Which "Competitions" Boost Admissions Odds?
Question: I am a high school junior who has finally realized the importance of competitions to set me apart from others. Many have told me to find a "passionate" endeavor, but I realize the importance of competitions too. Besides the usual Olympiads and lab-research competitions, what other competitions may I enter?
There are lots of ways to demonstrate your passions, and there are so many "competitions" around that taking part in them--or even winning them--doesn't necessarily make you stand out in a hyper-competitive crowd. Unlike the majority of old folks like myself who survived our wonder years with nary an award, yours is the "Everyone-Gets-a-Trophy" generation, and thus admission folks can become pretty jaded--rightfully so or not--whenever they spot "Winner" on an application. Thus, don't feel that contest success is your elite-college "hook."
But if you enjoy competing, probably the best known and respected competitions among college admission officials are the Intel Science Talent Search and the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. (Perhaps you were referring to these when you mentioned the "usual lab-science competitions.") However, these are the heavy-hitters, and success in either one will make admission folks sit up and take notice. (Yet even garnering top honors in these biggies will not provide a sure-thing fat letter from your top-choice school.)
A personal favorite of mine, however, and one that will certainly be known to admission folks, too, is Teen Jeopardy. Test dates are coming up soon so, if you're interested, act fast. See http://www.jeopardy.com/onlinetests/teen/ You can take the preliminary screening test online at home!
And, of course, if your talents lie in the performing arts, there's always American Idol, too. :-)