High School

Top Psychology and Neuroscience Competitions for High School

  • Develops your ability to explain complex ideas and your research to a new audience

  • Gives you a deadline, which in turn provides motivation for you to complete your research project

  • Provides opportunities to practice following guidelines and submission requirements, which are skills you will need in high school, college, and beyond

  • Looks great on a college application

  • You might win! (Don’t sell yourself short!)

To rank each competition, I considered the academic rigor of its hosting institution, its relevance to psychology, and its accessibility for students. Accessibility of course comes in many forms. I considered whether the competition was accessible to students of different ages and in different geographical areas. None of the competitions required an entry fee, which is something else I looked for. (If you ever have to pay a lot of money for a competition, that’s a bad sign.)

With that being said, here are the top psychology/neuroscience competitions for high school and middle school students.

6. Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

Hosting Institution: United States Department of Defense

Format: Written Research Report

Application Deadline: The regional symposiums vary by region, but the deadlines are usually between September and December. The regional symposiums are actually held from January through March. The national symposium is held sometime in April or May.

Individual or Team? Either, but in the case of a team project, only one person presents/submits the work. That person will be presented with any scholarships/awards that they win.

International? No, citizens or permanent residents of the United States only

This competition is for high school students (grades 9 – 12) who have conducted original research in a STEM field. First, students submit a written research report detailing their findings. Judges select a portion of those submissions to be considered in the appropriate regional symposium based on the applicant’s location. Winners from the regional round move on to the national symposium.

This is a great competition since students of many different ages can compete. One difficulty is that students generally have to travel to the regional symposium to present their work (a few are online). While there is at least one symposium in all 50 United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Department of Defense Schools in Europe and Pacific, in some states there is only one symposium.

The main reason this competition ranks last on the list is that there isn’t a psychology-specific category for submission. The eight categories are: environmental science, biomedical sciences, life and behavioral sciences, medicine and health, engineering and technology, mathematics and computer science, physical sciences, and chemistry. The medicine and health category specifically identifies neuroscience and pathology (e.g., psychopathology) as subcategories. However, even if you have a psychology project that doesn’t quite fit into one of those categories, you can still compete! Just make sure to give your project a “spin” so that it fits somewhere.

5. Thermo Fisher Scientific Junior Innovators Challenge (JIC)

Hosting Institution: Society for Science in partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific

Format: Submission to a local science fair

Application Deadline: Varies depending on the local fair, but most fairs take place between January and April

Individual or Team? Either. Up to three people can form a team, but each student must submit an individual application. Students on the same team are judged separately. Students can complete a team project and submit their application even if the other team members do not submit one.

International? The only criteria is that the student competes in an affiliated fair in the U.S. or a U.S. territory. You will have to check the fair’s rules to see if you are eligible to compete.

I like this competition because it is only for middle school students (6th, 7th, and 8th grades) – many opportunities are only for high school students. These students first compete in a local fair that is affiliated with Thermo Fisher. Judges at the local fair can then nominate up to 10% of the students to participate in the national competition. The Top 300 students receive awards, and the finalists chosen from the Top 300 travel to Washington, D.C., to compete for awards with even bigger prizes.

One drawback of this competition is that students must compete in a local fair first, which has the same transportation costs as I discussed earlier. Additionally, the site says that there is a fair “in nearly every state and territory in the U.S.,” which means there are a few states or territories that do not have a fair.

4. TOPSS Competition for High School Psychology Students

Hosting Institution: TOPSS (American Psychological Association Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools)

Format: Video

Application Deadline: The deadline for this year has passed, but check back soon!

Individual or Team: Individual, although competitors also “must work with a teacher prior to submitting the entry to ensure the submitted content follows competition guidelines and rules.”

International? Yes

In this competition, high school students submit a three-minute video that demonstrates their grasp of a psychological concept and how this concept can be used to make people’s lives better in the “real world”. The video should fall into one of the following categories: social psychology, personality, multiculturalism and gender, or motivation and emotion. To be eligible to compete, students must have completed or be currently enrolled in a psychology course. Each video submission must include a reference to at least one reputable outside source. You can check out this article to learn how to skim research papers effectively while looking for your outside source(s). Pro-tip: A major part of this competition is explaining the psychological concept and all research that you cite in your own words!

This competition is accessible for a variety of students, which is great. Even though it is hosted by the American Psychological Association, international students can compete. Applicants don’t have to pay for common research expenses – e.g., getting materials and paying participants – since the competition focuses on students’ understanding of existing research. However, I think this is also a potential limitation of the competition. Some students may not be as interested in reading articles and instead prefer to conduct their own research.

Also note that the video format may feel awkward for some students, but the 2022 competition submission was an essay, so perhaps that changes from year to year.

3. Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)

Hosting Institution: Society for Science

Format: Research Paper

Application Deadline: The 2024 application opens on June 1, 2023. Check back on their website for the 2024 deadline.

Individual or Team? Individual

International? United States citizens and students (of any citizenship) studying in the U.S. can compete.

This competition goes back to 1942 and is the oldest science and math competition in the United States! Since it has that background, it is very prestigious and academically rigorous. Applicants complete original scientific research projects and submit their findings in a formal research paper. Experts in the appropriate scientific field carefully review each project, leading to the Top 300 and Top 40 finalists. The Top 40 finalists compete in an in-person Finals Week in Washington, D.C., for the Top 10 awards. Each Top 40 scholar receives at least $25,000! ($25,000 seems like a typo, but don’t worry, I double-checked!) You can learn how to write a research paper here.

The downside of this competition is that only high school seniors can compete. Applicants can conduct their research in any year of high school; however, it still limits younger students who want to compete earlier in their academic career. Check out the ultimate guide to the Regeneron Science Talent Search here.

2. United States Army’s eCybermission Competition

Hosting Institution: United States Army

Format: Scientific Report

Application Deadline: Currently closed, but the previous deadline was in early 2023. Registration for the 2023-2024 competition opens in the fall.

Individual or Team? Team

Eligibility? U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents of the U.S.

This entirely virtual competition ranked high on the list because it is another rare opportunity for younger students. It is a team-based STEM competition for U.S. students in the 6th – 9th grades. Students form a group with 2 – 4 members total, along with an adult advisor. The team then completes a scientific research project or designs an engineering prototype to solve a problem in their community. Teams submit a paper describing their experimental research or engineering design process. They can win awards at the state, regional, and national levels.

The requirement to have 2 – 4 team members can be a pro or a con depending on the student and their goals and resources. On the one hand, it develops key collaboration skills which are useful in many different areas and can provide a sense of community. Each teach member will also bring unique strengths to the project. On the other hand, the students may have difficulty forming a team and finding a teammate who shares their research interests. Additionally, some teammates may contribute more than others, which can be frustrating. Nevertheless, it still ranks higher than our other competition for younger students because it is more accessible than the Thermo Fisher one, which requires participation in local science fair.

1. Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF)

Hosting Institution: Society for Science

Format: Submission to a local science fair

Application Deadline: Varies depending on the local fair

Individual or Team? Either. Students can form teams with up to three members total. Unlike the Theromo Fisher competition, in ISEF teams compete as a unit.

International? Yes

The Society for Science also hosts this competition, which is essentially the high school version of the Thermo Fisher competition. 9th-12th grade students first compete in a local science fair that is affiliated with Regeneron, and judges at that fair nominate a certain percentage of participants for the international level. These finalists compete for over 600 individual and team awards, with substantial monetary prizes.

This competition takes the number one spot because it is accessible for all high school students and for international students. There are fairs in nearly every U.S. state as well as over 70 other countries, regions and territories. Students can submit projects in one of 21 categories that span all engineering and science disciplines, including the psychology subcategory under “Behavioral and Social Sciences.” While ISEF students must first compete in a local science fair first, the academic rigor and overall accessibility gives it to the top spot. We also have an ultimate guide to competing and winning in the Regeneron International Science Engineering Fair.


All of these research competitions are great and hosted by reputable organizations, so consider each one and make the best decision based on your interests, goals, and resources. You can’t go wrong! Also remember that when you are submitting research involving human subjects for competitions, you will need to get IRB approval before conducting your research. If you would like any help conducting research that you want to submit to a competition, please apply for our flagship mentorship program here. You can also check out these articles to learn about research opportunities for high school students, internship opportunities for high school students, and creative ways to explore your passions.

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