members and a Coach (maybe ask your favorite science teacher!). Then get to practicing. Science Olympiad teams usually meet throughout the academic year to prepare for the competitions. There are different kinds of competitions happening throughout the year: Invitationals (late fall, early winter), Regionals (around February, March), State (early to mid-April), and Nationals (early to mid-May). One of the main costs of participating in these competitions may be the travel and transportation fees, especially for State and Nationals. The Science Olympiad is an impressive extracurricular that will shine in your application or CV. If you make it to Nationals, the prizes include incredibly generous college scholarships!

Dates: summer annually
Ages: 6th to 9th graders
Costs: registration is free
Format: some in person, some online
Description: This is a web-based STEM competition for students in grades 6-9. In it, students compete in teams of 2 to 4 participants with an Adult Advisor. Participants first choose a community problem to explore and try to solve with computer science or engineering. To participate, all you have to do is gather up your group and ideas, read the competition rules, and register on their website! By doing so, you get a chance to win awards at State, Regional and National levels (the top prize being $6,000 in Savings Bonds). The competition usually extends through the summer, so make sure to keep an eye on their website to know when to register!

Caribou Mathematics Competition
Dates: January, February, April, May, October, and November
Ages: grades K-1, 2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12
Costs: Lowest level contests (Grade K/1 and 2) are completely free all year.
The first contest in October is free for all levels.
For the Grade 3/4 level, the fee is $9 per student for the remaining 5 contests (upfront payment is possible).
For Grades 5 to 12, the fee is $15 per student for the remaining 5 contests (upfront payment is possible).
For School-Wide Contest Access (an unlimited number of participating students in all levels for the full year), the fee is $320.
Format: online
Description: Also called Caribou Cup, this is an international virtual math contest usually held six times over the academic year (2 days in January, February, April, May, October, and November). Each contest is run at the levels of grades K-1, 2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12. All of the students who participate get certificates of participation and achievement, but those who got top scores receive cash prizes. Also, the amount of money the student gets is calculated by the score made in the competition, so make sure you do your best!

Future City
Dates: January to April
Ages: 6th to 8th graders
Costs: registration fee is $25 per organization
Format: some in person, some online
Description: This is a learning program where students from 6th to 8th grade design and build cities of the future. Students participate in the Future City Competition as teams, guided by an educator as a mentor. They spend four months creating cities that could exist at least 100 years in the future and each city must incorporate a solution to a design challenge that changes each year. Around January and February, teams present their future cities to judges at Regional Competitions, and teams that earn the top place participate in Finals around April. To get started, your Team’s mentor must register your team online, and then you can gain access to the project’s specifics. The fee to enter is just $25 per organization. The prizes vary according to the competition: teams that win the regionals win a free trip to Washington, DC to compete in the nationals, and National winners can win a trip to Space Camp, and cash for their school’s STEM programs!

Future Engineers
Dates: each challenge differs
Ages: K-12
Costs: free
Format: online
Description: Free online innovation challenges and a curriculum for K-12 students for in-classroom participation! Students can submit their designs, compete with their peers, build their portfolios, and win amazing prizes! To get started, all you need to do is go to their website and check out the available challenges and even get help from the education resources available. Each challenge has a different timeline, so make sure you keep an eye out for those. Future Engineers also hosts the Techrise contest offered every fall – see this year’s NASA Techrise contest here. Some of the cool prizes include a NASA RPS Prize Pack and an assigned spot for your experiment (what the challenge asked for) on a NASA-sponsored flight and $1500 to develop your experiment.

Google’s Coding Competitions
Dates: The registration date for Hash Code is ongoing, for Code Jam is in March and for Kick Start is in February.
Ages: 16-18.
Costs: free
Format: online
Description: Each year, Google organizes three coding competitions named Hash Code, Code Jam, and Kick Start. Hash Code is a team competition, where you form a team of 2 to 4 members and get assigned a programming language and a challenge by Google developers. These problems revolve around real-world scenarios. After a Qualification Round, the best teams will be invited to compete in the virtual World Finals. The top cash prize is $4000. Code Jam consists of trying to solve difficult algorithmic puzzles while racing against the clock. There is a Qualification Round, Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3. Those in Round 3 compete in the Virtual World Finals for the championship title and prize of $15000. Kick Start is a worldwide online coding competition that involves three-hour rounds of algorithmic tasks designed by Google engineers, each round of the competition is timed and the competitors are scored based on that. The winner gets a prize of $15000. To enter these competitions, you have to register on their website, read the rules, and maybe practice a little bit, since top scorers usually get recruitment calls from Google! The registration date for Hash Code is ongoing, for Code Jam is in March and for Kick Start is in February. For most of the competitions, the minimum age is 16-18.

Microsoft Imagine Cup:
Dates: deadline for application is Jan 31st, 2023. Competition usually takes place throughout a year
Ages: 16+
Costs: free
Format: some in person, some online
Description: This is a software and game design competition hosted by Microsoft where teams design and create technology to solve a current problem. It’s open for students aged 16+ and there has to be a maximum of 4 team members. To get started, all you need is to register on their page and you might be the next one to win $100,000!

Regeneron Science Talent Search
Dates: deadline to apply is November 9th, 2022, and the winners are announced in March 2023
Ages: high school seniors
Costs: free
Format: some in person, some online
Description: In this competition students have to conduct their own original research project and submit their application along with letters of recommendation and transcripts. This competition is open to high school seniors only. 40 finalists are selected and they are taken to Washington, D.C. on a paid trip for in-person judging of their project. The top prize is $250,000! To compete, you should apply online through their website, the deadline is November 9th, 2022.

STEM becomes incredibly engaging when you realize how much of it is actually being utilized in real-life scenarios. These STEM competitions are a great way to not only realize that fact, but take advantage of it, build your resume, make connections, and possibly win awesome prizes!