We all know that the season of college applications can be incredibly stressful. From deciding where to apply, to finding good recommendation letters, to writing essays, to worrying whether or not you'll actually get in, there are plenty of things keeping students and parents up late at night. Then, on top of everything, you have to wonder, how in the world are you going to pay for it all? 

According to the College Board, the average cost of annual tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year was $33,480 at private colleges, $9,650 for state residents at public colleges, and $24,930 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Financial aid from the schools is becoming harder and harder to come by. However, academic competitions are stepping up to fill the void. In this previous post, we looked at the big science competitions and how they're helping thousands of students each year not only get accepted to, but also pay for college.

With this in mind, we wanted to research how mathematics competitions stack up. So we dug into it and identified 36 nationwide (United States) mathematics-focused competitions for high school students. We evaluated how they do in supporting our next generation of STEM leaders. For this analysis, we focused on "pure" math competitions, leaving out science fairs and other STEM research competitions that certainly include math, but have other specific topics as their main focus.

What did we find? First off, there is a new shining star among mathematics competitions. Only 14% of mathematical competitions for high school students directly offer significant college scholarships or cash awards (we defined the cutoff for this at being an award of >$1000 for the top team). The new leader among these is in its first year this fall - the Modeling the Future Challenge.

86% of the national mathematical competitions we researched included little or no direct prize money or scholarship awards for their winners. This does not mean they included no awards at all. Some have great travel opportunities for their top teams to go to international conferences or events. Many are tied into the Mathematical Association of America's network of contests leading toward the International Mathematics Olympiad. Some foundations then use student scores on these exams to provide scholarships. And for the few students that get the chance to go all the way to the international conference, this is indeed a great experience. So there certainly are benefits to these competitions.



The MTF Challenge leads the pack among math competitions providing $60,000 in guaranteed awards, and a $25,000 first place college scholarship. Not only that, but the Finalist Teams each receive an all-expense-paid trip to New York City where they participate in the Modeling the Future Symposium and meet with professional actuaries to learn how math can be applied to their future careers. 

The Modeling the Future Challenge takes students beyond the exam into real-world applied mathematics. It connects what you teach them in the classroom with actual data analysis and helps students see the true value in applying their mathematical knowledge to cutting edge technologies and careers. "The Modeling the Future Challenge echoes what actuaries do for their careers. It provides students with the opportunity to connect with what mathematics is all about," said Jason Leppin, Executive Director of The Actuarial Foundation, the non-profit behind the competition. “We want to provide life-changing scholarships for students, and demonstrate that math really can lead to amazing careers like being an actuary, which is consistently ranked among one of the top rated careers.

To win the challenge, students analyze one of the hottest technologies around - autonomous vehicles - and use mathematical modeling to determine how they expect the adoption of autonomous vehicles to change the future. Will it revolutionize how we commute to work? Will it change the way we ship our packages and goods? Will it create new opportunities in how we design our cities? Students will use math to make their own decisions on the changes they expect, based on their own analysis of real data! They’ll write this up in a brief report and have a shot at The Actuarial Foundation’s industry leading big dollar scholarships.

So, this year, rather than just putting your students through another exam, make sure they don't miss out on the chance for a trip to New York City, the $60,000 award purse, and the big scholarships available through the Modeling the Future Challenge. Their college applications and future selves will definitely thank you for it. You can register your team of students up until October 28th. Then the 1-month challenge period begins, when students can analyze the data and submit their final projects which are due November 25th!

To learn more about the challenge topic, data sources, and submission requirements check out: www.mtfchallenge.org.