Top Computer Science Competitions for Kids in the US

A look at the biggest computing competitions for students in America

Which are the top computer science competitions for students in the US? Read our blog to know more…

A trophy won in one of the top computer science competitions in the United States of America

Nov 05, 2019    By Team YoungWonks *

Given that we live in a technology-driven age, it is perhaps not surprising to see how some of the biggest companies in the world are tech companies. Computing - or computer programming, also known as coding - has made it possible for us to use websites and online services on computers, laptops and mobiles. It is coding that has helped us make and do innovative things online. Factoring in this growing scope of technology and how learning about it is turning out to be beneficial for entrepreneurs and professionals from other fields too, the number of people - including kids - learning computing is said to be steadily on the rise. Coding competitions for kids then are an open platform for these children to display their knowledge.


Below is a list of some of the biggest computer science competitions for kids in the US. Participating in these can serve as the ideal springboard for those hoping to make a name for themselves in the field of coding. These competitions have been mentioned in alphabetical order...


American Computer Science League (ACSL)

Some of the biggest competitions in the field are the ones hosted by the American Computer Science League (ACSL). It hosts computer science and programming contests for school students. This year marks the 42nd year of its continuous operation and will have more than 300 teams from the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia participating across various divisions. Participation is open to all pre-college schools around the world. Moreover, ACSL is on the approved activities list of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP); plus it is an institutional member of the Computer Science Teachers Association.

There are five divisions in ACSL: Elementary, Classroom, Junior, Intermediate, and Senior. The Elementary division has a non-programming competition for grades 3 to 6 and it tests one topic per contest. The Classroom division is a competition for all grades and consists of a 10 question test with non-programming problems from the other three divisions. Junior division is for middle school students (not open to students above the ninth grade), while Intermediate and Senior divisions are for high school students. At the All-Star Contest, the Junior teams consist of 5 members each while the Senior and Intermediate teams can consist of 3 or 5 members. Each team competes against other same-sized teams in its division. Invitations to the All-Star Contest depend on cumulative team scores in the Junior, Intermediate, and Senior divisions. The next All-Star Contest will be held on Saturday, May 23, 2020 (US Memorial Day weekend) at the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering in Windsor, Connecticut. For more information, visit: http://www.acsl.org/ 


Davidson Fellow Awards 

Davidson Fellow Awards offers scholarships of $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000 to outstanding American students below 18 years of age who have successfully completed a project of significance. Computer science is one of the categories (under STEM) that one can enroll under to get a scholarship. The aim of these awards is to recognise students working on projects that are meaningful in terms of the high impact they make towards a positive contribution to society. 

The 2020 deadline is February 12, 2020 and applications open this month (in November 2019). This means that students can submit the initial portion of the application as soon as possible. This initial portion will need you to share your project title and description, and your nominators’ names and email addresses. Once the initial portion of the application has been submitted, the project will be reviewed and subject to approval, students shall receive an email notification with the Nominating Form link. When the Nominating Form is completed, an email will be sent to the nominator and applicant confirming receipt by the Davidson Fellows program. 

This will be followed by the project submission and each project will be examined for completeness and accuracy. Qualified entries are then sorted by category and evaluated by an independent team of judges comprised of professionals with expertise in related domain areas. For more information, visit:  http://www.davidsongifted.org/Fellows-Scholarship


Google Code In 

Google Code In (GCI) is a global, online contest aimed at introducing teenagers to the world of open source development. With a wide array of small tasks, it’s beginner-friendly and students get started no matter what skills they have. The contest has a roster of participating open source organizations which provide a list of tasks for students to work on during the seven week contest period. Mentors from these organizations help participants learn what it’s like to work on an open source project. Students get to pick from 2,500+ tasks created by open source organizations and these tasks fall under categories such as coding, documentation, training, outreach, research, quality assurance and design. After a task has been selected, students have at least three days to complete it. The student works on the task under the guidance from mentors. Then the student submits his/ her work for review and mentors evaluate the work, give feedback, and once it’s complete, accept it. Then the student can move on to another task. Thus students get to work on real software and win prizes from t-shirts to a trip to Google headquarters in California. Since 2010, over 8100 students from 107 countries have completed work in the contest. The contest is open to pre-university students (students from 13 to 17 years of age). 

This year, organization applications for GCI began in October and the GCI contest is slated to begin on December 2, 2019; it will run for seven weeks, ending January 23, 2020. For more information, visit: https://codein.withgoogle.com/ 


Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 

The Intel ISEF is an international pre-college science competition that provides an annual forum for over 1,800 young scientists, engineers and mathematicians from across the world to compete for approximately $5 million in awards and scholarships. Students in grades 9-12 or equivalent have to compete in the Intel ISEF affiliated science fairs around the world and win the right to attend the Intel ISEF. Each affiliated fair may send a predetermined number of projects to the Intel ISEF. Competition begins at the high school level and culminates at the International Science and Engineering Fair, which is usually held in May, winners can get prizes of up to $75,000. For more information, visit https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/education/competitions/international-science-and-engineering-fair.html


International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI) 

An international platform that takes place in different places; the last International Olympiad took place in Azerbaijan in August this year (2019). It is an annual international informatics competition for high school students from several invited countries and is one of the five international science Olympiads, making it one of the most prestigious computer science competitions in the world. Aimed at encouraging and motivating computer science students to test their knowledge and skills, the competition is an open platform for students all over the world. Participation in the IOI is not directly open to individual students. Each participating country has to send a team of four students and selection is coordinated through a national competition. To win a medal at the IOI, one has to know how to program in one of the allowed programming languages, to be able to understand and implement algorithms, and to be a good problem solver. The most commonly used programming language by competitors is C++. For more information, visit http://ioinformatics.org/


MIT THINK Scholars Program

The THINK Scholars program is an MIT-led competition promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); it supports and funds projects developed by high school students. Organized by a group of undergraduates at MIT, THINK reaches out to students who have done extensive research on the background of a potential research project and are looking for additional guidance in the early stages of their project. Finalists receive all-expenses paid trip to MIT to attend xFair (MIT’s spring tech symposium) and winners receive up to $1,000 funding to build their projects. Usually the deadline for applications is January, after which students get to work under mentor guidance and have to finish the project by June. For more information, visit https://think.mit.edu/


National Robotics Challenge 

Based in Ohio, they allow participation by students from 6th grade and up with a low-cost fee. Unlike many robotics challenges, here there’s no particular kit that has to be bought. Add to this the fact that the entry fees are low and you know that your school can now spend more money on the materials and equipment needed to build robots. This challenge is essentially a contest that students can continue through college. This in turn lets students continue with robotics as they move on. Next year, the dates of the contest are April 2-4, 2020. For more information, visit http://www.thenrc.org/



Ideal for intelligent students who would want to take part in long term challenges, in this case, creating robots that play football. The goal of the contest is to promote robotics and AI research, by offering a publicly appealing, but formidable challenge. These challenges are spread across levels, such as Kidsize Humanoid League, Middle Size League, Rescue Robot League, Standard Platform League, Junior League, Small Size League and Humanoid League. RoboCup is a standard problem which means that it allows participants to test various theories, algorithms, and architectures. The upcoming editions of Robocup are the RoboCup Asia Pacific 2019 happening in Moscow (Russia) from November 6-11, 2019 and the German Open 2020 taking place in Magdeburg (Germany) from April 24-26, 2020. For more information, visit http://www.robocup.org 


RoboRAVE International 

An open platform robotics competition, RoboRAVE International is an international technology competition ideal for school students; it can feature any robot, using any software and any participant. Eligible teams comprise two to four players, one robot and one coach. Thus the participants can be from elementary, middle or high school students (as long as they are at least 8 years of age) and even Big Kids (which includes University students, teachers, engineers, hobbyists, etc). Those up to the challenge could compete in a higher division, but they can’t take part in multiple divisions of the same challenge. Challenges vary from building and programming robots that can do tasks such as the following: complete mazes, climb steep inclined planes, light and extinguish fire without contact, exhibit innovation, win at jousting/ sumo and carry out various tasks despite weighing less than an air vehicle.

RoboRave International 2020 is slated to take place in Japan, dates are yet to be announced. This year (2019) it was held in China, and its previous editions include RoboRAVE California, RoboRAVE New York, RoboRAVE North America and RoboRAVE Australia (among many others). Winners at RoboRAVE International get prize money, medals and certificates. For more information, visit https://www.roboraveinternational.org/



The contest hosted by Virginia-based TEAMS offers computer science students from middle and high school a chance to solve real-world engineering challenges in practical and creative ways. It is an annual competition that allows students to explore engineering in order to help make a difference in the world. Students collaborate in teams of 4 to 8 so as to meet these challenges which involve a theme-based competition. The competition has three parts to it, including designing/building, multiple choice and essay. Certificates and awards are handed out to division, state and national winners. The competition window for next year is from February 5 to March 8, 2020 and the theme is: Engineering in the Wild. For more information, visit http://teams.tsaweb.org/ 


YoungWonks Hack Day Coding Challenge 

YoungWonks Hack Day 2020 promises participants not only a great hackathon experience but also a chance to take part in The YoungWonks Hack Day coding challenge. Slated to take place on May 25, 2020 (Memorial Day weekend), this coding competition will be open to high school students (including those who are not YoungWonks Coding Classes for Kids’ students). And while only high school students can opt to participate in this online contest, remote participation will be allowed here. Questions for the contest will be shared on the after-school coding program’s website. After students have taken the test, answers will be evaluated by YoungWonks instructors and the winners will be announced on the same day. Winning students shall receive certificates, medals and prizes. More details shall be shared in the coming days; interested high school students can register here:https://www.youngwonks.com/hackathon-for-kids-and-parents. For more information, visit https://www.youngwonks.com  


*Contributors: Written by: Vidya Prabhu Lead Image by: Leonel Cruz

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