The Ultimate Guide to FIRST Tech Challenge

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Close view of a robot hand.

The Ultimate Guide to FIRST Tech Challenge

What is the FIRST Tech Challenge?

What exactly is the FIRST Tech Challenge? The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is a robotics competition designed to engage and inspire students in grades 7-12 to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. FTC is one of several programs offered by the nonprofit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), founded by inventor Dean Kamen.

A student examining a robot part while on a table.

Each FTC season typically runs from September to April, with the official game reveal and kickoff event happening in early September. The season is divided into several stages:

  • Design and Build Phase: During this stage, teams spend several weeks (usually around 8-12) designing, building, programming, and testing their robots. Throughout this process, students work closely with adult mentors, who provide guidance and expertise in various fields, such as engineering, programming, and project management.
  • Qualifying Tournaments: These local or regional events are held throughout the season, providing teams with opportunities to test their robots and strategies in a competitive environment. The top-performing teams at each qualifying tournament advance to the next level of competition.
  • State or Regional Championships: At this level, the competition becomes more intense as the best teams from each region vie for a spot in the World Championship events. State or regional championships usually take place between January and March.
  • World Championship Events: The FIRST Tech Challenge season culminates with two World Championship events held in the United States – one in Houston, Texas, and the other in Detroit, Michigan. These events bring together the top teams from around the globe to compete for the ultimate title and celebrate their achievements.

Each FTC season features a unique game with its own set of rules, objectives, and challenges. The game is played on a 12-foot by 12-foot field, with various elements that robots must interact with to score points. These elements may include items to pick up, manipulate, or transport; obstacles to navigate; or locations where specific actions must be performed.

The game has two main parts: a 30-second autonomous period and a 2-minute driver-controlled period. During the autonomous period, robots must perform tasks without any human intervention, relying solely on pre-programmed instructions. The driver-controlled period allows teams to control their robots using gamepads, executing their strategy to score points while adapting to the dynamic nature of the competition.

Students working on their robots.

In addition to the robot game, FIRST Tech Challenge evaluates teams based on their engineering notebook, community outreach, teamwork, and other factors. Judges present various awards at each competition level, recognizing teams for their achievements in categories such as robot design, programming, strategy, and more.

By participating in the FIRST Tech Challenge, students gain not only technical skills but also valuable life skills, such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and perseverance. The program is designed to be inclusive and accessible to all students, regardless of their prior experience or background in STEM fields.

Why is FIRST Tech Challenge important for college-bound students?

What is the significance of the FIRST Tech Challenge for college-bound students? The FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) offers a multitude of benefits for college-bound students.

Group of students walking in the campus.

By participating in FTC, students can gain a competitive edge in their college applications, learn essential life and technical skills, and build a network of connections that will prove valuable throughout their academic and professional careers. Here are some key reasons why FTC is important for college-bound students:

Enhance College Applications

  • Demonstrating Passion and Commitment: By participating in FTC, students can showcase their dedication to and enthusiasm for STEM subjects. Involvement in FTC highlights a student’s commitment to applying their knowledge and skills outside of the classroom, which is an attractive quality to college admissions officers.
  • Building a Diverse Portfolio: FTC allows students to develop a wide range of skills and experiences, from robotics and programming to project management and community outreach. This diverse portfolio can help set a student apart from other applicants, demonstrating their ability to excel in multiple areas.
  • Showcasing Leadership and Teamwork: As part of an FTC team, students must collaborate effectively with their peers and mentors. College admissions officers value applicants who can demonstrate strong leadership and teamwork abilities, as these skills are essential for success in higher education and the professional world.

Develop Marketable Skills

  • Technical Proficiency: FTC exposes students to various aspects of engineering, programming, and robotics. These technical skills are in high demand in today’s job market and can provide a solid foundation for a successful career in STEM fields.
  • Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking: Designing, building, and programming a robot for FTC requires students to think critically and solve complex problems. These skills are essential for success in college and beyond, as they enable students to tackle challenges and adapt to new situations.
  • Communication and Presentation: FTC teams must effectively communicate their ideas, strategies, and achievements to judges, sponsors, and the broader community. Developing strong communication and presentation skills can help students excel in their academic and professional pursuits.

Networking and Mentorship

  • Connecting with Peers: FTC brings together students who share a passion for STEM, fostering a sense of camaraderie and belonging. These connections can lead to lasting friendships and potential collaborations in college and beyond.
  • Building Relationships with Mentors: FTC teams receive guidance from adult mentors, who bring valuable expertise in various fields. These mentors can provide support, advice, and even recommendations for college applications or job opportunities.
  • Engaging with Industry Professionals: Through competitions, workshops, and outreach events, students have the opportunity to interact with professionals from the STEM industry. These connections can help students stay informed about current trends, identify potential career paths, and even secure internships or job opportunities.

Personal Growth

  • Building Confidence and Resilience: Participating in FTC challenges students to step out of their comfort zones and overcome obstacles. By facing and overcoming these challenges, students build confidence and resilience, which are essential traits for success in college and beyond.
  • Developing a Growth Mindset: FTC encourages students to learn from their mistakes and failures, fostering a growth mindset. This mindset is crucial for navigating the challenges of college and the professional world, as it emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and improvement.
  • Fostering a Sense of Purpose: By engaging in FTC, students can discover and nurture their passion for STEM, which can provide a sense of purpose and direction as they embark on their college journey and future careers.

How to get started with FIRST Tech Challenge?

How do you begin the FIRST Tech Challenge? Getting started with the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) may seem daunting initially, but with the right resources and guidance, you can successfully launch your FTC journey.

Female student working on her robot.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

Research and Familiarize Yourself with FTC

  • Visit the FIRST website: Browse the official FIRST website to learn more about the organization, its mission, and the various programs it offers, including FTC.
  • Review the FTC resources: Explore the available resources for FTC, such as the game manuals, team guides, and other helpful documents. This will give you an understanding of the competition structure, rules, and requirements.

Find or Create a Team

  • Locate existing teams: Search for local teams in your area by using the FIRST team locator tool on their website. Contact these teams to learn about their membership requirements and availability.
  • Start your team: If there are no existing teams nearby or if you prefer to create your own, gather a group of interested students (recommended team size is 10-15 members). It’s important to have a diverse team with various skills and interests, such as engineering, programming, design, and project management.

Recruit Adult Mentors and Coaches

  • Seek experienced mentors: Reach out to teachers, parents, or professionals in your community who have expertise in STEM fields, project management, or other relevant areas. Having experienced mentors is crucial for guiding your team through the various aspects of FTC.
  • Assign a coach: Designate an adult coach to oversee the team’s progress and ensure that team members stay on track throughout the season. The coach will also be responsible for communicating with FIRST and handling official team registrations.

Secure a Meeting Space and Resources

  • Find a suitable workspace: Locate a space where your team can meet regularly to work on the robot, discuss strategies, and practice driving. This could be a classroom, garage, workshop, or any other available space to accommodate your team and equipment.
  • Gather tools and resources: Acquire the necessary tools, equipment, and materials for building and programming your robot. This may include items like power tools, hand tools, computers, software, and robot components. Many of these items can be obtained through fundraising or sponsorship.

Register Your Team with FIRST

  • Create a team profile: Visit the FIRST website and create a team profile, which will include information about your team members, coaches, and mentors.
  • Complete registration and pay fees: Register your team for the FTC season and pay the required registration fee. The fee covers the cost of participating in the program and provides your team with access to the annual game materials, as well as other resources and support.

Plan Your Season

  • Review the game and rules: Once the new FTC game is revealed, study the game manual and rules carefully. Understand the objectives, scoring system, and robot requirements to ensure your team’s success.
  • Set goals and deadlines: Establish clear goals and deadlines for your team’s progress throughout the season, such as robot design, programming, and practice milestones. This will help keep your team on track and motivated.
  • Develop a budget: Create a budget to cover the costs associated with participating in FTC, including registration fees, robot components, tools, travel expenses, and competition fees. Plan fundraising events and seek sponsorships to help cover these costs.

Participate in Events and Competitions

  • Attend workshops and training sessions: Take advantage of any workshops, training sessions, or other events offered by FIRST or local organizations to enhance your team’s skills and knowledge.
  • Compete in qualifying tournaments: Register your team for local or regional qualifying tournaments

In conclusion, the FIRST Tech Challenge offers college-bound students an incredible opportunity to grow and excel in their chosen STEM fields. By participating in FTC, students can significantly enhance their college applications and develop valuable skills to set them on a path to success.

At AdmissionSight, we understand the importance of extracurricular activities like FTC in shaping a well-rounded and competitive college applicant. Our expert guidance and support can help you navigate the college admissions process and make the most of your FTC experience, ensuring that your passion for STEM and your achievements in the FIRST Tech Challenge shine through in your college applications. Let us help you transform your FTC journey into a powerful stepping stone toward academic and professional success. Contact us now!



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