Spelling Bee age eligibility, explained: Minimum & maximum ages allowed, youngest winners & more to know

Author Photo
Nihar Janga and Jairam Hathwar
(Getty Images)

The 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee is this week, kicking off Tuesday with the preliminaries.

There will be three rounds to face before they can advance into Wednesday's quarterfinals. This includes rounds one and three, spelling a word; and round two, answering a multiple-choice question about the definition of a word (i.e., word meaning).

Coming into this year's competition, there are 49 spellers who have already been on this stage, looking to finally win a title. Meanwhile, 22 spellers have relatives who have participated in a combined 38 Scripps National Spelling Bees.

The love of words is one cherished.

Here's what to know about how children become eligible for participation in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Scripps National Spelling Bee age rules

Spelling Bee rules state that spellers cannot have reached their 15th birthday or passed beyond the eighth grade (or an international equivalent) on or before Aug. 31, 2022.

There are 231 participants in 2023, ranging ages nine to 14 and grades third to eighth. A majority are boys. Here are the stats from the event's website:

Age Number of students Grade Number of students
9 4 3rd 1
10 12 4th 5
11 27 5th 29
12 48 6th 34
13 67 7th 62
14 73 8th 100

Thirty-seven of the participants come from private schools; 13 from charter schools; five are homeschooled; nine go to parochial schools; one attends school online/virtually; and the remaining 166 attend public schools.

Spelling Bee minimum age

There is no minimum age allowed to compete in the Scripps Spelling Bee. The youngest participant in 2023 is 9 years old.

Spelling Bee maximum age

The maximum age allowed to compete in the Scripps Spelling Bee is 15. The oldest participants in 2023 are 14 years old.

Who is the youngest to win Spelling Bee?

The youngest child to ever win the Scripps Spelling Bee was Nihar Janga from Austin, Texas. He won the title in 2016 at the age of 11 with the word gesellschaft — defined by Oxford as "social relations based on impersonal ties, as duty to a society or organization."

How to enter Scripps National Spelling Bee

Besides the age requirement, there are other eligibility checkboxes to keep in mind when signing up.

Here are the eligibility rules and how to qualify, according to the Scripps guidelines:

  • The speller cannot have any first-, second-, or third-degree relatives who are current employees of the E.W. Scripps Company (as of Feb. 1, 2023). This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Siblings
    • Half-siblings
    • Step-siblings
    • Parents
    • Step-parents
    • Grandparents
    • Aunts
    • Uncles
    • Nieces
    • Nephews
    • First cousins
  • The speller cannot have previously won a Scripps National Spelling Bee (SNSB) competition.
  • The speller must attend a school that is officially enrolled with the SNSB.
  • The speller cannot have repeated any grade for the purpose of extending spelling bee eligibility. If the speller has repeated any grade, they must have notified the SNSB of the circumstances by March 31, 2023. The SNSB will determine the speller's status within a month in its sole discretion.
  • The speller cannot have earned a high school diploma, or the legal equivalent to one.
  • The speller, speller's parents, league guardians and/or school officials cannot have declared another entity required in an academic classification higher than eighth grade. This includes high school graduation equivalency, proficiency exams and other standardized exams such as the PSAT, SAT and ACT.
  • The speller cannot bypass normal school activity to study for the SNSB — the organization defines this as studying a minimum of four courses outside of language arts, spelling, Latin, Greek, vocabulary and etymology for at least four hours per weekday.

In addition, the speller cannot seek advancement through another partner or school in the 2023 SNSB program if disqualified between August 2022 and April 2023 and they must have been declared a champion of an SNSB-sanctioned regional event on or after Feb. 1 to be named a national competitor.

Once the speller has officially qualified for the national level, they must submit a completed version of the following documents:

  • Championship Registration
  • Prerequisite Assessment
  • Appearance Consent and Release Agreement signed by the speller and speller's parent/legal guardian
  • Certification of Eligibility Form
  • A liability waiver signed by the speller and speller's parents/legal guardian
  • A photo

Disqualification can come if any of the forms above are not filled out to the truest knowledge or the speller is not in complete compliance with the above eligibility requirements. The SNSB may also revoke prizes, rank and other benefits won at any time if the speller is later found not in compliance.

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Sara Tidwell is an editorial intern with The Sporting News.