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National Awards for High School Students

Earning national awards while in high school students will separate you from the rest of the pack and dramatically increase your odds of getting into schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

Whether it’s securing that coveted spot at a prestigious college or landing an exclusive internship, these awards often speak louder than grades alone.

Colleges and employers recognize the dedication, discipline, and consistency it takes to earn these distinctions. So, as you curate your academic and extracurricular portfolio, consider the weight these accolades carry. In the ever-competitive world of college admissions and early-career opportunities, a standout resume built on a foundation of recognized achievements can be your golden ticket.

1. Division 1 NCAA Athlete

Becoming a Division 1 NCAA Athlete is often considered the pinnacle of collegiate athletic achievement in the United States. Division 1, or D1, is the highest level of intercollegiate athletics sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Schools in this division often have larger budgets, more advanced facilities, and more athletic scholarships available than those in the other NCAA divisions.

Aspiring D1 athletes face a challenging journey marked by rigorous requirements. To be considered for D1 selection, students must maintain a balance of stellar academic records and unparalleled athletic performance. Moreover, they must comply with the NCAA’s Eligibility Center regulations, which encompass academic achievements like a minimum GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and a certain number of core courses completed during high school. Beyond academics, the selection process evaluates an athlete’s skill level, often requiring them to stand out at regional or national tournaments, or to have demonstrated exceptional talent in their high school teams.

2. International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO)

Tracing its origins to 1959 in Romania, the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) has burgeoned into the world’s premier mathematical competition for high school students, drawing the brightest young minds from over 100 countries to grapple with intricate mathematical problems that challenge creativity, insight, and rigorous analytical thinking.

The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is a prestigious annual mathematics competition for high school students. It tests participants’ problem-solving skills and understanding of a broad range of mathematical fields, including algebra, geometry, number theory, and combinatorics. Unlike standard school mathematics, the problems at the IMO are extremely challenging, often requiring creative solutions and deep mathematical insight. The competition consists of two exams spread over two days, with each exam containing three complex problems. Participants have four and a half hours to work on each set of problems. The IMO aims to stimulate the mathematical creativity of students and encourage international friendships among mathematicians of the future. Getting this award on your resume sits at the top of our national awards for high school students.

Spanning a spectrum from combinatorics to number theory, the problems posed at the IMO often transcend standard high school curricula, demanding an exceptional blend of deep understanding and innovative problem-solving. Securing a medal at this prestigious competition is one of the most sought-after national awards for high school students and an affirmation of mathematical prowess on a global stage. Medalists often find doors flung open in academia and beyond.

3. The International Physics Olympiad (IPHO)

The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) is an annual competition for high school students that aims to test their knowledge and skills in physics. The IPhO challenges participants in both theoretical and experimental physics. The theoretical component typically covers a broad range of topics, including mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, optics, modern physics, and quantum mechanics. Problems in this part require deep understanding, analytical skills, and the application of physics principles to solve complex situations.

The experimental component tests students’ ability to design, conduct, and interpret physics experiments. This part requires a hands-on approach, understanding of experimental setups, data analysis, and error assessment. The problems are designed to evaluate students’ practical abilities in the laboratory as well as their ability to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world situations.

Overall, the IPhO seeks to promote excellence in physics among high school students globally, encouraging the development of problem-solving abilities, experimental skills, and theoretical knowledge.

4. International Chemistry Olympiad (ICHO)

The International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual global competition that engages high school students in a rigorous examination of their chemistry knowledge and skills.  The competition encompasses a wide array of chemistry disciplines, divided into theoretical and practical segments. In the theoretical part, students tackle complex problems in organic, inorganic, physical, and analytical chemistry, requiring an in-depth understanding of chemical bonding, reaction mechanisms, thermodynamics, kinetics, and molecular structures.

Whether gold, silver, or bronze, a medal at the ICHO, one of the esteemed national awards for high school students, broadcasts a clear message about the student: they possess an extraordinary grasp of chemistry and have the tenacity, diligence, and analytical prowess to stand out at the international level. For aspiring chemists, earning a medal at the ICHO can be a significant milestone, opening doors to premier educational institutions, securing scholarships, and offering a competitive edge in both academic and professional careers.

5. International Biology Olympiad (IBO)

The International Biology Olympiad (IBO) is a global competition that tests high school students’ knowledge and skills in biology. The IBO covers a wide range of biological topics, typically including cell biology, plant anatomy and physiology, animal anatomy and physiology, genetics, evolution, ecology, ethology (animal behavior), and biosystematics. The competition consists of both theoretical and practical examinations.

In the theoretical part, students are assessed on their understanding of biological concepts, principles, and data analysis through complex problem-solving and critical thinking questions. The practical exams, on the other hand, evaluate the students’ laboratory skills and their ability to conduct experiments, make observations, and interpret results in fields like microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, and physiology.

The aim of the IBO is to inspire young people to pursue careers in biology and to promote scientific excellence among high school students worldwide. It provides an opportunity for the best young biologists from different countries to challenge themselves, exchange ideas, and build international friendships.

6. Intel Science Talent Search Top 10 (Intel STS)

The Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) has, for decades, been one of the most prestigious pre-collegiate science competitions in the United States, offering high school seniors a platform to showcase their groundbreaking research projects and their prowess in tackling complex scientific problems.

Landing a Top 10 spot in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, previously known as the Intel STS, is a major win for any high school senior in the US. This competition is a big deal—it spots and celebrates the most promising young scientists who show incredible innovation, research skills, and academic prowess.

7. Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) Awards

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is highly prestigious for high school STEM students. Organized annually, it’s a competition for some of the brightest young minds showcasing innovations that often foreshadow the future of science and technology. Winning these prestigious accolades translates to significant monetary rewards and, perhaps more importantly, global recognition that opens doors to premier academic institutions such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford.

Beyond the grand winners, the Best in Category/Finalist is an honor for those whose projects stand out in specific disciplines. In addition, there’s the 1st – 3rd place Category Award, which underlines excellence within each scientific division. Claiming a spot in these top tiers means a project has met and exceeded rigorous standards, and has been identified as a beacon of innovative thought and practice in its field.

A Top 10 finish in the Regeneron STS signifies that a student is among the elite young scientists in the country. Historically, finalists and top winners of the STS have gone on to receive prestigious honors, including Nobel Prizes, Fields Medals, and National Medals of Science. Thus, a Top 10 placement not only offers immediate recognition and substantial scholarship awards but also indicates a bright future in scientific research and beyond. This level of achievement is highly regarded by universities, especially top-tier institutions, and can significantly enhance college and scholarship applications.

8. Math Olympiad Summer Program (MOP)

The Mathematical Olympiad Program (MOP) is highly prestigious and well-regarded within the mathematics community, especially among high school students who are deeply interested in mathematics.  The MOP serves as a training program for the United States team for the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) – the world’s most prestigious high school mathematics competition.

Selection for MOP is based on students’ performances on the USA Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO) or the USA Junior Mathematical Olympiad (USAJMO), making it exclusive to the top high school mathematicians in the country. Being chosen to participate in MOP is in itself a significant honor, as it indicates that the student is among the best young mathematicians in the United States.

9. Research Science Institute (RSI)

Held annually at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Research Science Institute (RSI) is an intensive, six-week summer program that offers a select cohort of roughly 50-70 prodigiously talented students the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in cutting-edge scientific research.

Students collaborate with eminent scientists, engage in rigorous coursework, and undertake original research projects, culminating in a grand symposium where they present their findings. But the value of RSI goes beyond the walls of MIT or the bounds of summer. For a high school student, being an RSI alumnus is akin to bearing a gold-standard seal on their academic profile. Colleges and universities, especially the Ivy League and other top-tier institutions, recognize RSI as a testament to a student’s exceptional aptitude, unparalleled commitment, and potential for future innovation in the STEM fields.

10. National Speech and Debate

The National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) is the largest interscholastic speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school, and collegiate students in the United States.

The NSDA promotes communication skills among young people through a variety of speech and debate activities, fostering an environment of respect, integrity, and leadership. It organizes national tournaments that serve as the culmination of rigorous local and regional competitions, where students participate in events across several formats including policy debate, public forum debate, Lincoln-Douglas debate, congressional debate, and various individual speech events like dramatic interpretation, humorous interpretation, original oratory, and informative speaking.

The NSDA aims to empower students by enhancing their public speaking, critical thinking, and argumentation skills, contributing to their personal growth and success in various future endeavors. Membership in the NSDA signifies commitment to excellence in communication and provides students, coaches, and schools access to resources, recognition, and a supportive community of peers and educators dedicated to the art of speech and debate.

11. US Physics Olympiad (USPhO)

The USA Physics Olympiad (USAPhO) is an annual competition that challenges high school students with a comprehensive examination of their physics knowledge and skills. The content of the USAPhO spans various domains of physics, reflecting both classical and modern topics. Participants are tested on their understanding of mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, waves and optics, and modern physics, including quantum mechanics and relativity. The exam aims to assess not only the students’ theoretical understanding and problem-solving abilities but also their ability to apply principles to different physical scenarios. The USAPhO serves as a means to inspire young individuals to excel in physics and to identify talented students who could represent the United States in the International Physics Olympiad (IPhO).

Progressing from the F=ma exam to the USA Physics Olympiad (USAPhO) involves a series of steps. Initially, students must participate in the F=ma examination, a multiple-choice test focused on mechanics, which serves as the preliminary round for identifying potential candidates for the USAPhO. Performing well on this exam is crucial, as only the top scorers are invited to the next level. After achieving a high score on the F=ma, students are then invited to participate in the USAPhO, which is a more comprehensive and challenging examination, covering a broader range of physics topics beyond mechanics. Success in the F=ma is therefore the essential first step for high school students aspiring to advance in this rigorous series of physics competitions and potentially represent their country at the International Physics Olympiad. Preparation, study, and a strong understanding of basic and advanced physics principles are key to transitioning from the F=ma exam to the USAPhO.

12. US Chemistry Olympiad (USChO)

The US Chemistry Olympiad (USChO) is an extensive competition aimed at recognizing high school students’ achievements in chemistry across the United States. The competition encompasses a broad spectrum of topics within the field, designed to challenge participants and deepen their understanding. Topics covered include general chemistry concepts such as atomic structure, chemical bonding, stoichiometry, and states of matter, along with solutions chemistry. The Olympiad also delves into organic chemistry, covering functional groups, basic reactions, and synthesis techniques. Inorganic chemistry is represented through the study of non-organic compounds, periodic table trends, and reaction mechanisms.

Additionally, the USChO explores the principles of physical chemistry, including thermodynamics, kinetics, and chemical equilibrium, as well as analytical chemistry, which focuses on methods for chemical analysis and identification, like spectroscopy and chromatography. Biochemistry and environmental chemistry are also significant components, where students learn about biological molecules and processes, as well as the chemical dynamics of environmental systems and the impact of human activities. The competition structure progresses from local to national levels, with increasing difficulty and a more in-depth examination of chemistry knowledge at each stage. Top-performing students at the national level have the prestigious opportunity to represent the United States at the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO), further encouraging excellence and fostering a global community among young chemists.

13. US Biology Olympiad (USABO)

The USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) is a prestigious national competition organized by the Center for Excellence in Education. It covers a wide range of topics in biology, including cellular and molecular biology, plant anatomy and physiology, animal anatomy and physiology, genetics and evolution, ecology, ethology, and biosystematics. 

The competition is designed to challenge and stimulate students to expand their knowledge of biology beyond the classroom and encourage them to pursue careers in the biological sciences. Participants are tested through a series of exams and practical lab work, culminating in the selection of the top four students who represent the United States at the International Biology Olympiad.

14. US Computing Olympiad (USACO)

The USA Computing Olympiad (USACO) is a computer programming competition primarily for secondary school students in the United States. It tests participants’ abilities in algorithmic problem-solving and computer programming. The USACO offers multiple levels of difficulty (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum), catering to varying skill levels from beginners to advanced programmers.

Competitors are required to solve a set of computational problems within a certain time frame, typically 4 to 5 hours, using programming languages such as C++, Java, and Python. The problems cover a range of topics including data structures, graph theory, string manipulation, combinatorics, and dynamic programming. The aim of the USACO is not only to identify talented programmers but also to help students improve their programming skills through practice and competition. Success in the USACO can lead to increased opportunities in academia and the tech industry.

15. Scholastic Art & Writing Silver or Gold Medal

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, an initiative by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, have recognized and celebrated the nation’s youth’s vision, ingenuity, and talent for nearly a century. A Silver Key is an accolade of commendation, singling out works that demonstrate exceptional ability and promise. It is a mark of recognition that tells the world of a young artist or writer’s emerging talent.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards provide several levels of recognition and opportunities for young artists and writers. At the regional level, students can earn Gold Keys, Silver Keys, or Honorable Mentions, with Gold Key works advancing to the national competition. Additionally, the American Visions & Voices Medals recognize the best-of-show pieces from each region.

At the national level, top achievers can earn National Gold or Silver Medals. There are also Special Awards, such as scholarships and recognitions focused on specific themes or mediums, like the New York Life Award or the Herblock Award for Editorial Cartoon. For high school seniors, Portfolio Awards, including Gold Medal Portfolios, offer significant scholarship opportunities. These accolades aim to provide recognition, as well as exhibition, publication, and scholarship opportunities to young creatives, offering them national exposure and support in their artistic endeavors.

16. Columbia Scholastic Press Medalist

The Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) is a venerable institution with a rich legacy that dates back to 1925, serving as an international student press association uniting student journalists and faculty advisers at schools and colleges.

One of its most sought-after honors is the Columbia Scholastic Press Medalist Award, which is bestowed upon school publications that epitomize the highest standards of journalistic excellence. At its core, journalism is the pursuit of truth, providing citizens with the information they need to make the most informed decisions about their lives, communities, societies, and governments.

In an era characterized by information overload, the rise of fake news, and shifting mediums of information consumption, it has become increasingly important to nurture and recognize journalistic excellence. By honoring student publications with the Medalist award, CSPA acknowledges their hard work and dedication and reinforces the foundational principles of journalism.

The recipients, in turn, serve as shining examples for their peers, raising the bar for journalistic standards and emphasizing the significance of accurate, objective, and ethical reporting. Through this, CSPA plays a vital role in shaping the future torchbearers of journalism, ensuring that the flame of truth-telling and integrity in reporting continues to burn bright.

What are some other National Awards for High School Students?

National awards for high school students span various disciplines and interests. Here are some subtopics representing different categories of these awards:

  1. Academic Excellence: These awards recognize outstanding achievements in areas like mathematics, science, literature, and social studies. Examples include the Regeneron Science Talent Search and the National Merit Scholarship Program.

  2. Artistic Talent: This category includes awards for excellence in visual arts, music, theater, and dance, such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the YoungArts competition.

  3. Community Service: Awards like the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards and the Presidential Volunteer Service Award honor students who have made significant contributions to their communities through volunteer service.

  4. Leadership: These awards recognize students who demonstrate exceptional leadership skills in their schools or communities, such as the Coca-Cola Scholars Program and the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Award (HOBY).

  5. Athletic Achievements: Awards like the Gatorade Player of the Year honor high school athletes who excel in their sports while also demonstrating strong academic and personal character.

  6. Technological Innovation: Competitions like the FIRST Robotics Competition and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair reward students who excel in engineering, computer science, and other technology-related fields.

  7. Journalism and Writing: Awards like the Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists recognize excellence in writing and journalism among high school students.

  8. Entrepreneurship: Competitions such as the Diamond Challenge and DECA’s Competitive Events provide platforms for students interested in business and entrepreneurship to showcase their ideas and skills.

These subtopics cover a broad range of interests and skills, reflecting the diverse talents of high school students across the United States.

How important are National Awards for High School Students?

National awards can play a significant role for high school students, especially those aiming for admission to Ivy League universities. These awards are a mark of excellence and distinction, showcasing a student’s dedication, expertise, and stand-out performance in their particular field, whether it be academics, arts, athletics, or community service. For Ivy League admissions, where the applicant pool is exceptionally competitive, national awards can help an application stand out by highlighting a student’s exceptional achievements and talents.

However, while national awards are advantageous, they are just one component of the holistic review process employed by Ivy League schools. Admissions officers also consider academic performance, letters of recommendation, personal essays, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities. The impact of national awards can be maximized when they align with the student’s overall profile, demonstrating deep commitment and leadership in an area of interest.


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