3 years ago
Admissions Advice

Is it necessary to participate in competitions to get into elite colleges in the US?

Hello, I am a current sophomore and an international student. I was wondering if it is necessary to participate in national or international competitions to get into elite colleges in the US? Last year, since the COVID-19 situation was still quite unstable, some competitions had to be cancelled. I only recently started researching about competitions during the summer holidays this year, and I found out that the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) is available where I live but I don't think I have enough time to prepare since it takes place in mid-October. Would anyone be willing to give me any advice? I don't really know what to do and I'm worried that if I don't participate in any competitions I won't get into an elite college in the US. I do have impressive extracurriculars that I am working on and currently developing (such as implementing a non-profit organization and conducting research on a topic I'm interested in and others too), so I am wondering if those would still count and substitute the fact I haven't participated in maths or science competitions that I was interested in. Additionally, would it still be okay if I participate in competitions later on in the year or in my junior year or would it look rushed to the admissions officers?


Earn karma by helping others:

1 karma for each ⬆️ upvote on your answer, and 20 karma if your answer is marked accepted.

3 answers

Accepted Answer
3 years ago

I honestly don't think its necessary to get accepted. Also you should try emailing admissions counselors/staff of schools you are interested in. Just make sure the extracurriculars you have make meaning to the major you want to do in college. Also i do believe it is ok to do those competitions in junior year. Im a junior and just joined lots of club beacuse of covid as well.

3 years ago[edited]

Hi, the definitive answer is that you do not have to participate in competitions to get accepted into an Ivy League or Elite College. It's nice to have but not necessary. I wouldn't say that this aspect of your college application is significantly less important than submitting a high SAT or ACT score or having a good number of APs or IBs (+ great AP/IB test scores). While almost every school considers those later things optional, they definitely improve your chances of getting admitted into a T20 college.

In the order of importance for most Ivys/Elites would be:


1. Grades

2. Course Rigor

3. Standardized test scores

4. Intellectual Vitality or Curiosity


1. Leadership Positions in school-based activities

a.) School President or Class President, Editor in Chief, Team Captain,

b.)Less impressive is MUN, DECA, Pres. of a club or affinity group.

c.) Least impressive are members or lower leadership positions

2. Community Service

a.) Board Member of a City or School Council

b.) Founder of a community service organization.

c.) Least impressive is just being a member and participating

3.) Volunteering

a.) Starting a non-profit to help people, animals, the environment, and other causes

b.) The least impressive is just doing hours for sake of resume building

4.) Passion projects, hobbies, or Spikes

a.) World, National or State level ability for arts, music, sciences as evidenced by winning competitions

b.) Regional or City level competitions.

5.) Sports

a) Team Captain of 1 or more Varsity Sports

b) Star player of 1 or more Varsity Sports

c.) Team member of Varsity sports

d.) Junior Varsity level or lower.

e.) Least impressive is no sports

Other attributes that matter in the application process are interviews, essays, recommendations, and evidence of strong personal character and integrity.

Remember that if you are applying to an Ivy, only 5.26% got admitted the last cycle on average and if you are applying to an Elite, it's like 4 to 8% range. If you are applying to a Top Liberal Arts college, it's in the 7.8-10% range. Most admits didn't compete in many competitions unless performing arts was their spike or if they were super clever in STEM and wanted to get into CALTECH, MIT.

As an Int'l make sure you have a very strong test score for your English proficiency, that always helps, and many Int'l students underestimated that one of the most important skills you can bring to the admissions table is your ability to write and speak intelligently, articulately and eloquently.

Good luck

3 years ago

Honestly, I don't believe that being in competitions makes or breaks an application, rather the grades and test scores. Although going into an academic competition and winning, that would look good on any application. For your second question, if you want to, do it. No one is stopping you. Wish you the best of luck.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Community Guidelines

To keep this community safe and supportive:

  1. Be kind and respectful!
  2. Keep posts relevant to college admissions and high school.
  3. Don’t ask “chance-me” questions. Use CollegeVine’s chancing instead!

How karma works