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I was browsing the Intel STS website, and some of the bios of the finalists, and it made me wonder -- what criteria do the judges use to select the 40 finalists? I've heard that it isn't solely about the caliber of the project submitted. For example, most of the finalists are accomplished in other areas (e.g. athletics, music, math), and many are valedictorians. So do one's other activities/ECs, grades, and possibly Intel application essays play a considerable role in being selected for finalist status?
I had thought that having been successful in previous science fairs would make it likely for one to become a finalist. For example, the top three Intel STS winners this year had all been to ISEF multiple times (every year - 9, 10, 11 - I believe), and Siemens semifinalists multiple times, I think. Yet, someone that I know this year was named an Intel semifinalist, had been to ISEF twice, was a Siemens semifinalist as a junior, and yet wasn't named a finalist. Perhaps the project she submitted to Intel was simply not of a high enough caliber?
Then there are some people who are named finalists who had never been to ISEF before or even named a Siemens semifinalist. Guess they just had a great project? For example, a boy I know (valedictorian of his class) had no previous awards in science research, yet was named a finalist this year... So I wondered why. I would think Intel wants to choose the kids who've demonstrated the most interest and success in the field throughout their high school years?
I'm not sure if anyone would even know the answer to my (now protracted) question, but just thought I'd ask out of curiosity!