Applying to college is an exhilarating yet nerve-wracking experience. And rightly so, its a decision that will affect the rest of your life. What career path do you want to follow? Where will you study? Will you succeed there? And of course, the question on many sets of student and parent lips - how will you pay for it?

For those who are scientifically inclined (or perhaps just sci-curious), there are many distinguished STEM competitions that may help lighten the load when making these decisions. Not only do academic competitions help students explore exciting career paths and learn what skills and attributes they will require, but competitions can also help determine what universities may be appropriate for those interests. And more than anything perhaps, these competitions might help you pay for the ever increasing cost of a good education!

Many academic competitions offer outstanding scholarships and prizes and have many high-level sponsors and affiliations. Let’s take a look at some of the best. This list may be considered the four top science fair style competitions for high school students. Collectively these 4 competitions provide high school students with over $6,000,000 in scholarships and awards each year!


  1. The Regeneron Science Talent Search.

The Regeneron Science Talent Search (Regeneron STS) is perhaps the United States’ most prestigious pre-college science competition with an extremely rich heritage of excellence. Each year, Regeneron STS scholars and finalists compete for $1.6 million in awards. This year, for example, the top three places received $250,000; $175,000 and $150,000 respectively to put towards their studies.

On top of this, Regeneron STS boasts a long list of incredible alumni who have achieved outstanding things in the world of STEM: 12 Nobel Prize winners, 2 Fields Medal recipients, 13 National Medal of Science recipients, 2 Enrico Fermi Award winners, 20 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 3 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award winners, 3 Breakthrough Prize winners, 11 National Academy of Engineering inductees, 42 National Academy of Sciences inductees, and 56 Sloan Research Fellows.

For example, Paul Modrich’s success at the Regeneron STS of 1964 laid an excellent foundation for his illustrious career. Paul completed his Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1973 and his B.S at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2015 for his work on the mechanistic processes of DNA repair.

Suffice to say, a Regeneron STS reference is going to look great on your college application. Just participating shows a great effort and can have an impact.


  1. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

The Intel ISEF is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. Each year, approximately 1,800 high school students from more than 75 countries, regions, and territories compete for on average $4 million in prizes. For example, the Gordon E. Moore Award, the top prize, offers $75,000 to the winning student to put towards their studies. In addition to the $75,000 major prize, there are many other cash prizes and scholarships on offer. The ‘Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards’ offer $50,000 awards to two ‘Best in Category’ projects.

Some prizes may also give you a bit of direction as to which University you may wish to attend. Arizona State University, for example, offers a comprehensive scholarship program as part their prize package. Drexel University, Philadelphia, will award eight full scholarships to outstanding students valued at $194,000. Florida Institute of Technology offers three presidential scholarships to INTEL ISEF participants that equal full tuition each year for four years upon full-time enrollment at the university. University of the Sciences in Philadelphia awards five $15,000 scholarships to students whose research and academic interests align with the University of the Sciences mission. And finally, the University of Toronto, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering - one of the best in the world according to every major international ranking – is a major sponsor of the event. Scouting perhaps?

If you have a local or regional science fair at your school, its probably an affiliate of the Intel ISEF. So its really easy to get involved in this program, and work to rise up the ranks  to where you could earn some real money towards your collegiate future!


  1. The Google Science Fair.

This exceptional competition is perhaps the newest of the big science fair style programs. It brings the brightest students with some of the most innovative ideas for tackling the world’s most complex problems. Unlike the others, the Google Science Fair is primarily an online science competition, open to students between the ages of 13 and 18 from around the world.

Ever wanted to work for Google? Scientific American? National Geographic? LEGO Education? Virgin Galactic? These are the major sponsors for the Google Science Fair. They offer prizes of $50,000; $15,000; $15,000; and $15,000 respectively; to put towards your education. Not only that, many of these prize packages include all expenses paid tours of the organizations’ headquarters or other places of interest. Awesome!

The Grand Prize winner of 2016, Kiara Nirghin (16) from Johannesburg, South Africa will no doubt be putting her $50,000 to good use. South Africa, like other surrounding nations, is suffering from the worst drought the region has seen in over 20 years. Kiara discovered a material in the humble orange peel with an exceptional water holding capacity. The material is cheap, biodegradable, chemical free and most importantly, will alleviate the symptoms of severe drought. Minds like that need to be snapped up and nurtured by the best Universities. 

Because this competition is primarily online, it makes it easy to get involved early. 


  1. The Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

The Siemens Competition is another noteworthy competition for high school students and those transitioning into college (grades 9-12), and is perhaps the longest running science research competition. It focuses on research in the fields of Math, Science and Technology. According to Siemens, “it fosters intensive research that improves students' understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines.” If you want to narrow down your career path or explore a particular field of study, this is the competition for you; not to mention, the desirable prizes offered to winning participants.

The national awards prize structure is as follows: $100,000 for first place, $50,000 for second place and $25,000 for the other four finalists. Scholarship award money is sent directly to the accredited college or university the winning students select and may be used for tuition and fees required for enrollment, books, supplies, equipment and on-campus room and board costs.

The Siemens Competition has a superlative list of University partners such as the Carnegie Mellon University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of Texas at Austin; the California Institute of Technology; and the University of Notre Dame. Getting yourself into the Siemens Competition national finals would certainly be a segue into any of those magnificent institutions.


Clearly, these four, and many other competitions are excellent spring boards into a happy and productive college life. They will provide clear direction and vision for further study, and most importantly, lighten the load as you make this all-important decision. If you even have an inkling of an interest in science, technology, engineering, or math careers make sure you check out these competitions, and don’t forget to signup on ICS for your free account to stay up on all the action and help track and manage your competition participation.