We tell students that learning is its own reward, and that’s certainly true. But it’s also nice to win money and other prizes! Knowing they could gain recognition or even a prize for winning can be incredibly motivating for students. Plus, student contests give kids the opportunity to connect their interests to the real world. Here’s a list of amazing contests to engage every kind of student in your classroom.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Student Contests
Come up with a big idea to help create meaningful change and healthier school communities. Then use the AdCap project designer to submit your idea, and compete for funding to bring your project to life. (For students 13+)
The Youth Design Challenge (YDC) is a free hands-on, project-based learning experience that provides classroom and informal educators with a new framework to introduce biomimicry and an interdisciplinary lens on science and environmental literacy.
Kids ages 13–18 can submit a big scientific idea in fundamental physics, life sciences, or mathematics in video form. Winners receive college scholarships, plus money for their teacher and school.
Design an innovation, solve an important problem, and establish yourself as an entrepreneur. You might just change the world in the process! Students ages 13–18 work in teams of two to five to compete for prizes such as scholarships, pro-bono legal and consulting services, and a Dell Chromebook.
Each year, EngineerGirl sponsors an essay contest with topics centered on the impact of engineering on the world, and students can win up to $500 in prize money. This contest is a nice bridge between ELA and STEM and great for teachers interested in incorporating an interdisciplinary project into their curriculum.
Future City is a project-based learning program in which students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades imagine, research, design, and build cities of the future.
This contest challenges students in grades 6–8 to practice critical thinking supported by accurate computation. Both kids and their teachers are eligible for prizes.
Students in ninth grade and up can create a poster for International Compost Awareness Week. The winner gets $500 and the chance to see their poster produced professionally.
The Invention Convention program is a project-based learning curriculum to help students learn to think critically by identifying problems in their world.
Students can submit a short film inspired by, and using, actual footage from NASA’s digital archives for a chance to earn cash prizes and have their film screened at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, held each November.
Encourage friendly competition throughout your school or expressing creativity through writing and designing with a PepsiCo Recycle Rally contest. Choose from the Frequent Recycler Program or Recycling Advancement Plan.
PicoCTF is a computer security game for middle and high school students. The game consists of a series of challenges centered around a unique story line where participants must reverse engineer, break, hack, decrypt, or do whatever it takes to solve the challenge. The challenges are all set up with the intent of being hacked, making it an excellent, legal way to get hands-on experience.
This contest challenges students in grades 5–8 to design and create a working invention/artwork that incorporates at least one rubber band. Students can compete in one of two separate divisions: Arts & Leisure or Science & Engineering. Winners receive up to $300.
The Student Ideas for a Better America contest welcomes applications from pre-K through 12th grade. Enter any idea for a new way to demonstrate an educational concept, an idea for a new product, or an improvement for an existing product or procedure.
The Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition invites teachers to lead a group of students in creating a STEM-centered (science, technology, engineering, and math) solution that addresses a need in their communities. As teams are selected to move through each phase, they are asked to provide more project details and are awarded prizes of increasing value. Teachers and students will compete to win a share of $2 million for their schools. The National Winner prize is $100,000 in technology and classroom materials.
Aerospace Education Competitions (AEC) are events that provide interactive, high-tempo, and dynamic environments for students to further their STEM skills. They emulate, as closely as possible for high school students, the experiences of working as members of industry design and proposal teams, providing unique opportunities to develop their academic and business skills while fostering and igniting career aspirations for the next generation of young professionals. Students learn and practice management, team-building, and communication skills.
This tiered competition for high school students consists of a series of chemistry exams. Local winners move on to the national exam, whose winners participate in a study camp and international exam contest over the summer.
Selected high schools will be challenged to design shoes around two themes. They can also submit an Impact Document reflecting how their school, students, and community would be impacted by winning $75,000 for their art program.
Students in grades 5–8 create a one-to-two-minute video describing a new, innovative solution that could solve an everyday problem. Ten finalists will be chosen for their passion for science, spirit of innovation and ingenuity, and effective communication skills.
ELA and the Arts Student Contests
The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival is an annual video contest. Young filmmakers create movies that tell the entire story of a Newbery award–winning book in about 90 seconds. Winning entries are screened at events nationwide including in New York, Chicago, and Boston.
If you’re looking to help students take a deep dive into international relations, history, and writing, look no further than this essay contest. Winners receive full tuition to the Semester at Sea program as well as a trip to Washington, DC, to meet with a leader at the Department of State.
When students submit to AAHSFF, they have the opportunity to become an Official Selection, meaning that their film will screen at the AMC Empire 25 Theaters in Times Square, the busiest movie theater in America, and the chance to receive national recognition as a category finalist or winner! Each October, thousands of student filmmakers gather in New York City for an action-packed weekend of resources and entertainment, including the Teen Indie Awards Show, where over $500,000 in prizes and scholarships are handed out.
The ArtEffect Project teaches middle and high school students about their power to effect positive change through creative storytelling that celebrates unsung heroes from history. Students submit high-quality creative art projects in the visual arts, narrative film, theater, and creative nonfiction genres. Winners can receive thousands of dollars in prizes.
This contest is open to K–12 students attending public schools, homeschool, and art studios. Kids and teachers can win prizes, classroom supplies, and more!
Each spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide high school visual art competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent in the nation and in each congressional district. Students submit entries to their representative’s office, and panels of district artists select the winning entries. Winners are recognized both in their district and at an annual awards ceremony in Washington, DC. The winning works are displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol.
Did you know that each year, one student in grades K–5 has a chance to see their own doodle featured on the Google search page? This annual contest gives kids the opportunity to reach millions of viewers with their design.
High school students can win up to $1,000 in scholarship money by writing an essay on a new Austen theme each year, sponsored by the Jane Austen Society of North America.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) holds multiple music competitions each year for composers and songwriters in several categories. Students of all ages are eligible to win cash prizes.
The contest is open to all K–12 students attending public, private, parochial, and homeschool who are residents of the United States, and grades K–12 of U.S. military members stationed overseas.
Is the country’s next spelling champion in your own classroom? Find out by holding your own spelling bee, then sending the winner on to compete in regional competitions leading to the ultimate national competition.
The challenge is simple: First, students write their own composition for small ensemble (two to six instruments) or full orchestra. Then, a panel of judges chooses the top three orchestral and top three ensemble compositions to be performed and recorded by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra at the NYCC Composium held in Orlando, Florida.
New Moon Girls publishes contributions from girls ages 8–14. The magazine publishes four times each year, and submissions are more likely to be published if they fit an upcoming editorial theme.
Each month, the New York Times announces a new writing contest for middle and high school students ages 13–19. The topics and requirements are different each month, with something to appeal to all sorts of young authors and journalists.
Students ages 11–18 can learn about environmental issues through art-making and creative communication, explore their relationship to a changing world, and become advocates for positive change. Submit a piece recognizing climate change heroes, using visual arts, poetry and creative writing, film, performing arts, or multimedia. Prizes include cash awards and eligibility for special opportunities.
Looking for student writing contests for budding playwrights? In this competition, judged by the theater faculty of Princeton University, students submit short plays in an effort to win recognition and cash prizes of up to $500. (Note: Only open to 11th graders.)
Teachers and schools can nominate eighth grade students to compete in this contest. Nominees submit a piece of writing based on the year’s prompt. Winners receive certificates in various levels of distinction.
Kids 13 and under can enter any nature-themed photo they’ve taken on their own, using a camera or phone camera app. Every month, winners will be selected by the judges and posted on the contest homepage in the Recent Contest Winners slideshow. Online winners will be in the running for Ranger Rick’s “Your Best Shots” Magazine Award. Magazine Award winners will be selected three times each year for publication in Ranger Rick magazine’s December–January, April, and August issues.
The nation’s longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens (ages 13+, grades 7–12) awards scholarships and gives kids a chance to showcase their skills for some of the foremost leaders in the arts.
Scope magazine (published by Scholastic) features a wide variety of contests to excite students about writing. Plus they can win awesome prizes!
Stossel in the Classroom wants to know what students think about entrepreneurship and innovation. With $20,000 in cash prizes up for grabs, kids can enter the essay contest or the video contest. There are bonus prizes for teachers too!
Students ages 6–18 can submit fiction, nonfiction, and poetry to The Telling Room. Each year, the Founder’s Prize is awarded to the best piece of writing to come out of a Telling Room program.
The Toyota Dream Car USA Art Contest inspires creativity in youths ages 4–15, and helps them imagine the future of mobility. Kids can win hundreds of dollars in prize money.
Authors 19 and under can submit a one-act play to the New Voices competition. They’re particularly interested in plays that speak to BIPOC teens and youth, plays that deal with the concerns and interests of the Latinx, Black, and Indigenous communities, and bilingual plays (particularly English/Spanish) written by BIPOC playwrights.
More Student Contests
This national contest invites all middle and high school students to create a five-to-seven-minute documentary based on an annual theme.
DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality, and management. DECA’s competitive events can be grouped into three broad categories: role-plays and case studies, prepared events, and online simulations. Events take place around the country and throughout the year.
The Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes Discovery Award provides students in grades 4–12 a unique opportunity to research primary sources and develop outstanding projects that feature unsung heroes who can serve as role models and inspire others to create change.
As student teams compete to answer questions aligned to national standards, they must also cooperate and use teamwork to tackle each quarter’s new challenge. Each school can field a team of 15–40, giving lots of kids a chance to participate.
Quiz Bowl is a fast-paced buzzer competition in which teams of four players compete to answer questions that cover academic subjects like literature and science as well as the broader world of popular culture and current events. Local middle school and high school tournaments send their winners on to regional and national championships.
The National History Bowl is a buzzer-based history quiz competition for teams of up to six students age 19 or younger. Local competitions send their winners on to compete in the national championships.
National History Day (NHD) is an annual event for teachers and students in grades 6–12 that promotes critical thinking skills through project-based learning. Students begin their journey by presenting their projects in classrooms, schools, and districts around the world. Top entries are invited to the state/affiliate-level contests. The top two entries in every category at the state/affiliate level are then invited to the National Contest.
Students of all ages create and submit original works of art in the areas of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. Local winners move on to the regional, state, and national levels. National-level awards include an $800 prize and a trip to the National PTA Convention.
This project is designed for educators to engage their students in bullying prevention. Students watch a video followed by a handout review. Then they respond to the content in their own creative way through art, writing, graphics, or videos for the chance to win prizes for their school.
The United States Academic Decathlon is a 10-event scholastic competition for teams of high school students. Each high school enters a team of nine students: three honor students (3.80–4.00 GPA), three scholastic students (3.20–3.799 GPA), and three varsity students (0.00–3.199 GPA). They’ll need a wide variety of academic knowledge and skills to come out on top!
Middle and high school students create a short video—up to 60 seconds long—about human population growth that highlights one of the following global challenges: climate change, gender equality, or waste. Kids can win up to $1,200!