How To Go To Your First Hackathon — The HackLife Guide 💾 💻

Before you can go to a hackathon, you have to apply to one. Like applying to college, it’s better to apply to too many, than too little. However, unlike applying to college, it is a lot easier, faster, and free. 💸🤑💰

1) Find Hackathons

You can use Major League Hacking’s website ( to find University or High School hosted Hackathons.

Their website looks like this:

Look how happy they are
You don’t even need a computer to apply

Mouse over “Find an Event,” and click on your respective continent. Or on your phone, tap on the three lines at the top right, then “Find an Event”, and then on your respective continent.

Unfortunately, only two continents are available now. Soon the WHOLE WORLD will be hacking >:)

2) Apply to several hackathons

You should now see a list of hackathons like this:

There’s only around 20 right now, but as the Fall semester approaches, there will be much more 🤓
Scroll down to see more hackathons on mobile

Quick Tip 🔑: How to Choose a Hackathon?

Scroll through and click on all the ones that sound interesting you, happen on a weekend you’re available, and have an easy course load (ProTip: choose a weekend where the next Monday you have little to no work to do, because you will be exhausted from a lack of sleep). Make sure you choose more than one, because you are not guaranteed a spot at a hackathon simply by applying.

Don’t let distance stop you from applying to any hackathon.

In March of 2015, I had a goldmine of a great idea. Alright, it was just okay. It was basically Tinder for pickup sports, where you could find a game near you just as easily as on Tinder you can get a match. I was SUPER excited to build this, as I had been thinking about it for two months and even drew the UI several times. I wanted to build it, and badly. But I had never made an app before, for Android or iPhone. So my mom told me to go to a hackathon.

I applied to every hackathon left in the current school year. However, I only got into HackUMass, which is in Massachusetts. That’s great, I got in! But I go to school at the University of Southern California. So I emailed them. And they sent a message back, telling me I would be covered by travel reimbursement. So I went. I flew to Boston, and took a bus ride to the University of Massachusetts. All my friends were jealous. 😉

Back to Applying to Your Hackathons — The Application Lingo Breakdown:

Each hackathon website will most likely have an “apply” and a “register” button. Those that don’t may not be available to apply yet, or have already finished their application stage. If you still really want to go to that hackathon, message them (through an email, Facebook message, or Twitter mention) and tell them why you are so excited about their hackathon.

But what do the words on a hackathon’s website mean?

Apply: you may be selected to join the hackathon. The organizers may choose you based on your application, or based on a random draw. It depends on the hackathon.

Register: This means that you are guaranteed a spot. But hold on, you may still be asked to RSVP.

Pre-Register: This usually happens before the application is available. This allows you to subscribe to updates on the hackathon, typically by email. By pre-registering, you are not guaranteed a spot, but you may receive higher priority.

RSVP: If accepted into a hackathon, you may be asked to RSVP and reserve your spot. Only do this if you’re certain you can make it.

3) Let’s go baby. Time to apply!

After clicking apply, you will most likely be asked for your name, email, and university or high school (they probably will ask for many more things). Just do your best to answer these questions in your own personality. Remember, hackathon organizers have to read hundreds of these applications, so make yours really stand out by just being yourself. I make sure to talk about my HackLife journey in every application I send out.

4) I’ve Applied or Pre-Registered. Now what?

Check your email regularly.

After applying or pre-registering, hackathons may email you to tell you if you’ve been accepted (or if applications are open if you pre-registered). This type of email will look something like this:

Are you going too? Message me! Or even text/call me +1-(650)-799–3840

By the way, this is not an acceptance email:

Did you apply too? Message me! Or even text/call me +1-(650)-799–3840

That is just a confirmation that you have applied.

My Gmail inbox is separated into Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums. I’ve found hackathon acceptance emails from all five of these tabs, so make sure you check everywhere regularly. But they are typically in Updates.

4) RSVP if You Have to

The day after my 21st birthday, I found out I got into BigRed Hacks! But I had to rsvp within 10 days, or my spot would be given to someone else. Thankfully, I wasn’t too hungover, and after quickly posting about my acceptance to social media, I rsvp’d.

My instagram post. I really am making this journey. Interested? Follow me on Facebook!

5) Go! Go! Go!

Go to the hackathon. Make friends (the most important thing at a hackathon) and learn (the second most important thing at a hackathon). I cried when I left my last hackathon because my team made such a big impact on me.

The Dream Team

I hope you have fun!

Jonathan Allen Grant

Written by

I’m going on a road trip across the United States of America for Hackathons between September and December.