Competition Rules

The do’s and don’ts of competing



ICCA & ICHSA: Groups must consist of permanent (for the season), full-fledged participants who are students enrolled at your school or university. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis and will take into account the academic enrollment status of the member in question, as well as the school’s policy for participation in registered student organizations. Please contact us with membership questions.

You must notify headquarters of any exceptions or new members not on the original roster included in your application in order for these members to be eligible to compete. Groups who lose members between rounds will not be penalized.

Under no circumstances should groups bring in outside performers for competition. Failure to comply with this regulation may result in disqualification from any and all future competitions.

We accept vocal ensembles of all styles, but we are not a choral competition. Groups composed of more than 18 members should contact headquarters before applying.

The Open: Anything goes for your a cappella dream team. Round up your old group for another shot at the championship, pull together the all-stars from your past, call up all the best singers, dancers and beatboxers from your neighborhood, office, book club, and family reunion.

Music Restrictions

Any music style is acceptable, but repertoire and choreography must be appropriate for a family show. No instruments of any kind are allowed.

Applying to Compete

Questions about your application are addressed in our competition application policies, which you can also find by clicking “Apply Now” on our home page and selecting an application.

Set List

If you are accepted as a competitor, our producer will notify you of your set list deadline. You are permitted to alter your set list between rounds and before any event, but you will only eligible for special awards if you inform your producer of these changes at least five days before the event.

Time Limit

Each group has 10 minutes. Please note this change from previous seasons, which has been made to ensure adequate time for mic cleaning between sets and for vaccine/testing checks upon theater entry.

Remember to leave time for brief applause between songs. Timekeeping begins and ends when a performance begins or ends. If a choreographed or sung entry or exit is part of the set, time begins the moment the first person enters or exits. Otherwise, time begins with the first note sung or pitch blown, whichever comes first, and time ends when the last note is sung.

Groups who exceed the time limit may be penalized by one place. This policy is entirely at the discretion of headquarters, based on our official timekeeper. A brief grace period may be extended depending on live event conditions outside of the group’s control.


Microphones will be provided at the competitions. Equipment will differ from event to event, depending on what the venue can provide. Producers will describe the sound setup to competing groups before the event date. Groups may not bring or provide their own sound, microphones, headsets, processors, or sound technicians.

Groups will be allowed a 15-minute sound check before competition. At finals, sound checks are 20 minutes.

Placement and Performance Order

We do our best to slot groups in the quarterfinal events nearest their schools or universities. This is not always possible, given group scheduling conflicts or an overwhelming number of selected applicants being too close or too far from particular competitions. In these situations, we do our best to minimize the amount of travel any group has to do. Groups may not choose which region they are placed into, nor can groups switch regions between quarterfinals and semifinals in order to compete in a different semifinal.

Performance order will be determined by a random draw before sound check. Please remember that, historically, groups have performed and placed well from all time slots.


ICCA Tournament Structure:

  • There are nine regions: West, Southwest, Midwest, Great Lakes, Central, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, South, and United Kingdom. There are three to five quarterfinals per region, although a quarterfinal may be cancelled at the discretion of headquarters. Canadian groups are typically placed in the U.S. region closest to them.
  • Each quarterfinal can have between six and ten competitors (in special instances more), chosen at the discretion of the headquarters based on the musical aspects of the competition judging criteria. Quarterfinals may start as early as the first weekend in January, and semifinals may be as late as the first weekend in April.
  • The 1st place and 2nd place groups in each quarterfinal will be named Quarterfinal Champion and Quarterfinal Runner-Up and will advance to their region’s semifinal. In the event of a tie between two qualifying advancing groups, judges may take a closed-ballot vote for which group they feel should advance. The group who receives a majority vote adds 1 point to their score and advances.
  • The highest scoring group at semifinals will be named Semifinal Champion and will advance to the finals held in New York City. They will join the other Semifinal Champions as well as the winners of any other country’s a cappella tournament that has been approved for inclusion by Varsity Vocals.
  • The 2nd and 3rd place group from each semifinal is eligible to participate in the wild card round. This is a video submission round that will be evaluated by our judges using our judging forms. The winner is named Wild Card Champion and will advance to ICCA Finals.
  • The highest scorer at finals will be named the ICCA Champion.
  • The final scores of the groups that place will be made public. The scores of the eliminated groups will remain confidential.

ICHSA Tournament Structure:

  • There are eight regions: Midwest, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, and West.
  • The Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic regions will all have quarterfinal rounds, where the top two or three groups from each quarterfinal will move on to the regional semifinal. The top group from each semifinal will advance to ICHSA Finals.
  • The South, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, and West regions will have one semifinal per region, and only the top group advances to ICHSA Finals. As more competitors join in these regions, we will expand and add quarterfinal rounds as well.
  • Groups that place second or third in a regional semifinals will be invited to submit a video for a Wild Card round, where the top scoring group will be invited to ICHSA Finals.
  • The highest scorer at finals will be named the ICHSA Champion.
  • The final scores of the groups that place will be made public. The scores of the eliminated groups will remain confidential.

The Open Tournament Structure:

  • In our third season, we anticipate holding qualifying rounds in certain cases (both in-person and virtually), and admitting groups directly to Finals in other cases. We will make this determination once we’ve had a chance to review all applications, so be patient with us; we will play it by ear at the beginning. Just like the ICCA and ICHSA, The Open will grow and adapt each year according to interest and participation.
  • The 2019 Open Finals will take place on Saturday, October 5, 2019 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Semifinal events will take place in July and August 2019.
  • The highest scoring group at semifinals will be named Semifinal Champion and will advance to the finals. They will join the other Semifinal Champions, the ICCA and ICHSA Champions, and any other groups approved for inclusion at finals through the audition process.
  • The highest scorer at finals will be named the the Champion of The Open and will receive a $25,000 prize, which comes with no strings attached (a cappella pun intended!), but we hope you’ll use it to launch your professional career!
  • The final scores of the groups that place will be made public. The scores of the eliminated groups will remain confidential.


Please visit our Judging page for details about how our competitions are judged.


Competitors are required to maintain the highest ethical standards and practices. They will recognize that judging is a service, because the competition and judging are a way of promoting the art of a cappella and gaining valuable feedback.

Critical evaluations of the program should be directed to headquarters.


Groups may sell their merchandise only after Varsity Vocals events. Groups will not be allowed to sell the Best of Collegiate A Cappella (BOCA) or Best of High School A Cappella (BOHSA) albums. At some competitions, Varsity Vocals must take a percentage of the merchandise sold to accommodate venue overheads or other associated fees. At any show where this applies, headquarters will notify the competitors as soon as possible.


Groups accepted to competition are expected to appear in any competitions to which they advance. Groups who drop out for any unapproved reason will be barred from competition for one year. Their competition entry fees will not be returned.


Phew! That was a lot.

We know there are a lot of rules, but we take our competition as seriously as you do. We want your experience in the ICCA, ICHSA, and The Open to be amazing. Have a question or concern? Please check out our FAQs or let us know.

Are You Ready?

Gather your belters, drum up your beat boxers, tighten up your harmonies, and get ready, because you are in for an amazing ride!

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“I will never forget how I felt when I heard our name announced at finals. It was the best validation for all the hard work, time, and love that each individual member put in to our competition set, and for that to happen on a beautiful stage in New York City in the midst of so many amazing groups was an experience like no other.”

Myles Nuzzi

Music Director, USC SoCal Vocals, 2015 ICCA Champions

“Helping to lead the ScatterTones to ICCA Finals was definitely a highlight of my career thus far. The group worked so hard that year! It was a pleasure to see our dedication and hard work pay off, and an awesome opportunity to share the stage and learn from other leading a cappella groups across the country!”

India Carney

former music director of the UCLA ScatterTones, and Top 5 artist on The Voice

“There’s just something really special to me about a group coming together to create something larger than themselves. Varsity Vocals is able to provide these invaluable opportunities to students all across the nation, and that’s just really incredible.”

Lauren Gornto

Music Director, WA Cappella, 2015 ICHSA Mid-Atlantic Finalist

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