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5 Performance & Public Speaking Competitions for High School Students

Performance and public speaking are some of the most popular extracurricular activities among high school students. From theater to slam poetry to speech and debate, these activities offer students the opportunity to improve their creative skills and further develop their ability to communicate ideas. One of the main ways that students can get involved in these activities is through competitions. It’s a great way for high schoolers to meet new people, win awards and scholarships, become stronger performers and speakers, and ultimately stand out in the admissions process.

Top 5 largest national public speaking competitions for students

The American Legion Oratorical Competition

Disciplines: Oratorical writing and performing

Award: Up to $25,000

Eligibility: High school students under age 20

Fee: None

Deadline: Check with your local American Legion post

The American Legion Oratorical Contest exists to develop deeper knowledge and appreciation for the U.S. Constitution among high school students. Since 1938, the program has presented participants with an academic speaking challenge that teaches important leadership qualities, the history of our nation’s laws, the ability to think and speak clearly, and an understanding of the duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges of American citizenship.

Speaking subjects must be on some aspect of the U.S. Constitution, with some emphasis on the duties and obligations of citizens to our government. Speeches are eight to 10 minutes long; three- to five-minute speeches on an assigned topic also are part of the contest. Students have the opportunity to perform these speeches at the state and national levels.

National Association of Teachers of Singing Competitions

Disciplines: Voice, musical theater, musical composition

Award: Varies widely based on contest

Eligibility: Many competitions require applicants to be students of NATS members/voice

teachers, but not all; high schoolers

Fee: $15-90

Deadline: September 2021 (Musical Theatre Competition & NATSAA); December 2021 (Art Song Composition Award); April 2022 (Natl Student Auditions)

The National Association of Teachers of Singing celebrates the art of singing through a series of competitions and programs that are designed to showcase the talented singers and performers who are soon to be rising stars in the profession. Events are held annually or biennially, some in conjunction with the NATS National Conference and others in conjunction with the NATS Summer or Winter Workshops. There are four competitions include the NATS Artist Awards, National Musical Theatre Competition, National Student Auditions, and Art Song Composition Award.

National Speech & Debate Association – State and National Competitions

Disciplines: Speech, debate – click here for a more in-depth description of disciplines offered

Award: Varies widely; also offers Honor Society for participating schools

Eligibility: Consult your school or local organization for more information

Fee: Varies widely

Deadline: Varies widely

As the national authority on public speaking and debate, the National Speech & Debate Association provides the infrastructure for speech and debate competitions around the world. They create a platform for youth voices to be heard and celebrated, which culminates with an annual National Tournament, the pinnacle of public speaking. Please consult with your state speech and debate organization or a local contact for more information on event rules in your area.


Disciplines: Classical music, dance, voice, film, writing

Award: Up to $10,000 and national recognition

Eligibility: US citizens and permanent resident/green card recipients in grades 10-12 or 15-18 years of age on December 1, 2021

Fee: $35 (waivers available)

Deadline: October 15, 2021, at 11:59 pm EST

YoungArts is one of the most prestigious artistic competitions in the country, encompassing a wide variety of disciplines and forms. Through this competition, the National YoungArts Foundation identifies the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, and performing arts, and provides them with creative and professional development opportunities throughout their careers. Every year, artists are invited to a week-long event full of performances and artistic development where they can win further recognition.

Poetry Out Loud

Disciplines: Poetry recitation

Award: $200 + $500 materials stipend for state winners, up to $20,000 for national winners

Eligibility: Students in the US in grades 9-12

Fee: None

Deadline: Contact your state agency

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high school students across the country. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and the state and jurisdictional arts agencies. All poems must be selected from the Poetry Out Loud print or online anthology, which is updated every summer.

In our Roadmap program for 8th to 11th graders, our college admission consultants help students identify their talents and showcase them in the college admissions process, like participating in these national competitions. If you’re looking for help in improving your extracurricular profile, don’t hesitate to set up a free consultation today.

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