Six Ways Competitions Can Help You Get Into College

Posted August 12, 2017 by Nicholas Wilkins

If you’re in high school today, your parents can probably remember when good grades were enough to get you into college. Sadly, those days are long gone. When admissions officers review your college applications in 2017, they’re looking for an edge. With many top schools now accepting less than 10% of applicants, a good GPA just won’t cut it anymore. Colleges don’t just want a student who will do well in class—they want someone who will stand out when compared to peers at rival schools.

That’s why we’re seeing a larger importance placed on extracurricular activities and individual accomplishments over GPAs and test scores. Many colleges these days are even adding a “student portfolio” to the application package, requiring students to share information on extra-curricular activities and programs that they have taken part in.

One great way to give yourself an edge in the admissions process and to have a great portfolio is to participate in academic competitions. There are competitions for every interest. Not only can you gain great skills that will benefit you once you’re at college, your participation could be the difference between acceptance and the waitlist.


  1. You can meet representatives and alumni from colleges

As much as we’d like to believe that college admissions are based solely on merit, the people you know can have an impact on your success. Developing relationships with people who either attended or currently work at a college you’re interested in can be a step up in the admissions process. Whether they put in a good word for you or give you inside tips, knowing them will be invaluable. And luckily, both of these groups frequent academic competitions as mentors, judges, volunteers, and sponsors.

  1. They allow you to demonstrate agency

 Agency is a scientific term for the ability to make your own decisions and be a self-starter. Most students go through high school simply doing what they’re told; however, when you get to college, you’re left to make a lot of decisions on your own. Colleges want students who they know can act independent, and participating in academic competitions shows that you’re a self-starter. It sends a sign to admissions offers that you’re serious about your education. This is a skill important not just for colleges but for your future careers as well. Every company wants employees who will be able to move forward with little day-to-day oversight. 

  1. Competitions display problem-solving and leadership skills

 It’s easy to list problem-solving and leadership as skills on your resume. It’s a lot harder to prove that you actually possess those skills. When colleges see that you participate in academic competitions, they know first-hand that you not only possess those skills, but have consistently used them to succeed. Some competitions are specifically geared to highlighting and developing these skills, so pay attention to finding at least one of these to help you bring them forward in your applications.

  1. Awards can include scholarships and prize money

At the end of the day, finances can play a major impact on whether a specific college is within reach or not. Participating in academic competitions can be rather lucrative if you perform well, with rewards that could easily help you cover tuition and application costs.

  1. They indicate an academic drive & love for learning

Top college admissions officers receive many many more applications than they have spots to give out. That means that you have to be more than a good student —you have to be driven. Joining an academic competition shows that you care about learning outside of the classroom, and have a genuine desire to grow as a student. It shows that you are demonstrating an interest in specific topics and that you will bring that passion to the university. Admissions officers need something to demonstrate you are different than the other 90% of applicants with a great GPA. Your demonstrated passion for particular academic topics will do this.

  1. They demonstrate an ability to establish media buzz

Last, but certainly not least, colleges love a good story. If you’re already succeeding in academic competitions in high school, they know they can use your skills and experience to generate media buzz in the future. There’s nothing better for an academic institution than a feel good story. If you can help bring that media buzz to a college, you’ll be a shoe-in for admissions.


Academic competitions continue to grow in prevalence and importance in college admissions, and the educational system as a whole. Although nothing can guarantee admissions to your school of choice, finding the right academic competitions to get engaged in will certainly give you a leg up on the other millions of applicants clambering for the few spots at your ideal school. Don't miss out just because you didn't find the right academic competition for your passions. With over 450 competitions available to high school students, we're sure you can find at least one to help you get into college and have a little fun while doing it!