7 Physics Programs and Competitions for High School Students

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young African-American student in university

7 Physics Programs and Competitions for High School Students

Physics programs and competitions for high school students offer an opportunity to explore and deepen their understanding of physics beyond what is taught in regular classes. These activities help students understand complex physics concepts and spark a long-term interest in the subject.

This guide will explore various physics programs and competitions available for students and how these can play a vital role in their education, enhance their college applications, and prepare them for future science-related opportunities.

1. UPenn Experimental Physics Research Academy

  • Location: University of Pennsylvania
  • Cost: $9,700 (tuition fee); $75 (application fee)
  • Program Dates: July 6 – July 27, 2024
  • Application Deadline: February 15, 2024
  • Eligibility: Open to current 9th-11th grade students, including international students

One of the most sought-after physics programs and competitions for high school students is the UPenn Experimental Physics Research Academy. It is a dynamic, three-week program designed for high school students interested in physics. This program stands out for its in-depth focus on contemporary physics topics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum dynamics, and astrophysics.

The program is entirely residential, meaning students live on campus during the academy. This immersive experience helps in learning and gives a taste of university life at a prestigious institution like Penn. Although students do not receive a university transcript, they earn a certificate of completion, which can be a significant addition to their college applications. Participating in this program at a renowned university like Penn can set students apart in the college admissions process, showing their commitment to academic excellence and readiness for university-level study.

campus of the University of Pennsylvania

2. Advanced Physics Summer Girls Program at the University of Maryland

  • Location: University of Maryland
  • Cost: $315
  • Program Dates: July 29 – August 9, 2024
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Eligibility: Rising 9th-12th graders are welcome to join the program.

Advanced Physics Summer Girls Program at the University of Maryland is an exceptional opportunity for young students interested in physics. This program dives into modern physics topics like relativity, antimatter, biophysics, and quantum mechanics, offering more advanced content than typically found in high school classes.  Since its inception, the program has welcomed over 1,700 students from Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and worldwide, leading to a diverse and enriching environment.

By participating in this advanced and prestigious program, students demonstrate their commitment and passion for science, which can be a significant advantage in college applications. Studying at a respected institution like the University of Maryland also offers benefits like access to top-quality resources and networking opportunities, preparing them for a future in STEM fields.

3. Yale Summer Program In Astrophysics

  • Location: Yale Leitner Family Observatory & Planetarium/Online
  • Cost: $7,500
  • Program Dates: June 24-July 5, 2024 (online); July 7-August 4, 2024 (residential program)
  • Application Deadline: March 8, 2024
  • Eligibility: Open to rising high school seniors, which means students who are in their junior year at the time of application. International students are also welcome to apply, provided they have proficiency in English.

The Yale Summer Program in Astrophysics (YSPA) at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium (LFOP) is a unique, research-focused enrichment program tailored for 32 rising high school seniors with a strong interest in science, particularly astrophysics and aspirations for a career in scientific research. Once on campus, the classes are held in the Leitner Digital Planetarium Theater, where students spend about two and a half hours on most weekdays delving into mathematics, physics, and astronomy. 

a male astronomer looking through his telescope

Apart from the rigorous academic curriculum, YSPA students enjoy a range of enrichment activities, including guest lectures by Yale scientists from various disciplines and tours of Yale’s lab facilities. These activities not only enhance the learning experience but also provide a glimpse into the breadth of scientific research and potential career paths. Participating in YSPA at a prestigious institution like Yale offers several benefits. The program’s rigorous academic and research focus provides students with an edge in college admissions, demonstrating their commitment to scientific exploration and their ability to thrive in challenging academic environments.

4. International Physics Olympiad

  • Location: Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Cost: €500 (participation fee)
  • Contest Date: July 21-29, 2024
  • Application Deadline: To be announced
  • Eligibility: Students currently engaged in higher secondary education, and those who have completed it but have yet to commence university studies are welcome to participate. Applicants must be at most twenty years of age by the 30th of June in the year of the competition. Importantly, participants must have qualified for their National Olympiad in Physics.

The International Physics Olympiad (IPhO) is a prestigious annual global competition that provides a platform for higher secondary students from around the world to showcase their physics knowledge and problem-solving skills. Set to be hosted in the Islamic Republic of Iran for its 54th edition in 2024, IPhO is renowned for its challenging theoretical and practical exams, each lasting five hours, with a day of rest scheduled between them.

The top performers in the IPhO are recognized with gold, silver, and bronze medals, while honorable mentions are given to those who show promise. Participation in globally recognized physics programs and competitions for high school students, such as the IPhO, not only motivates students to pursue advanced studies in science but also significantly enhances their college applications. Success in the IPhO demonstrates a student’s exceptional capabilities in physics, commitment to academic excellence, and ability to compete at an international level.

a female student holding on to her medal

5. PhysicsBowl

  • Location: Varies (local schools/testing centers)
  • Cost: $10
  • Contest Date: Varies (between March 20 and April 5, 2024)
  • Application Deadline: February 26, 2024
  • Eligibility: High school students can register for the program individually or through their school.

The PhysicsBowl, an annual international physics contest organized by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), presents a unique challenge to high school students each March and April. This competition involves answering 40 multiple-choice questions, covering a wide range of topics from a high school physics course, including conceptual physics, AP Physics B/C, and modern physics. .

A standout feature of PhysicsBowl is its emphasis on a comprehensive range of physics topics, making it an ideal platform for students to test and showcase their knowledge in a competitive and stimulating environment. Receiving recognition in such a well-regarded contest can significantly bolster a student’s college application, demonstrating their proficiency in physics and ability to excel in a competitive academic setting. Furthermore, participation in PhysicsBowl offers students a glimpse into the rigors of college-level physics, preparing them for future academic challenges.

6. USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $30
  • Contest Date: February 10, 2024
  • Application Deadline: January 31, 2024
  • Eligibility: Open to high school students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and have yet to complete 20 years of age before July 1st in the year of the competition. Additionally, they should not have completed their high school education (i.e., grade 12) before January 1st of the same year.

Since its inception in 2013, the USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Organization (USAAAO) has been dedicated to fostering a nationwide interest in astrophysics and astronomy. Each year, the USAAAO conducts two rounds of proctored exams, typically held in February and March (or April), to select the national team for the IOAA. These exams, comprising both multiple-choice and free-response questions, are designed to challenge and identify the most talented students in the field.

Following the exams, the selected team undergoes extensive online training for several months, preparing them for the rigors of international competition. The 17th IOAA is scheduled to take place in Vassouras, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, from August 17-26, 2024. Participation in the USAAAO and its subsequent international representation is highly regarded in college admissions, providing a significant edge to participants.

7. The APPT High School Physics Photo Contest

  • Location: Online
  • Cost: $10 per photo (for non-members); $5 per photo (for AAPT members)
  • Contest Date: Unspecified (for 2024)
  • Application Deadline: May 18, 2024
  • Eligibility: High school students in grades 9-12, or their equivalent international grade level, can participate in the photo contest.

One of the unique and widely known physics programs and competitions for high school students is the AAPT High School Physics Photo Contest. This offers a distinctive international platform for high school students to engage in the exploration of physical concepts through photography. For many years, this contest has been a creative avenue for students and teachers to investigate natural and engineered phenomena, combining visual creativity with scientific analysis.

A woman using a camera.

Winners of the contest receive monetary awards and certificates, with first place awarded $100, second place $75, and third place $50. Additionally, teachers of the winning students are also recognized with $100 gift certificates from Vernier and certificates. Participation in the AAPT Photo Contest sets students apart in college applications by showcasing their ability to apply and communicate complex physics concepts creatively. This contest not only fosters a deeper appreciation for physics but also enhances critical thinking and communication skills, preparing students for future academic and professional challenges in a variety of fields.

Physics programs and competitions for high school students provide a valuable opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge in a field that is highly regarded in the college admissions process. These experiences deepen their understanding of physics and highlight their commitment to academic excellence, making them standout candidates for higher education institutions.



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