13 Speech/Debate Contests for High School Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

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13 Speech/Debate Contests for High School Students

Speech and debate contests are more than just platforms to showcase your eloquence; they are arenas where future leaders, critical thinkers, and influential communicators are molded. By participating in these competitions, you not only sharpen your public speaking skills but also enhance your college application, making you stand out in a sea of aspiring students. In this blog, we’ll introduce you to the speech/debate contests that can be pivotal in your high school career, offering you a chance to hone your skills, gain recognition, and ultimately, step closer to the college of your dreams.

1. American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest

  • Location: The 2024 National Finals will be held at Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, Michigan
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Competition Date: The National Finals are scheduled for May 17-19, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Local Contests were completed last December 3, 2023
  • Eligibility: Open to 9th-12th graders

The American Legion National High School Oratorical Contest is an educational opportunity that focuses on developing oratorical skills and a deeper understanding of the U.S. Constitution. It starts at the local American Legion post level and progresses through county, district, and state-level contests, with the national finals scheduled for May 17-19 at Hillsdale College in Michigan in 2024. 

Eligible participants include students under 20 years old in grades 9 through 12 from various school types, including homeschools. The contest involves a prepared oration on the Constitution’s aspects and assigned topic discourse, testing knowledge and research skills. Substantial scholarships are awarded at both the national and state levels, with the first-place national winner receiving $25,000, the second-place $22,500, and the third-place $20,000.

Junior high school students doing debate as group work

2. High School Public Debate Program

  • Location: Claremont Colleges Debate Union, Bauer Center, 500 E 9th Street, Claremont, CA 
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Competition Date: The National Championship will be on April 6, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: Students from 10 to 18 years old

The High School Public Debate Program (HSPDP) at Claremont McKenna College is a speech/debate contest that offers a comprehensive platform for students aged 10 to 18, covering grades 5th through 12th in the US and internationally. It focuses on enhancing debate and public speaking skills, with activities including classes and contests. 

The program follows age-appropriate communication standards and is interdisciplinary, allowing students to apply their skills across different subjects. HSPDP hosts national and international debate championships, fostering competition and skill development. With initiatives in over 38 countries, it promotes debate education globally. Participants engage in both pre-announced and impromptu topics, enhancing research, leadership, teamwork, critical thinking, and analytical abilities, valuable for higher education and professional settings.

3. National Forensic League National Speech Tournament (NSDA)

  • Location: Des Moines, IA
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Competition Date: June 16-21, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: High school students

The National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA), formerly the National Forensic League, is a long-standing organization founded in 1925, boasting over 150,000 members in all 50 states. It provides a valuable platform for high school students to develop public speaking, critical thinking, and research skills, fostering a love for learning and civic engagement. NSDA activities offer recognition and awards that enhance college applications and resumes. 

The 2024 National Speech & Debate Tournament, with over 6,000 participants, takes place in Des Moines, IA from June 16-21, showcasing the skills and dedication of young orators and debaters. Involvement earns merit points through competition, service, and leadership activities, reflecting a commitment to personal growth and community contributions. The NSDA prioritizes diversity and inclusivity, offering support programs and resources for underrepresented groups. The tournament includes a variety of events, such as debates and speeches, to challenge different aspects of communication and debate skills.

Group of students smiling at the camera.

4. VFW Voice of Democracy Contest

  • Location: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Posts across the United States
  • Cost: No cost
  • Competition Date: Unspecified
  • Application Deadline: Entries are due to VFW Post by midnight, October 31, 2023​
  • Eligibility: Open to students in grades 9-12 enrolled in public, private, or parochial high schools

The Voice of Democracy Contest, initiated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in 1947, is a unique opportunity for high school students to express their views on patriotic and democratic themes through an audio-essay. The contest attracts nearly 57,000 participants annually and offers substantial educational scholarships. Students in grades 9-12 enrolled in various types of high schools in the United States, its territories, and possessions are eligible to participate. Foreign exchange students, students over 20 years old, previous state winners of the Voice of Democracy, and those in GED or Adult Education programs are not eligible. 

Participants must record an original 3 to 5-minute audio essay on the given patriotic theme, submit it to their local VFW Post by the October 31, 2023 deadline, and follow the contest rules. Prizes include a $35,000 scholarship for the national first-place winner, with additional scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $21,000, along with all-expense-paid trips to Washington, D.C., for state-level winners. The contest not only provides a platform for students to express their democratic ideals but also supports their higher education and personal growth.

Group of students walking in the campus.

5. Emory National Debate Institute

  • Location: Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Cost: $2,000 resident; $1,700 commuter
  • Program Date: June 4-17, 2023
  • Application Deadline: May 15, 2023
  • Eligibility: High school students

The Emory National Debate Institute (ENDI) offers a renowned summer program that has been shaping the debate skills of high school students since its inception in 1966. Located on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, ENDI stands out for its commitment to high-quality debate education, aligned with Emory’s vision of building a community where social justice is a key part of university life. 

The program emphasizes superior instruction in fundamental and applied debate skills, enabling students to excel in competition while also understanding and articulating social justice issues. The institute offers various programs including the signature 2-week Policy Debate Institute, where students of different experience levels, from novices to seasoned debaters, can learn and practice. Additionally, there’s a focus on the upcoming high school policy resolution, ensuring participants are well-prepared for future debates​​​​.

6. Capitol Debate

  • Location: In all participating educational institutions
  • Cost: $2,799
  • Program Date: June – July 2024
  • Application Deadline: May 2024
  • Eligibility: Middle and high school students

Capitol Debate offers a comprehensive program that nurtures young minds in the art of public speaking and debate. Capitol Debate believes in the importance of hands-on learning, so students actively participate in exercises and debates, applying the lessons they’ve learned in a collaborative environment. 

This approach has shown positive impacts on the students’ academic performance, with participation in competitive debate linked to increased standardized test scores and college admission success rates. Capitol Debate camps are available in various prestigious locations across the United States and internationally, ensuring accessibility for a broad range of students. They offer a variety of programs, including day, overnight, commuter, and virtual camps, catering to different needs and preferences​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.

7. Debate Institutes at Dartmouth

  • Location: Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Cost: $6,800 
  • Program Date: July 7 – August 3, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: Experienced policy debaters who have completed at least one full year of high school debate

The Debate Institutes at Dartmouth (DDI) offers a unique and enriching experience for high school debaters, particularly those with a year or more of policy debate experience. Set in the intellectually stimulating environment of Dartmouth College, the program runs from July 7th to August 3rd, 2024, with a tuition of $6,800. For students seeking financial assistance, need-based aid is available

One of DDI’s strengths lies in its optimal lab sizes, which typically consist of 20-24 students. This environment allows for active participation and personalized feedback from dedicated teaching staff who are deeply invested in your success. With experienced coaches in both high school and college debate, the staff provide continuous guidance, ensuring a consistent learning experience throughout the program. 

8. Gonzaga Debate Institute

  • Location: Gonzaga University, Boone Ave, Spokane, WA 99258, USA
  • Cost: $1350.00 – $5100.00
  • Program Date: June 23 – Saturday, July 27, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: High school students

The Gonzaga Debate Institute (GDI), hosted by Gonzaga University, is a prestigious summer program designed to enhance your debate skills and prepare you for competitive debating at all levels of experience. This program is well-known for its award-winning faculty, focus on skills-based learning, and the scenic location on the banks of the Spokane River in Spokane, Washington. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced debater, GDI offers a range of programs to suit your needs, including both in-person and online options.

GDI’s curriculum is designed to challenge and develop your debating abilities. You will engage in a comprehensive learning experience that includes daily interaction with a cohort of peers, guided by some of the most experienced debate faculties in the world. The focus is on learning through active participation in debates, complemented by judge feedback and numerous opportunities for skill enhancement. 

9. California National Debate Institute

  • Location: University of California, Berkeley
  • Cost: $1,600 – $6,000
  • Program Date: June 23 – July 27, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: No eligibility criteria

The California National Debate Institute (CNDI) is recognized as a premier debate camp on the West Coast, tailored to cater to a wide range of experience levels, from beginners to nationally competitive debaters. In 2024, CNDI will offer several in-person sessions in Berkeley, including a 5-Week Policy program (June 23 – July 27, $6,000 residential, $4,000 commuter), a 3-Week Policy program (July 7 – July 27, $3,600 residential, $2,400 commuter), and a 2-Week Public Forum program (June 23 – July 6, $2,400 residential, $1,600 commuter). 

Additionally, two 1-Week Intro to Debate/Middle School Programs are available, with pricing at $950 and $800, respectively, for different sessions. The institute requires a $300 non-refundable deposit at the time of application. At CNDI, you’ll find a diverse faculty comprising academic scholars and debate champions, offering a multifaceted approach to teaching. The institute’s programs span various debate styles, including Policy, Lincoln-Douglas, and Public Forum, allowing you to find your niche while being exposed to different forms of argumentation.

10. University of Texas National Institute in Forensics

  • Location: University of Texas at Austin, 2504A Whitis Ave. (A1105), Austin, TX 
  • Cost: $2,000 – $3,000
  • Program Date: June 19, 2023 – July 8, 2023
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: High school students

The University of Texas National Institute in Forensics (UTNIF) Summer Camps offer a dynamic and comprehensive debate program for high school students. The camps provide specialized courses in various forms of debate, including policy, Lincoln-Douglas, and public forum debates. It’s not just about mastering the rules and formats; you’ll delve into the nuances that elevate an argument, the strategies that influence a jury, and the rhetorical techniques that captivate an audience.

The curriculum is meticulously crafted to develop skills in critical thinking, public speaking, and leadership, with an emphasis on practical application. You’ll engage in workshops, debates, and interactive sessions that put theory into practice, enhancing both your knowledge and confidence. The program focuses on nurturing well-rounded individuals who can think independently, articulate their thoughts eloquently, and confidently lead in various situations. 

11. Michigan National Debate Institute

  • Location: University of Michigan
  • Cost: $3300
  • Program Date: June 23 – July 10, 2024
  • Application Deadline: First-apply basis
  • Eligibility: High school students

The Michigan National Debate Institute (MNDI) offers a comprehensive policy debate workshop designed to cater to high school debaters at all levels, from novice to top varsity. Scheduled for June 23rd to July 10th, 2024, MNDI’s curriculum is crafted by experienced high school debate coaches from across the country, ensuring that it meets the specific needs of students at different experience levels. A unique aspect of MNDI is that it doesn’t conclude with a tournament. Instead, the focus is on preparing students for the entire debate season, emphasizing individual instruction on debating techniques and topic-specific analysis. This approach fosters a more cooperative and productive environment.

At MNDI, you’ll be assigned to small class groupings, with each class typically accommodating 16 or fewer students under the guidance of two to three faculty members. This setting ensures more personalized attention and a conducive learning environment. The institute emphasizes topic analysis, teaching students the content of the national policy debate topic with a focus on mainstream affirmative cases and topic-specific negative strategies. 

a group of young professionals in a meeting room

12. Women’s Debate Institute

  • Location: Camp Wasewagen, Southern California
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Program Date: August 6 – August 10, 2023
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: High school students

The Women’s Debate Institute (WDI) is a unique organization dedicated to empowering young people, particularly those with marginalized gender identities, in the debate community. WDI’s approach includes diverse programming and resources, including anti-harassment training and an annual summer camp, to cultivate an inclusive environment for all participants.

WDI is recognized for its commitment to empowering women through fostering confidence, leadership skills, and promoting gender equality in the debate community. The program offers intensive training sessions and hands-on practice, helping you to analyze complex issues, articulate thoughts effectively, and present persuasive arguments. These skills are beneficial not only in debates but also in various personal and professional life aspects. 

13. Northwestern Debate Institute

  • Location: Northwestern University
  • Cost: $3,850 – $5,350
  • Program Date: June 24 – August 9, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Rolling admissions basis
  • Eligibility: Students in 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades

The Northwestern Debate Institute offers an exceptional opportunity for high school policy debaters. This institute is unique because it provides an intensive and comprehensive summer debate experience that prepares debaters for both the upcoming season and their future in debate. The Institute boasts of Northwestern University’s Debate Society’s unparalleled record, which includes 15 National Debate Tournament titles. This success is rooted in the foundations and techniques taught at the Institute. Students who join the program, ranging from sophomores to seniors, learn the same principles that have led to this record of success.

The program format for 2024 includes both a 4-week and a 6-week hybrid program. The 4-week program runs from June 29 to July 27, while the 6-week program extends until August 9. The format includes online sessions from June 29 to July 12, followed by on-campus sessions from July 13 to July 27, and then concludes with online sessions for the last two weeks of the 6-week program.

Final Thoughts

As we wrap up this exploration of speech/debate contests for high school students, remember that your journey in these competitions is more than just a stepping stone for college admissions. It’s an opportunity for personal growth, for developing a voice that resonates with confidence and clarity. These contests are a platform for you to express your ideas, challenge your perspectives, and connect with like-minded peers and mentors.

So, take these opportunities, make the most of them, and let your voice be heard. The skills and experiences you gain will not only brighten your college applications but will also equip you for the exciting challenges of the future. Stay tuned for more insightful guides to help you navigate your path to academic and personal success.




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