How Contests Can Help You Get Into Your Dream College


Contests can not only provide a sense of achievement and boost self esteem, but can also promote individual growth and appeal to top universities.

Gone are the days when a 4.5 GPA and a course transcription boasting 7 AP courses were enough to get you into an Ivy League school. Today, top colleges are looking for something different–something unique to set apart the accepted and the waitlisted. They don’t want someone who only excels academically but who will stand out compared to students from other schools. This is partly why many schools prioritize extracurriculars and student accomplishments over academic proficiency. Contests are an excellent way to give you an edge and boost your game in college admissions, and what’s great about them is that there are contests for nearly every interest. Science, history, mathematics, business, the arts, oratory, you name it–there is something for everyone. 

Until graduation, most high school students are told what to do and have most academic decisions made by parents, teachers, or counselors. When they get to college, they are left alone to make their decisions, which many students need to gain experience with. This leads to a passive attitude toward college coursework and charting career paths, and thus not being able to achieve their full potential. However, actively participating and winning contests related to your field(s) of interest signals to admissions officers that you’re serious about your education and can move on your own. These contests show colleges that you are independent and proactive in widening your academic and social scope; in other words, you are a self-starter. 

Participating in contests shows drive; engaging in these contests signifies that you care about learning outside the classroom and have genuine zeal to grow as a student. By participating in competitions that appeal to your interests, you are showing admissions officers that you will bring passion to the university. This passion will help to distinguish you from the other 100 students with an almost perfect GPA.

Problem-solving, leadership, and social skills are all vital aspects of any real-world job. Some competitions are specifically geared towards bringing out these skills, such as speech and debate tournaments, sociology contests, collaborative STEM olympiads, and more. Not only do these contests showcase dedication, but they can also exhibit problem-solving and leadership skills. When colleges see these types of contests on your applications, it shows that you possess these skills and can consistently use them to succeed. You’re setting yourself up for college and career success by constantly honing and practicing these skills.

Of course, besides individual student growth and enrichment, many of these contests also offer financial rewards that can help with college expenses. There are cases where a student’s financial situation often limits them from being able to attend their dream college, as finances play a significant role in whether a college is within reach or not. Prize money and scholarships can quickly help to cover tuition and application costs, and usually, the more significant the contest, the bigger the rewards. Larger contests also have the added benefit of recognition; winning a national or even international contest is bound to generate media buzz. This is also a major plus when applying to colleges. 

Some excellent contest domains to check out are the Institute of Competition Sciences and the Art of Problem Solving and many other smaller websites that offer more local contests. Ultimately, academic competitions play a vital role in the college admissions process and can be your make or break into your dream school. But most importantly, you enrich yourself as a learner with these contests; after all, the ultimate goal is to ensure that you do these competitions for yourself.