Academic Competitions for College Students

From debate to college bowl, learn how you can get involved in academic competition while on campus.

Do you feel that you have what it takes to match your intellect with other students on your campus and beyond? Academic competitions allow students to test their knowledge against one another in a friendly, competitive atmosphere on various levels, such as on campus, regionally, and nationally.

A longstanding tradition, academic competitions vary from general trivia to specialized contests that mimic real-life work environments. They’re a great way to meet friends, improve your knowledge, and gain experience for your career.

Quiz Bowls

There are several local, regional, and national competitions that allow students from the same school to team up in a head-to-head competition against other schools. With a format similar to Jeopardy, players ring in using a buzzer to answer questions and score points.

  • Since 1953, College Bowl has matched two four-person teams from different schools against each other in a tournament that eventually crowns a national champion. Teams must answer a variety of questions from all subjects that are designed to test the curriculum covered by most universities.
  • The Academic Competition Federation has hosted a “quizbowl” tournament similar to the College Bowl since 1991. ACF prides itself on a more academic focus than the College Bowl, which ventures into popular culture with some of its questions.

Once you’ve registered a team comprised entirely of students from your school, you will then take part in a regional tournament. Winners move on to the next round, until a national champion is crowned. Prizes vary, but in many cases students are awarded scholarships and cash stipends.

Other College Clubs and Competitions

If the quiz bowl format doesn’t appeal to you, there are many other groups that provide a social atmosphere for academic contests. Most of these organizations focus on a specific subject/career. Some of these include:

  • Wellesley College publishes a fictional case for its Mock Trial team each year. Members choose sides – prosecution or defense – and spend the school year investigating the incident in order to build an argument for their side. The team also competes against other colleges in local tournaments, such as Harvard, Yale, and NYU.
  • One of the most prestigious organizations of its kind, the Yale Deabte Association hosts four inter-campus debates each year as well as competitions against other universities. Debates take a “parliamentary form” in which a speaker makes a case for a designated topic and fields questions from a moderator.
  • Harvard’s Fed Challenge team selects three to five members who work throughout the year on an original presentation on the topic of macroeconomic conditions and policy. At a competition hosted by the Federal Reserve, the team gives their twenty-minute presentation and then takes questions from professors and economists.

Don’t think that these contests are reserved for students at only the most elite universities – champions in the aforementioned academic competitions come from all schools. In fact, for the last two years, Johnson Community College in Kansas City has won the Cross-Examination Debate National Tournament, beating out schools such as Boston College and Vanderbilt University.

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