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40 Free Writing Contests: Competitions With Cash Prizes

by Kelly Gurnett | Aug 29, 2023

essay contest ideas

Have you ever Googled “writing contests”? Many require reading fees or prizes—like seeing your work in print—that you can only receive if you pay for it.

Some legitimate contests charge small entry fees, but often a fee can be a red flag for a scam, so those might be the ones you want to stay away from. 

Besides, there are plenty of free writing contests that encourage and inspire boundless creativity with real cash prizes and career-advancing opportunities! Since it can be hard for a writer to know where to find them, we did the legwork for you.

We found 40 reputable, well-reviewed, free writing contests for poets, fiction writers, essayists and more.

With thousands of dollars in cash prizes and numerous opportunities to secure a publishing contract, you’re sure to find the right free writing contest for your work.

If you don’t mind paying a little money to enter, our friends over at Smart Blogger have rounded up some great writing contests that have small entry fees. And if you’re still hungry for more opportunities, we also have posts on writers grants and writing fellowships .

Table of Contents

Fiction and nonfiction writing contests this year.

Ready to share your novel or personal essay with the world? Whether you’re a newbie or more established writer, you’re likely eligible for a few of these contests.

Here are some fiction and nonfiction writing contests worth considering .

1. L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest

Whatever your feelings about L. Ron Hubbard’s work and philosophy, the prizes for this regular contest are nothing to sneeze at. Every three months, winners earn $1,000, $750 and $500, plus an additional annual grand prize of $5,000.

Submissions must be short stories or novelettes (up to 17,000 words) in the genre of science fiction or fantasy, and new and amateur writers are welcome to apply.

Deadlines: Quarterly on March 31, June 30 and September 30

Website: Writers of the Future

This boutique publishing firm offers cash prizes and promotional packages to winning authors. Submit a novel of 10,000 words or more in any fiction genre (no fanfic or poetry).

Inkitt’s writing contest runs monthly and gives authors the chance to win cash prizes up to $300, exclusive book badges and promotional packages while showcasing their books to Inkitt’s audience of more than 3 million users. Winners are determined by Inkitt’s unique algorithm based on overall reader engagement.

Deadline: See individual contest pages

Website: Inkitt

Disclosure: Inkitt is an advertising partner of The Write Life. We hold our advertisers to high standards and vetted this contest just like others on this list. 

3. Drue Heinz Literature Prize

You can win $15,000 and publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press with this prize, awarded for a collection of short fiction.

You may submit an unpublished manuscript of short stories , two or more novellas or a combination of novellas and short stories. Your total word count should be between 150 and 300 typed pages. You must also have already published a novel or book-length work of fiction “with a reputable publisher,” or no fewer than three short stories or novellas in nationally-recognized journals.

Deadline: Annual submissions must be postmarked between May 1 through June 30

Website: University of Pittsburgh Press

4 . Young Lions Fiction Award

This $10,000 award recognizes “young authors,” which the rules define as any author aged 35 or younger. Submit any novel or collection of short stories published or scheduled to be published in the calendar year. Works must be written for adults; children’s or YA pieces are ineligible.

Deadline: Submissions for this year are open through September 8 at 5pm Eastern Time

Website: New York Public Library

5 . Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prizes

One of the best-loved small presses in the creative writing world, Graywolf Press hosts a variety of contests for both established and up-and-coming writers. Graywolf also offers smaller fiction and nonfiction prizes, with genres rotating by year; 2020 was a nonfiction year, so fiction was up in 2021, then back to nonfiction in 2022, and so on. These awards include a sizable advance— $12,000 in previous years—as well as publication with Graywolf.

Deadline: Contest is held annually with rotating genres. The contest next opens for submissions in February 2024

Website: Graywolf Press

6 . The Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans

Hosted by the prestigious Iowa Review, the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award is offered to U.S. military veterans and active-duty members writing in any genre about any subject. Manuscripts of up to 20 pages will be accepted, and the first-prize winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the Review. A second place prize of $750 is also available, as well as three runner-up prizes of $500 each.

Deadline: Biennially. The next contest will be held in May 2024

Website: The Iowa Review

7 . Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence

For 15 years, this contest has provided visibility for emerging African American fiction writers and enables them to focus on their writing by awarding a $15,000 cash prize. Eligible authors should submit a work of fiction, such as a novel or short story collection, published in the calendar year. (Galleys for publication within the year are also accepted.)

Deadline: Annually. The entry window closes on December 31

Website: The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence

8. PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Honoring the best work of fiction published by an American author in a single calendar year, this award has been given to the likes of John Updike, Philip Roth and Ann Patchett. Novels, novellas and collections of short stories are all eligible.

The winner receives a hefty cash prize—up to $15,000 in the past—and an invitation to read at the award ceremony in Washington, D.C. Plus, there are no submission fees or application forms to deal with; just send a PDF of each book (as many as you’d like) to [email protected] .

Deadline: S ubmissions will be accepted from July 1 to September 30

Website: Pen/Faulkner

9 . PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers

This contest requires you to have already published a short story in a literary magazine or journal or cultural website. But if you’ve made your debut (but gone no further), you may be eligible for the generous cash prize of $2,000, which is annually awarded to 12 emerging writers, whose works are then published together in an anthology.

Short stories of up to 12,000 words are eligible and must be published in the calendar year preceding the year in which the award is given. Additionally, keep this in mind: Submissions are only eligible if submitted by an editor. Authors may not submit their own work.

Deadline: Submissions close November 1

Website: PEN America

10. Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

Fiction and nonfiction writers who have recently published a book that “contribute[s] to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of cultural diversity” are eligible for this award, which offers $10,000 cash as well as media and publicity opportunities. Plus, winners receive their prize at a ceremony in Cleveland.

Submissions must be published in the prior year (so books published last year are eligible for the award this year).

Deadline: Annual submission window is September 1 through December 31

Website: Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards

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11. Marfield Prize (aka National Award for Arts Writing)

Presented by the Arts Club of Washington, this award seeks to honor nonfiction books that deal with the “visual, literary, media, or performing arts.” The prize is $10,000 and may be awarded to works of criticism, art history, memoirs and biographies, and essays.

Deadline: Annually in the last quarter of the year. The submission window in 2023 is October 15

Website: The Marfield Prize

1 2 . W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction

If you’re a war buff, this competition is for you. It awards $5,000—and a 24-karat-gold-framed citation of achievement—to the best piece of fiction set during a period when the U.S. was at war (war may either be the main plot of the piece or simply provide the setting). Submissions may be adult or YA novels.

Deadline: Annually on December 31

Website: American Library Association

13. Friends of American Writers Chicago Awards

FAW presents two annual awards: an Adult Literature Award for literary fiction or nonfiction, and a  Young People’s Literature Award for a children’s/YA book.

Authors must reside in the state of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin—or they must set their book in one of those locations. Prize amounts vary from year to year, but you don’t have to bother with an application and all winners are celebrated at the organization’s May luncheon.

Deadline: Annually in December

Website: Friends of American Writers Chicago

14. Hektoen Grand Prix Essay Contest

Hektoen International, an online journal dedicated to medical humanities, offers two prizes annually for essays of no more than 1,500 words: $5,000 is awarded to the winner and $2,500 to the first runner-up. Eligible topics are broad so long as they have a relation to medicine, and many include art, history, literature, education and more.

Deadline: Annually; September 15 is usually the deadline

Website: Hektoen International

15. Biopage Storytelling Writing Contest

There’s no denying it: social media is a huge part of our modern-day lives. It’s easy to get used to limiting our communications to 280-character and emoji-strewn snippets, which is why this marketing firm is hosting an essay writing contest to “remind people of the benefits of writing.”

Essays of up to 5,000 characters (roughly 1,000 words) will be accepted, and right now they’re looking for stories of COVID-19 quarantine life. The grand prize winner will receive $300, and five runners-up will be awarded $100 each.

The contest is free to enter, but you’ll need to register for a Biopage account to be eligible.

Deadline: The current contest ends January 31, 2024

Website: Biopage

16. St. Martin’s Minotaur / Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition

Writers 18 and older who have never had a novel published (in any genre) are eligible for this prize, awarded to an original book-length manuscript where “murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story.” The winner receives a publication contract with Minotaur Books and an advance of $10,000 against future royalties.

Deadline: December 17 each yea r 

Website: Edgar Awards

17. ServiceScape Short Story Award

ServiceScape, a platform matching freelance writers, editors and graphic designers with clients (i.e. a great place to look for paid writing work !) offers a yearly Short Story Award of $1,000 to a winning fiction or nonfiction work of 5,000 words or fewer. The winner will also have their story featured on the ServiceScape blog, which sees thousands of readers each month.

Deadline: November 29 each year

Website: ServiceScape

18 . Stowe Prize

This biennial prize of $10,000 honors an American author whose adult fiction or nonfiction work has had an impact on a critical social justice issue (as did Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin ). The book must be written by a U.S. author and have been published in the United States during the previous three calendar years.

Deadline: Contact the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center for this year’s deadline .

Website: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

19 . The Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction essays of no more than 5,000 words on any subject are eligible for consideration for this award, whose winner receives $250 and publication in Lunch Ticket , the literary and art journal produced by the MFA community of Antioch University Los Angeles.

Works must not have been published elsewhere. Award winners are required to submit a 100-word biography, recent photo and a short note thanking the Woods family for their generosity and support.

Deadlines: Biannual reading periods are in February for the Summer/Fall issue and in August for the Winter/Spring issue

Website: Lunch Ticket

20 . The 2023 Brandon Langhjelm Memorial Essay Contest

Each year, this Canadian organization offers three prizes, ranging from $500 to $1,500, to the essay with the most thoughtful, well-reasoned arguments around a specific human-rights theme. (For example, 2022’s prompt was, “ Canadian governments are making Digital ID technologies a precondition of access to essential services and goods. What can Canadians do to protect their Charter rights and freedoms against the dangers of these technologies? ”

The contest is open to Canadian college and university students, and essays should be 2,500 words or less in length.

Deadline: November 5

Website: Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms

21. Write the World

For young writers ages 13-18, these cool contests also serve as mini workshops. Recognizing that “a first draft is never perfect,” submissions actually receive peer review by authors, writing teachers and other experts and writers are given the chance to revise their pieces based on this feedback before submitting them for final prize consideration.

Contests vary each month, but there’s a $100 prize for the winner and $50 for the runner-up (plus $50 for the best peer-reviewer). All three are featured on Write the World’s blog alongside comments from a guest judge. And since each month’s prompt is from a different genre, developing writers get a chance to test out different styles.

Deadline: Monthly

Website: Write the World

Stuck with writer’s block and looking for a way to jumpstart your escape? Prose offers weekly challenges meant to spark your creativity; many are just for fun, but look for the weekly numbered challenges posted by Prose (rather than community members or sponsors) for a chance to win money.

Prizes are typically between $100 to $200 and word counts are low—some as low as under 150, some as high as 500. So even if all you get from the prompt is a chance to flex your brain, it’s not a bad deal.

Deadline: Weekly and monthly

Website: Prose.

23. The Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing

First-generation immigrants have a chance to win $10,000 and publication by Restless Books for telling their stories (real or imagined). The contest alternates annually between fiction (novel or short story collection) and nonfiction (memoir, essay collection, narrative nonfiction). In 2021, it went to a work of nonfiction of at least 25,000 words; 2022 will be fiction.

Deadline: Submission window is usually between December and March

Website: Restless Books

24. AFSA National High School Essay Contest

The U.S. Institute of Peace and the American Foreign Service Association sponsor this annual high school essay contest, where the winner receives a $2,500 cash prize, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., and a full-tuition paid voyage with Semester at Sea upon the student’s enrollment at an accredited university. Essays should be between 1,000 and 1,250 words and have to answer all aspects of the prompt as well as demonstrate an understanding of the Foreign Service.

Runners-up get a pretty sweet deal too, a $1,250 cash prize and a full scholarship to participate in the International Diplomacy Program of the National Student Leadership Conference.

Deadline : April each year

Website: American Foreign Service Association

25. Science-me a Story

Born in 2018, the Society of Spanish Researchers invites talented and original writers to write a 100-word blurb for a hypothetical novel. This might sound really easy, but your blurb has to quickly hook readers and make them want to read more. Open to anyone over 18 anywhere in the world, your real or fictional short story for this competition must be either in English or Spanish and “conceived from the objective of scientific dissemination to primary school” to qualify for the cash prizes: £150, £100 and £50. 

Website: Society of Spanish Researchers in the United Kingdom

26. VCU Cabell First Novelist Award

Virginia Commonwealth University sponsors this award that honors an outstanding debut novel published in the preceding calendar year. While you may have published previous books in a different form, the submission must be your first published book marketed as a novel.

The award is a $5,000 cash prize, and the winning author must agree to attend the award event, usually scheduled for November.

Deadline : Annually; the submission window runs from July 1 through December 30

Website: Virginia Commonwealth University

27. Daisy Utemorrah Award

The Daisy Utemorrah Award is for an unpublished manuscript of junior or YA fiction written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples currently living in Australia. Generously supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and the State Government of Western Australia, the winner of the award receives $15,000 and a publishing contract with Magabala Books.

Deadline : Submission window usually opens at the beginning of each year

Website: Magabala Books

28 . Short Fiction Prize

If you’re an undergrad at a college in the U.S. or Canada, this writing competition is for you. (Traditionally, this contest has encouraged applicants with an Asian background, but anyone is invited to apply.) Submissions should be no more than 7,500 words.

One winner will get a $1,000 prize as well as a scholarship to the next Southampton Writers Conference .

Deadline : Submission window is usually between March 1- July 14

Website: Stony Brook University | Lichtenstein Center

29. Bacopa Literary Review Contest

The Bacopa Literary Review is an international journal published by the Writers Alliance of Gainesville. Each year, it opens submissions for pieces in four genres: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and prose poetry. Find detailed guidelines for each genre on its website. First place gets $300, and the second prize in each of the four genres gets $100.

Deadline: May 30 each year

Website: Writers Alliance of Gainesville

30. Insecure Writer’s Support Group Annual Anthology Contest

As long as you stick to the guidelines, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s annual contest welcomes your 5,000- to 6,000-word (previously unpublished) creative story. But before you send it off, make sure your story is polished and formatted! Plus, the prizes aren’t too shabby—winning stories will be edited and published, authors will receive royalties, and the top story will even get to give the anthology its title. 

Deadlines: September 1 each year

Website: Insecure Writer’s Support Group

31. Ultimate Meal Plans Nutrition Scholarship

College students studying nutrition, kinesiology or exercise-science fields: you’re going to be all over this one. Twice per year, the Ultimate Paleo Guide (aka the best paleo resource on the internet) awards $500 scholarships to two deserving students who meet all eligibility requirements—as well as write an 800-word essay about why you chose your field, an impact you’d like to make in your career, a challenge you’ve faced and more.

Deadlines: January 30 (awards in March) and July 31 (awards in September)

Website: Ultimate Meal Plans

32. New Voices Award

Presented by Lee & Low Books, an award-winning children’s book publisher, this award is given for a previously unpublished children’s picture book manuscript of no more than 1,500 words written by a writer of color or Indigenous/Native writers who’s a resident of the U.S.

The winner receives $2,000 cash and a standard publication contract, and an additional Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $1,000. You may submit up to two manuscripts.

Deadline: The contest is on hiatus for 2023, check the website for a follow-up announcement in 2024. 

Website: Lee & Low Books

33. St. Francis College Literary Prize

Since 2009, this biennial literary award has honored mid-career writers who have recently published their third, fourth or fifth work of fiction. The winner receives $50,000 and may be invited to the St. Francis College campus in Brooklyn, New York, to deliver a talk about their work or teach a mini fiction workshop to St. Francis students.

Deadline: Biennially. The contest was not offered the last three years due to the pandemic and limited campus access

Website: St. Francis College

Poetry contests this year

Curious about opportunities for poets? Your stanzas—rhyming or not—could be worth a fair amount of money in these poetry competitions.

Check out these poetry writing contests.

34. Black Voices in Children’s Literature Writing Contest

This contest is open to Black writers who are over the age of 18 and residents of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota or Wisconsin.  It’s hosted by Strive Publishing and Free Spirit Publishing and seeks to fill the need for Black representation in children’s and young adult books. Original board and picture books for children aged 0-4 and picture books for ages 4-8 are eligible, provided they feature contemporary, realistic Black characters and culture and focus on character development, self esteem, community and other aspects of positive childhood development.

Three prizes, ranging from $250 to $1,000, will be awarded, and the first-place winner will be “seriously considered” for publication, though it’s not guaranteed.

Deadline: Usually late July, each year

Website: Free Spirit Publishing  

35. James Laughlin Award

If you’re already a published poet, this is the award for you; it’s given for a second book of poetry due to come out in the forthcoming year. The winner receives $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid week-long residency at The Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. In addition, copies of the winning book are distributed to 1,000 members of the Academy of American Poets.

Deadline: Annual submission window is January 1 through May 15

Website: Academy of American Poets

36. African Poetry Book Fund Prizes

The APBF awards three prizes annually for African Poetry. The Luschei Prize for African Poetry gives $1,000 for a book of original African poetry published in the prior year.

The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets gives $1,000 and a publication contract for a book-length collection of poetry by an as-yet-unpublished African author.

The Brunel International African Poetry Prize is a new prize that grants £3,000 to a poet who was born in Africa, or has African parents, who has not yet had a full-length book of poetry published. (U.S. citizens qualify.) To submit, you’ll need 10 poems.

Deadlines: See individual prize pages

Website: African Poetry Book Fund

37. Tufts Poetry Awards

Claremont Graduate University presents two awards each year to poets they deem to be “outstanding.” The Kate Tufts Poetry Award grants $10,000 for a published first book of poetry that shows promise.

The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award grants a mammoth $100,000 for a published book of poetry by an established or mid-career poet.

Deadline: Submission window is July 1 to June 30 each year

Website: Claremont Graduate University

38. Graywolf Press Walt Whitman Award 

The Walt Whitman Award is a $5,000 prize awarded, along with publication, to an American poet with a winning first book manuscript. He or she also receives an all-expenses-paid six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy.

Graywolf Press is also one of the publishers of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize , “a first book award dedicated to the discovery of exceptional manuscripts by Black poets.” Winners receive $1,000 and Graywolf publishes every third winner of the prize.

Deadline : July 1 to September 1 each year

Website: Poets

39. Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest

Now in its 23rd year, this humor contest wants your best published or unpublished work for a grand prize of $2,000; runners-up are awarded $500 and 10 honorable mentions will receive $100 each. Writers of all ages from eligible countries can submit an original, humorous poem with 250 lines or less, and it must be in English.

Deadline : April 1, each year (and no, this isn’t an April Fools joke)

Website: Winning Writers

40. The Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize

This writing competition is looking for the best piece of unpublished, themed writing. For example, one year, the theme was “Untamed: On Wilderness and Civilization.” Submissions may be prose, poetry or non-academic essays. Maximum word count is 2,500, and this is open to all nationalities and to anyone 18 or older. The winner gets a £10,000 cash prize, second place gets £3,000 and third place gets £2,000.

Deadline : Applications open at the beginning of each year. Follow the Alpine Fellowship on Instagram for updates

Website: The Alpine Fellowship

Where to find more legitimate, free writing contests

Looking for more opportunities to submit your work? Here are a few great sites to keep an eye on for writing contests.

Winning Writers

A number of the contests found on our list came highly recommended by this site, which compiles some of the best free literary contests out there. Along with a wide range of recommended contests for writers of all stripes, Winning Writers also lists some contests and services to avoid , which is just as useful!

They also offer a handful of contests themselves , including the North Street Book Prize.

Poets & Writers

Another fantastic source for legitimate writing contests we consulted when compiling this list, Poets & Writers vets competitions, contests, awards and grants to make sure they’re following legitimate practices and policies. It’s worth checking out regularly as it features both annual and one-time contests.

This listing contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life—and we thank you for that!

The original version of this story was written by Kelly Gurnett . We updated the post so it’s more useful for our readers. 

Photo via Viktoriia Hnatiuk / Shutterstock

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25 Best Writing Competitions for High School Students – 2024

April 12, 2024

Over the past several years, the number of college applicants has been steadily rising. [i] As college admissions become more competitive, there are many steps a student can take to achieve high school success and become an outstanding candidate for college admissions: earning high SAT scores, securing strong letters of recommendation , and participating in various competitions will all boost your admissions prospects. [ii] In particular, writing competitions for high school students are a popular way to win scholarships and prize money, receive feedback on writing, build a portfolio of public work, and add to college application credentials!

Below, we’ve selected twenty-five writing competitions for high school students and sorted them by three general topics: 1) language, literature and arts, 2) STEM, environment and sustainability, and 3) politics, history and philosophy. It’s never too soon to begin thinking about your future college prospects, and even if you are a freshman, many of these writing competitions for high schoolers will be open to you! [iii]

Writing Competitions for High School Students in Language, Literature, and Arts

1) adroit prizes for poetry and prose.

This prestigious creative writing award offers high school students the opportunity to showcase their work in Adroit Journal . Judges are acclaimed writers in their respective genres.

  • Eligibility: All high school students (including international students) are eligible to apply. Poetry contestants may submit up to five poems. Prose contestants may submit up to three pieces of fiction or nonfiction writing (for a combined total of 3,500 words – excerpts accepted).
  • Prize: Winners will receive $200 and their writing will be published in Adroit Journal . All submitted entries will be considered for publication!
  • Deadline: May 1st (specific deadline may vary by year).

2)  Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest

This unique essay competition allows writers the chance to explore and respond to Ayn Rand’s fascinating and polemic 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged . Specific essay topics are posted every three months; prizes are granted seasonally with a grand prize winner announced every year.

  • Prize: Annual grand prize is $25,000.
  • Deadline: Deadlines occur every season, for each seasonal prompt.
  • Eligibility: Essays must be written in English and be 800-1,600 words in length.

Writing Competitions for High School Students (Continued)

3)  the bennington young writers awards.

Through Bennington College, this high school writing competition offers three prizes in three different genre categories: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Winners and finalists who decide to attend Bennington College will ultimately receive a substantial scholarship prize.

  • Eligibility: U.S. and international students in grades 9 through 12 may apply.
  • Prize: First place winners receive $1,000; second place wins $500; third place winners receive $250. YWA winners who apply, are admitted, and enroll at Bennington receive a $15,000 scholarship per year (for a total of $60,000). YWA finalists who apply, are admitted, and enroll at Bennington will receive a $10,000 scholarship per year (for a total of $40,000).
  • Deadline: The competition runs annually from September 1st to November 1st.

4)  Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Student Essay Contest

Do you love Jane Austen? If so, this is the high school writing competition for you! With the JASNA Student Essay Contest, high school students have the opportunity to write a six to eight-page essay about Jane Austen’s works, focused on a specific, designated topic for the competition year.

  • Eligibility: Any high school student (homeschooled students also eligible) enrolled during the contest year may submit an essay.
  • Prize: First place winner receives a $1,000 scholarship and two nights’ lodging for the upcoming annual JASNA meeting. Second place wins a $500 scholarship and third place wins a $250 scholarship. All winners will additionally receive a year membership in JASNA, the online publication of their article, and a set of Norton Critical Editions of Jane Austen’s novels.
  • Deadline: Submission accepted from February-June 1st (specific dates may vary by year).

5)  The Kennedy Center VSA Playwright Discovery Program

Young aspiring writers with disabilities are encouraged to apply to this unique program. Students are asked to submit a ten-minute play script that explores any topic, including the student’s own disability experience.

  • Eligibility: U.S. and international high school students with disabilities ages 14-19 may apply.
  • Prize: Multiple winners will receive exclusive access to professional development and networking opportunities at The Kennedy Center.
  • Deadline: January (specific deadline date may vary by year).

6)  Leonard M. Milburg ’53 High School Poetry Prize

Through Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts, this prestigious writing competition for high school students recognizes outstanding poetry writing and is judged by creative writing faculty at Princeton University.

  • Eligibility: U.S. or international students in the eleventh grade may apply. Applicants may submit up to three poems.
  • Prize: First place wins $1,500; second place wins $750; third place wins $500.
  • Deadline: November (specific deadline date may vary by year).

7)  Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest

Nancy Thorp was a student at Hollins University who showed great promise as a poet. After her death, her family established this scholarship to support budding young poets.

  • Eligibility: Female high school sophomores and juniors are eligible to apply. Applicants must be U.S. citizens.
  • Prize: First place wins $350 and publication in Cargoes literary magazine, along with a $5,000 renewable scholarship (up to $20,000 over four years) if the student enrolls in Hollins University, and free tuition and housing for Hollins University’s summer creative writing program (grades 9-12). Second place wins publication in Cargoes, along with a $1,000 renewable scholarship ($4,000 over four years) if the student enrolls at Hollins and $500 to apply toward Hollins’ summer creative writing program.
  • Deadline: October (specific deadline date may vary by year).

8)  National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Awards in Writing

Students may be nominated by their English teachers to win this prestigious writing award. Winners “exhibit the power to inform and move an audience through language” and prompts and genres may vary by competition year.

  • Prize: A certificate will be awarded to students who are judged to have exceptional writing skills. Student names will be displayed on the NCTE website.
  • Eligibility: U.S. high school sophomores and juniors are eligible for nomination.
  • Deadline: February (specific dates may vary by year). Contest prompts released in August.

9)  National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

At Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, numerous opportunities for scholarships and awards await those who submit writing in various genres: literary criticism, drama, poetry, and fiction. In all, there are 28 generic categories of art and writing to choose from!

  • Eligibility: Teens in grades 7-12 (ages 13 and up) may apply.
  • Prize: Various types of recognition and scholarships (up to $12,500) are offered for these award winners.
  • Deadline: Scholastic Awards opens for entries in September; deadlines range from December to January.

10)  National Society of High School Scholars Creative Writing Scholarship

In this creative writing competition for high schoolers, students have the opportunity to submit a piece poetry or fiction (or both – one in each category!) for the opportunity to be published on the NSHSS website and win a monetary prize.

  • Eligibility: Rising high school students graduating in 2024, 2025, 2026 and 2027 may apply.
  • Prize: There will be three $2,000 awards for the fiction category and three $2,000 awards for the poetry category.
  • Deadline: Submissions Accepted from May to October (specific dates may vary by year).

11)  National Writing Award: The Humanities and a Freer Tomorrow

This writing competition allows high school students the chance to be nominated by a teacher for a piece of writing in response to Ruth J. Simmons’ “Facing History to Find a Better Future.” Specific prompt topics may vary by year.

  • Eligibility: Nominating teachers can submit work from 11th and 12th graders in one category (fiction, poetry, prose, or essay).
  • Prize: One top prize of $1,000. Four additional prizes of $500 each. Winners will have the opportunity to have their work published by NCTE.
  • Deadline: Applications are open September to October (specific dates may vary by year).

12)  New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award

Although this prestigious award isn’t exclusively for high schoolers (anyone younger than 35 may submit a work of fiction), if you’ve written a collection of short stories or even a novel, you should certainly consider applying!

  • Eligibility: Any writer below the age of 35 may submit a novel or collection of short stories to participate in this competition.
  • Prize: $10,000 award.
  • Deadline: September (specific date may vary by year).

13)  Princeton University Ten-Minute Play Contest

This writing competition for high school students awards three annual top prizes for the best ten-minute play. Play submissions are judged each year by an acclaimed guest playwright.

  • Eligibility: U.S. or international students in the eleventh grade may apply. Students may submit one play entry; entries must be ten pages or less. Plays must be written in English.
  • Prize: First place prize is $500; second place is $250; third place is $100.
  • Deadline: Varies by year. However, students are recommended to submit before the deadline date – the submission portal will close when a maximum of 250 applicants have applied.

14)  YouthPLAYS New Voices One-Act Competition for Young Playwrights

In this exciting writing competition, students have the chance to submit an original play script for a play of around 10-40 minutes in length. An excellent competition choice for any student considering a future in the theatre!

  • Eligibility: Prospective authors ages 19 and under may submit a script for consideration in the competition. See specific writing guidelines here .
  • Prize: First prize wins $250 and publication with YouthPLAYS; second prize wins $100.
  • Deadline: Submissions run from January 1st to May 1st.

STEM, Environment, and Sustainability High School Writing Competitions

15)  engineergirl essay contest.

This wonderful essay contest invites students to explore topics related to engineering and science. Each year a new, specific prompt will be chosen for young writers who wish to compete.

  • Eligibility: High school students are eligible to apply. Previous winners and close family members of employees of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine are not eligible.
  • Prize: First place winners receive $1,000; second place receives $750; third place receives $500.
  • Deadline: Competition opens in September and submissions are due February 1st of the following year. Winners are announced in the summer.

16)  Ocean Awareness Contest

The Ocean Awareness Contest is an opportunity for students to create written and artistic projects that explore sustainability, environmentalism, and positive change. High school freshmen (up to age 14) may apply to the Junior Division. Students ages 15-18 may enter the Senior Division.

  • Eligibility: Students ages 11-18 may apply (international students included).
  • Prize: Monetary prizes ranging from $100-$1000 will be awarded each year. Additionally, $500 will be awarded to ten students who identify as Black, Indigenous, or Latino via the We All Rise Prize program.
  • Deadline: June 10, 2024 (specific deadline may vary by year).

17)  Rachel Carson Intergenerational Sense of Wonder / Sense of Wild Contest

If you are interested in issues of sustainability, environment, biology and the natural world, this is one of the high school writing competitions that is just for you! Essay prompts explore the natural world and our place within it and may include poetry, essays, and photography.

  • Eligibility: Students must pair with an adult from a different generation (e.g. parent, grandparent or teacher – contestants need not be related). Entries must be submitted as a team.
  • Prize: Winners will receive a certificate from RCLA; their first names, ages, and entry titles will be posted on the RCLA website.
  • Deadline: November 16th, 2024 (specific deadline may vary by year).

18)  River of Words Competition

This writing competition for high school students is another top choice for those thinking of pursuing majors or careers in biology, environment, and sustainability; this specific contest hopes to promote positive education in sustainability by “promoting environmental literacy through the arts and cultural exchange.”

  • Eligibility: Any U.S. or international student from kindergarten through 12th grade may apply.
  • Prize: Winners will be published in the River of Words
  • Deadline: January (specific deadline may vary by year).

Writing Competitions for High School Students in Politics, History and Philosophy

19)  american foreign service association essay contest.

With this writing competition for high school students, entrants may submit essays ranging from 1,000-1,500 words about diplomacy, history, and international politics (specific prompts vary by year).

  • Eligibility: Students in grades nine through twelve may apply. Students whose parents are in the Foreign Service Association are not eligible.
  • Prize: The first-place winner will receive $2,500, an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the winner and the winner’s parents, and an all-expense paid voyage via Semester at Sea. The second-place winner receives $1,250 and full tuition for a summer session at the National Student Leadership Conference’s International Diplomacy program.
  • Deadline: Early spring (specific deadline may vary by year).

20)  Bill of Rights Institute We the Students Essay Contest

In this writing competition for high school students, civic-minded U.S. high schoolers may explore the principles and virtues of the Bill of Rights Institute. Interested applicants should review the specific submission guidelines .

  • Eligibility: Any high school student aged 13 to 19 may apply.
  • Prize: Prizes range from $1,500 to $10,000.
  • Deadline: Submissions for 2024 due May 19th (specific deadline may vary by year).

21)  JFK Presidential Library and Museum Profile in Courage Essay Contest

For students interested in history and political science, this competition offers the chance to write about U.S. elected officials who have demonstrated political courage.

  • Eligibility: U.S. high school students from grades 9-12 may apply.
  • Prize: First prize is $10,000; second prize receives $3,000; five finalists receive $1,000 each; ten semifinalists receive $100 each; eight students receive honorable mention.
  • Deadline: Submissions accepted from September to January (specific deadline may vary by year).
  • Sample Essays: 2000-2023 Contest Winner Essays

22)  John Locke Institute Essay Competition

This essay competition is for students who would like to write about and cultivate “independent thought, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis and persuasive style” from one of seven intellectual categories: philosophy, politics, economics, history, psychology, theology or law.

  • Eligibility: Students from any country may submit an essay.
  • Prize: $2,000 for each subject category winner toward a John Locke Institute program; winning essays will be published on the Institute’s website.
  • Deadline: Registration must be completed by May 31st, 2024; essay submission due June 30th, 2024 (specific deadline may vary by year).

23)  Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association Essay Contest

This exciting writing competition for high schoolers allows students to explore topics related to journalism, democracy and media literacy. Specific prompts will be provided for contestants each year.

  • Eligibility: All U.S. students from grades 9-12 may submit original writing to participate in this contest.
  • Prize: First-place winners will receive $1,000; second place is awarded $500; third place receives $300.
  • Deadline: February (specific deadline may vary by year).

24)  Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy Youth Scholarship Essay

This audio essay allows high school students the opportunity to “express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriot-themed recorded essay.” One winner will be granted a $35,000 scholarship to be paid toward their university, college, or vocational school of choice. Smaller prizes range from $1,000-$21,000, and the first-place winner in each VFW state wins $1,000.

  • Prize: College scholarships range from $1,000-$35,000
  • Eligibility: U.S. students in grades 9-12 may submit a 3-5-minute audio essay.
  • Deadline: October 31st
  • Sample Written Essay: 2023-2024 Prize-winning essay by Sophia Lin

25)  World Historian Student Essay Competition

The World Historian Student Essay Competition recognizes young scholars who explore world historical events and how they relate to the student scholar personally. Ultimately the student writer must describe “the experience of being changed by a better understanding of world history.”

  • Eligibility: Internationally, students ages K-12 may submit an entry. See specific prompt and submission guidelines for writing instructions.
  • Prize: $500

Writing Competitions for High School Students – Sources

[i] Institute for Education Sciences: National Center for Education Statistics. “Number of applications for admission from first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students were received by postsecondary institutions in the fall.” https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/TrendGenerator/app/answer/10/101

[ii] Jaschik, Scott. “Record Applications, Record Rejections.” Inside Higher Ed . 3 April 2022. https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2022/04/04/most-competitive-colleges-get-more-competitive

[iii] Wood, Sarah. “College Applications are on the Rise: What to Know.” U.S. News & World Report. 21 June 2022. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/college-applications-are-on-the-rise-what-to-know

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For the past decade, Jamie has taught writing and English literature at several universities, including Boston College, the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. She earned a Ph.D. in English from Carnegie Mellon, where she currently teaches courses and conducts research on composition, public writing, and British literature.

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WEEKLY WRITING PROMPTS

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Write a story in which one of the characters is a narcissist., write about a character who struggles to do the right thing., start your story with a character being followed..

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Your protagonist is a voracious reader. Lately, they’ve been noticing odd synchronicities in the books he or she is reading. What does the protagonist discover is happening?

Dream up a secret library. write a story about an adventurer who discovers it. what’s in the library why was it kept secret, write a story about a future academic (or another influential person) “rediscovering” a book that, in its time, was dismissed. the book can be fictitious or real., your protagonist is a writer who discovers a new favorite author. how does their writing, or even their own personality, change as the protagonist falls under the writer’s influence, write a story about discovering a lost manuscript. it can be from a famous (or infamous) author, or an unknown one., subscribe to our prompts newsletter.

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Your teacher tasks you with writing a story based on an eavesdropped conversation. When the story is published, your subject isn’t happy.

A character overhears something at a black-tie event that puts the night in jeopardy., write a story in which someone can only hear one side of a conversation and must piece together the meaning of what they’ve heard., write a story about a child overhearing something they don’t understand., write a story in which someone is afraid of being overheard., write a story about a character driving and getting lost., write a story about a tennis match between two rivals., write a story that begins with someone dancing in a bar., write a story around someone (literally) bumping into someone else., write a story about a character running late for a job interview., win $250 in our short story competition 🏆.

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Creative Writing Prompts

When the idea to start a weekly newsletter with writing inspiration first came to us, we decided that we wanted to do more than provide people with topics to write about. We wanted to try and help authors form a regular writing habit and also give them a place to proudly display their work. So we started the weekly Creative Writing Prompts newsletter. Since then, Prompts has grown to a community of more than 450,000 authors, complete with its own literary magazine, Prompted .  

Here's how our contest works: every Friday, we send out a newsletter containing five creative writing prompts. Each week, the story ideas center around a different theme. Authors then have one week — until the following Friday — to submit a short story based on one of our prompts. A winner is picked each week to win $250 and is highlighted on our Reedsy Prompts page.

Interested in participating in our short story contest? Sign up here for more information! Or you can check out our full Terms of Use and our FAQ page .

Why we love creative writing prompts

If you've ever sat in front of a computer or notebook and felt the urge to start creating worlds, characters, and storylines — all the while finding yourself unable to do so — then you've met the author's age-old foe: writer's block. There's nothing more frustrating than finding the time but not the words to be creative. Enter our directory! If you're ready to kick writer's block to the curb and finally get started on your short story or novel, these unique story ideas might just be your ticket.

This list of 1800+ creative writing prompts has been created by the Reedsy team to help you develop a rock-solid writing routine. As all aspiring authors know, this is the #1 challenge — and solution! — for reaching your literary goals. Feel free to filter through different genres, which include...

Dramatic — If you want to make people laugh and cry within the same story, this might be your genre.

Funny — Whether satire or slapstick, this is an opportunity to write with your funny bone.

Romance — One of the most popular commercial genres out there. Check out these story ideas out if you love writing about love.

Fantasy — The beauty of this genre is that the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Dystopian – Explore the shadowy side of human nature and contemporary technology in dark speculative fiction.

Mystery — From whodunnits to cozy mysteries, it's time to bring out your inner detective.

Thriller and Suspense — There's nothing like a page-turner that elicits a gasp of surprise at the end.

High School — Encourage teens to let their imaginations run free.

Want to submit your own story ideas to help inspire fellow writers? Send them to us here.

After you find the perfect story idea

Finding inspiration is just one piece of the puzzle. Next, you need to refine your craft skills — and then display them to the world. We've worked hard to create resources that help you do just that! Check them out:

  • How to Write a Short Story That Gets Published — a free, ten-day course by Laura Mae Isaacman, a full-time editor who runs a book editing company in Brooklyn.
  • Best Literary Magazines of 2023 — a directory of 100+ reputable magazines that accept unsolicited submissions.
  • Writing Contests in 2023 — the finest contests of 2021 for fiction and non-fiction authors of short stories, poetry, essays, and more.

Beyond creative writing prompts: how to build a writing routine

While writing prompts are a great tactic to spark your creative sessions, a writer generally needs a couple more tools in their toolbelt when it comes to developing a rock-solid writing routine . To that end, here are a few more additional tips for incorporating your craft into your everyday life.

  • NNWT. Or, as book coach Kevin Johns calls it , “Non-Negotiable Writing Time.” This time should be scheduled into your routine, whether that’s once a day or once a week. Treat it as a serious commitment, and don’t schedule anything else during your NNWT unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Set word count goals. And make them realistic! Don’t start out with lofty goals you’re unlikely to achieve. Give some thought to how many words you think you can write a week, and start there. If you find you’re hitting your weekly or daily goals easily, keep upping the stakes as your craft time becomes more ingrained in your routine.
  • Talk to friends and family about the project you’re working on. Doing so means that those close to you are likely to check in about the status of your piece — which in turn keeps you more accountable.

Arm yourself against writer’s block. Writer’s block will inevitably come, no matter how much story ideas initially inspire you. So it’s best to be prepared with tips and tricks you can use to keep yourself on track before the block hits. You can find 20 solid tips here — including how to establish a relationship with your inner critic and apps that can help you defeat procrastination or lack of motivation.

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How to Win Essay Contests: A Step-by-Step Guide

10 Steps to Writing Contest-Winning Essays

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Did you know that you can win prizes with your writing skills? Essay contests are a fun way to turn your creativity and your command of the written word into great prizes. But how do you give your essay the edge that gets it picked from among all of the other entries?

Here's a step-by-step guide to writing essays that impress judges. Follow these steps for your best chances of winning writing contests.

Read the Essay Contest Rules

The first thing that you should do to win essay contests is to read the rules thoroughly. Overlooking one small detail could be the difference between winning the contest and wasting your time.

Pay special attention to:

  • The contest's start and end dates.
  • How often you're allowed to enter.
  • The word or character count .
  • The contest's theme.
  • The criteria that the judges will use to pick the winners.
  • Who the sponsoring company is, and what their branding is like.
  • And any other details the sponsor requires.

It might help you to print out the sweepstakes rules and highlight the most important elements, or to take notes and keep them close at hand as you write.

If you summarize the relevant rules in a checklist, you can easily check the requirements off when you've finished your essay to ensure you haven't overlooked anything.

Brainstorm Your Essay Ideas

Many people want to jump right into writing their essay, but it's a better idea to take some time to brainstorm different ideas before you start. Oftentimes, your first impulse isn't your best.

The Calgary Tutoring Centre lists several reasons why brainstorming improves your writing . According to their article, brainstorming lets you:

"Eliminate weaker ideas or make weaker ideas stronger. Select only the best and most relevant topics of discussion for your essay while eliminating off-topic ideas. Or, generate a new topic that you might have left out that fits with others."

For a great brainstorming session, find a distraction-free area and settle in with a pen and paper, or your favorite method to take notes. A warm beverage and a healthy snack might aid your process. Then, think about your topic and jot down quick words and phrases that are relevant to your theme.

This is not the time to polish your ideas or try to write them coherently. Just capture enough of the idea that you know what you meant when you review your notes.

Consider different ways that you can make the contest theme personal, come at it from a different angle, or stand out from the other contest entries. Can you make a serious theme funny? Can you make your ideas surprising and unexpected?

Write down all your ideas, but don't judge them yet. The more ideas you can come up with, the better.

Select the Essay Concept that Best Fits the Contest's Theme and Sponsor

Once you've finished brainstorming, look over all of your ideas to pick the one you want to develop for your essay contest entry.

While you're deciding, think about what might appeal to the essay contest's sponsor. Do you have a way of working the sponsor's products into your essay? Does your concept fit the sponsor's company image?

An essay that might be perfect for a Budweiser contest might fall completely flat when Disney is the sponsor.

This is also a good time to consider whether any of your rejected ideas would make good secondary themes for your essay.

Use a Good Hook to Grab the Reader's Attention

When it's time to start writing your essay, remember that the first sentence is the most important. You want to ensure that your first paragraph is memorable and grabs the reader's attention.

When you start with a powerful, intriguing, moving, or hilarious first sentence, you hook your readers' interest and stick out in their memory when it is time to pick winners.

Writer's Digest has some excellent tips on how to hook readers at the start of an essay in their article, 10 Ways to Hook Your Reader (and Reel Them in for Good) .

For ideas on how to make your essay unforgettable, see Red Mittens, Strong Hooks, and Other Ways to Make Your Essay Spectacular .

Write the First Draft of Your Essay

Now, it's time to get all of your thoughts down on paper (or on your computer). Remember that this is a first draft, so don't worry about perfect grammar or if you are running over your word count. 

Instead, focus on whether your essay is hitting the right emotional notes, how your story comes across, whether you are using the right voice, and if you are communicating everything you intend to.

First drafts are important because they help you overcome your reluctance to write. You are not trying to be good yet, you are trying to simply tell your story. Polishing that story will come later.

They also organize your writing. You can see where your ideas fit and where you need to restructure to give them more emotional impact.

Finally, a first draft helps you keep your ideas flowing without letting details slow you down. You can even skip over parts that you find challenging, leaving notes for your next revision. For example, you could jot down "add statistics" or "get a funny quote from Mom" and come back to those time-consuming points later.

Revise Your Essay for Flow and Organization

Once you've written the first draft of your essay, look over it to ensure that it flows. Is your point well-made and clear? Do your thoughts flow smoothly from one point to another? Do the transitions make sense? Does it sound good when you read it aloud?

This is also the time to cut out extraneous words and ensure you've come in under the word count limit.

Generally, cutting words will improve your writing. In his book, On Writing , Stephen King writes that he once received a rejection that read: "Formula for success: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%." In other words, the first draft can always use some trimming to make the best parts shine.

If you'd like some tips on how to improve your first draft, check out these tips on how to self-edit .

Keep an Eye Out for "Red Mittens"

In her fantastic book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio , Terry Ryan talked about how her mother Evelyn used "red mittens" to help her be more successful with contest entries.

As she put it:

"The purpose of the Red Mitten was almost self-explanatory -- it made an entry stand out from the rest. In a basket of mittens, a red one will be noticed."

Rhyme, alliteration, inner rhyme, puns, and coined words were some of the red mittens that Evelyn Ryan used to make her entries pop. Your essay's red mitten might be a clever play on words, a dash of humor, or a heart-tuggingly poignant story that sticks in the judges' minds.

If your first draft is feeling a little bland, consider whether you can add a red mitten to spice up your story.

Put Your Contest Entry Aside

Now that you have a fairly polished draft of your essay contest entry, put it aside and don't look at it for a little while. If you have time before the contest ends, put your essay away for at least a week and let your mind mull over the idea subconsciously for a little while.

Many times, people think of exactly what their essay needs to make it perfect... right after they have hit the submit button.

Letting your entry simmer in your mind for a while gives you the time to come up with these great ideas before it's too late.

Revise Your Essay Contest Entry Again

Now, it's time to put the final polish on your essay. Have you said everything you wanted to? Have you made your point? Does the essay sound good when you read it out loud? Can you tighten up the prose by making additional cuts in the word count?

In this phase, it helps to enlist the help of friends or family members. Read your essay to them and check their reactions. Did they smile at the right parts? Were they confused by anything? Did they connect with the idea behind the story?

This is also a good time to ensure you haven't made any grammar or spelling mistakes. A grammar checker like Grammarly is very helpful for catching those little mistakes your eyes gloss over. But since even computer programs make mistakes sometimes, so it's helpful to have another person — a good friend or family member — read it through before you submit it.

Read the Essay Contest Rules One Last Time

If you've been following these directions, you've already read through the contest rules carefully. But now that you've written your draft and had some time to think things over, read them through one more time to make sure you haven't overlooked anything.

Go through your checklist of the essay requirements point-by-point with your finished essay in front of you to make sure you've hit them all.

And now, you're done! Submit the essay to your contest, and keep your fingers crossed for the results !

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Essay Writing Contests: The Ultimate List of 2024

essay contest ideas

Did you know that the very first recorded essay contest can be traced back to the early 16th century, initiated by none other than the renowned philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne? In 1580, Montaigne published his collection of essays titled 'Essais,' which not only marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the essay as a literary form but also contained an implicit challenge to his readers. He encouraged them to engage with his ideas and respond by writing their own essays, essentially laying the groundwork for what we now recognize as essay contests.

Fast forward to the vibrant year of 2024, and this tradition of writing competitions has evolved into a global phenomenon, offering emerging writers from all walks of life a captivating platform to share their thoughts, emotions, and narratives with the world.

In this article, our essay writer will review essay writing contests, presenting you with an exclusive selection of the most promising opportunities for the year ahead. Each of these competitions not only provides a stage to demonstrate your writing prowess but also offers a unique avenue for personal growth, self-expression, and intellectual exploration, all while competing for impressive writing awards and well-deserved recognition.

Top Essay Writing Contests in 2024

If you enjoy expressing your thoughts and ideas through writing, you're in for a treat. Essay writing competitions in 2024 offer you a chance to do just that and win some great prizes in the process. We've put together a list of contests specially designed for students like you. These contests cover various interesting essay topics , giving you a unique opportunity to showcase your writing skills and potentially earn cash prizes or scholarships. So, let's jump right into these fantastic opportunities.

Top Essay Writing Contests in 2024

2024 International Literary Prize by Hammond House Publishing

The 2024 Writing Competition beckons writers with over £3000 in cash prizes, publication opportunities in anthologies, and a chance to participate in a televised Award Ceremony. Sponsored by the University Centre Grimsby, this annual contest, now in its eighth year, draws entries from approximately 30 countries worldwide. Entrants can vie for prizes across four categories, gaining exposure at the televised award ceremony and receiving expert feedback at the annual literary festival.

And if you're determined to learn how to overcome writer's block for this contest, we have a wealth of expert tips and strategies to guide you through the process!

Deadline: 30th September 2024

  • 1st Prize: £1000
  • 2nd Prize: £100
  • 3rd Prize: £50

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International Voices in Creative Nonfiction Competition by Vine Leaves Press

Vine Leaves Press welcomes writers worldwide, prioritizing voices from marginalized communities such as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and individuals with chronic illnesses or disabilities, among others. Submissions, which must be in English and previously unpublished, are accepted from February 1, 2024, until July 1, 2024. Manuscripts can be either narrative (50,000 – 80,000 words) or experimental (at least 100 pages), adhering to specific formatting guidelines, including anonymity to ensure impartial judging. Each submission requires a $25 entry fee via Submittable, and multiple entries are allowed. Entries will be judged based on originality, creativity, writing quality, and adherence to genre, with finalists announced in October 2024, shortlisted in January 2025, and winners in March 2025.

Deadline: July 01, 2024

  • The winner will receive a cash prize of $1000.
  • Publication of the winning manuscript will occur in 2026 by Vine Leaves Press.
  • Runners-up will also be considered for publication.

Solas Awards by Best Travel Writing

The Solas Awards, continuing a tradition since 1993, celebrate travel stories that inspire. They're looking for engaging tales that capture the essence of exploration, whether funny, enlightening, or adventurous. Winners may get published and join a community of fellow storytellers. Entries in essay, non-fiction, and travel genres are welcome with a $25 submission fee.

Deadline: September 21, 2024

  • $1,000 Gold
  • $750 Silver
  • $500 Bronze

Vocal Challenges by Creatd

Vocal, in partnership with Voices in Minor (ViM), announces a creator-led challenge in celebration of International Women's Day, open to all Vocal creators. Participants are invited to write a 600-800 word piece about a woman who has inspired them for International Women's Day in the Year of the Dragon 2024. Submissions must adhere to specific length criteria and can be of any genre or format. Vocal will review entries and create a shortlist, from which ViM will select two co-grand prize winners and ten runners-up.

Deadline: Mar 12, 2024

  • 2 Co-Grand Prizes: $200
  • 10 Runners-up: $20

Cambridge Re:think Essay Competition 2024

The Re:think Essay Competition welcomes students aged 14 to 18 worldwide to participate in crafting essays under 2000 words, following MLA 8 citation style, with submissions undergoing plagiarism and AI checks. Essay prompts cover diverse themes, such as the role of women in STEM , provided by distinguished professors from prestigious institutions like Harvard, Brown, UC Berkeley, Cambridge, Oxford, and MIT. To maintain anonymity during review, submissions should be in PDF format without personal details.

Deadline : 10th May, 2024

  • Gold: $150 cash, $500 CCIR scholarship, digital certificate, interview, Cambridge invite.
  • Silver: $100 cash, $300 CCIR scholarship, digital certificate, interview, Cambridge invite.
  • Bronze: $50 cash, $200 CCIR scholarship, digital certificate, interview, Cambridge invite.

The Hudson Prize by Black Lawrence Press

Each year, Black Lawrence Press presents The Hudson Prize, inviting submissions for an unpublished collection of poems or prose. This competition is open to writers at all stages of their careers, offering the winner book publication, a $1,000 cash prize, and ten copies of the published book. Entries are read blind by a panel of editors, requiring manuscripts to adhere to specific formatting guidelines, including pagination and font choice. Poetry manuscripts should be 45-95 pages, while prose manuscripts should range from 120-280 pages.

Deadline : March 31, 2024

  • Top prize $1,000

essay contest 2024

Irene Adler Prize by Lucas Ackroyd

Introducing The Irene Adler Prize essay writing contest, offering a $1,000 US scholarship to the winner, with up to two $250 awards for honorable mentions. Open to women pursuing bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D. degrees in journalism, creative writing, or literature worldwide, regardless of age. Unlike previous years, this year's competition welcomes applicants from any country. The application period runs from January 30, 2024, to May 30, 2024, with no late submissions accepted. Each application requires a 500-word essay on one of five provided prompts and a completed entry form, both submitted via email.

Deadline : May 30, 2024

  • 2x honorable mentions: $250

100 Word Writing Contest by Tadpole Press

With a doubled first-place prize of $2,000 USD, participants are invited from all corners of the globe, regardless of age, gender, or nationality. Pen names are accepted, and winning entries will be published under those names. Previously published pieces are also welcome, with no restrictions. Any genre is accepted, with the theme centered around creativity. Each entry must be 100 words or less, including the title.

Deadline : April 30, 2024

  • 1st place: $2,000 USD.
  • 2nd place: Writing coaching package valued at $450 USD.
  • 3rd place: Developmental and diversity editing package valued at $250 USD.

African Diaspora Awards 2024 by Kinsman Avenue Publishing, Inc

The African Diaspora Award 2024 seeks original works from Afro-descendants, including short stories, flash fiction, essays, poetry, or visual art. Winners can earn up to $1000 USD and publication in Kinsman Quarterly and "Black Butterfly: Voices of the African Diaspora." Submissions reflecting cultural themes are due by June 30, 2024. Authors retain copyrights, and entrants must be 18 or older. No plagiarism is allowed, and Kinsman Quarterly employees cannot enter. Various genres are accepted with specific word count limits.

Deadline : June 30, 2024

  • Grand Prize: $1000 cash and publication in Kinsman Quarterly & anthology.
  • 1st Runner Up: $300 cash and publication 
  • 2nd Runner Up: $200 cash and publication 
  • 3rd Runner Up: $50 cash and publication
  • Top 6 Finalists: $25 Amazon gift card and publication 
  • 6 Honorary Mentions: Publication in Kinsman Quarterly & anthology.

Work-In-Progress (WIP) Contest by Unleash Press

The Unleash WIP Award 2024 offers $500, feedback, coaching, and a feature in Unleash Lit to help writers with their book projects in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. All writers can apply. So, if you're looking for resources like free Harvard online courses to hone your writing skills, consider entering this competition. Submissions of the first 25 pages and answers to questions are due by July 15, 2024. Multiple entries are okay, but follow the rules, especially keeping your submission anonymous. Unleash also welcomes previously self-published works.

Deadline : July 15, 2024

  • Top prize: $500
  • Additional prizes: Coaching, interview, and editorial support

Aurora Polaris Creative Nonfiction Award by Trio House Press

Open to all writers, the poetry manuscripts should be 48-70 pages, and the prose manuscripts should be up to 80,000 words. Submissions must be from U.S. residents and must be original works. AI-generated submissions and translations are not eligible. Manuscripts should be sent as a single Word doc. or docx. file with no identifying information, and a cover letter with bio and contact details should be uploaded separately.

Deadline: May 15, 2024

  • $1,000, publication, and 20 books

2024 International Literary Prize by Hammond House Publishing

Poetry & Spoken Word Competition 2024 by Write the World

Young writers aged 13 to 19.5 are invited to enter this upcoming competition, with submissions of 50 to 500 words. Inspired by Audrey Lorde's words and the power of poetry, participants are encouraged to craft original poems or spoken word pieces advocating for change and self-expression. Winners, including top prizes for written and recorded performances, will be announced on June 14. Malika Booker, a renowned British poet, serves as the guest judge. To enter, writers should sign up on Write the World, respond to the prompt, and submit their final entries before the deadline.

Deadline : May 27, 2024

  • Best entry: $100
  • Best Peer Review: $50

Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award

The Killer Nashville essay writing contests seek to uncover new talent and recognize outstanding works by established authors, aiming to introduce their works to a broader audience. With numerous fiction and non-fiction categories available, writers have the opportunity to showcase their talent across a wide range of genres. The top prize includes a $250 award, and entry requires a fee of $79. Genres eligible for entry encompass crime, essay, fantasy, fiction, humor, memoir, mystery, non-fiction, novel, poetry, science fiction, script writing, short story, and thriller.

Deadline : June 15, 2024

  • Top prize: $250

Journalism Competition 2024 by Write the World

In this upcoming competition, young writers aged 13 to 19.5 are invited to participate, with entries ranging from 400 to 1000 words. Participants are tasked with exploring and reporting on significant events within their own country, fostering a deeper understanding of local issues. Optional draft submissions for expert review are available until July 8, with feedback returned to writers by July 12. Winners will be announced on August 9. To enter, writers must sign up for a free account on Write the World, respond to the prompt, and submit their final entries before the deadline.

Deadline : July 22, 2024

National Essay Contest by U.S. Institute of Peace

This year, AFSA is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the United States Foreign Service. They've been involved in important events throughout history, like making decisions about war and peace, supporting human rights, and responding to disasters. Now, AFSA wants students to think about the future of diplomacy. They're asking students to imagine how diplomats can adapt to the changing world and its challenges. It's a chance for students to explore how diplomacy can continue to make a difference in the world.

Deadline : April 01, 2024

  • Top prize: $2,500
  • Additional prizes: Runner-up: $1,250

In 2023, the world of writing competitions offers a diverse tapestry of opportunities for writers across the globe. From exploring the depths of nature to delving into the mysteries of microfiction, these competitions beckon with enticing prizes and platforms for your creative voice. So, pick your favorite, sharpen your pen, and embark on a journey of literary excellence!

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Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker

is a seasoned educational writer focusing on scholarship guidance, research papers, and various forms of academic essays including reflective and narrative essays. His expertise also extends to detailed case studies. A scholar with a background in English Literature and Education, Daniel’s work on EssayPro blog aims to support students in achieving academic excellence and securing scholarships. His hobbies include reading classic literature and participating in academic forums.

essay contest ideas

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

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Our 3rd Annual Personal Narrative Writing Contest

We invite students to tell a short story about a meaningful life experience in 600 words or fewer. Contest Dates: Oct. 13 to Nov. 17, 2021

essay contest ideas

By The Learning Network

Update, Jan. 20, 2022: Winners have been announced!

When you think of The New York Times, you probably think of front-page news, but The Times also has a long tradition of publishing personal narratives, and you can find new ones online nearly every day if you know where to look.

In fact, over the years there have been columns dedicated to personal narratives on themes from love and family to life on campus, how we relate to animals, living with disabilities and navigating anxiety.

For this contest, we invite you to write a personal narrative of your own about a meaningful life experience.

We’re not asking you to write to a particular theme or to use a specific structure or style, but we are looking for short, powerful stories about a particular moment or event in your life. We want to hear your story, told in your unique voice, and we hope you’ll experiment with style and form to tell a tale that matters to you, in a way you enjoy telling it.

Take a look at the full guidelines and related resources below. Please post any questions you have in the comments and we’ll answer you there, or write to us at [email protected]. And, consider hanging this PDF one-page announcement on your class bulletin board.

Here’s what you need to know:

How to submit, resources for teachers and students, frequently asked questions.

Students ages 11 to 19 anywhere in the world attending middle or high school can participate. Read the instructions carefully to determine the best way to participate.

Student Submission Form

If you can answer YES to either of these two questions, then you can use our student submission form :

Are you a middle or high school student residing in the United States or the United Kingdom who is 13 - 19 years old?

Are you a middle or high school student residing in any country outside the United States or the United Kingdom who is 16 - 19 years old?

If you are a middle or high school student who answers “No” to both of those questions, then please ask an adult to submit on your behalf.

Teacher/Parent Submission Form

Adults can submit on behalf of any middle or high school students ages 11 - 19. We offer two forms for teachers and parents. Choose which form is best for you.

Individual Submission Form: If you are an adult submitting on behalf of one student, use this submission form .

Bulk Submission Form: If you are an adult submitting entries on behalf of more than one student, use this bulk submission form .

Your narrative should be a short, powerful, true story about a meaningful experience from your own life.

It must be 600 words or fewer, not including the title.

You must be a student ages 11 to 19 in middle school or high school anywhere in the world to participate. For students in the United States, we consider middle school to begin in 6th grade. Students in lower grades cannot participate. For students outside the United States, students must be 11 years old to have their work submitted to this contest.

Your essay should be original for this contest, meaning, it should not already be published at the time of submission, whether in a school newspaper, for another contest or anywhere else.

Keep in mind your audience. You’re writing for a family newspaper, so, for example, no curse words, please.

Submit only one entry per student.

While many of our contests allow students to work in teams, for this one you must work alone.

All entries must be submitted by Nov. 17, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific using the appropriate contest form above.

Please read through all the official eligibility and submission rules before submitting your narrative. If you have questions, please see the Frequently Asked Questions section below.

A unit plan on personal narrative writing , including writing prompts, mentor texts, lesson plans and reader ideas.

An on-demand introductory webinar, Teaching Narrative Writing With The New York Times , with Learning Network staff on using writing prompts and mentor texts to prepare students for the contest.

An on-demand webinar, Personal Narratives From the Newsroom to the Classroom , featuring two guest experts — a New York Times editor who selects stirring personal stories for the popular Modern Love column, and a high school English teacher who uses our narrative-writing unit and mentor texts from The Times to help her students write college essays with voice, style and meaning.

A lesson plan, “ From ‘Lives’ to ‘Modern Love’: Writing Personal Essays With Help From The New York Times ,” on everything from avoiding “zombie nouns” to writing “dangerous” college essays.

An annotated essay from the Modern Love column, “ Annotated by the Author: ‘Why Can’t Men Say “I Love You” to Each Other?’ ”

The seven winning essays from our 2020 contest and eight essays from our 2019 contest.

Three annotated essays — “Pants on Fire,” “Speechless” and “Cracks in the Pavement” — and video interviews with past student winners that illuminate the narrative writing process.

A short video with advice from three or our past winners (embedded above).

Our collection of 550 Writing Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing .

Our contest rubric .

Below are answers to your questions about writing, judging, the rules and teaching with this contest. Please read these thoroughly and, if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, post your query in the comments or write to us at [email protected].

Questions About Writing

What is a personal narrative?

For this contest, we’re defining a personal narrative as a short, powerful, true story about a specific experience, event or incident from your real life.

Because you’re telling a story about a particular moment rather than, say, summarizing your whole life or reflecting on your feelings about a topic, there should be a clear narrative arc — a beginning, middle and end — that is driven by a conflict of some kind that is eventually resolved or spurs an attempt at an ongoing life change.

Keep in mind, however, that any story can work. It doesn’t have to be the most dramatic thing that ever happened to you; it can, instead, be about baking brownies with your brother, or a conversation you had on Tuesday’s bus ride to school. It’s all in how you tell it.

And a good personal narrative not only tells a story but supplies a reason for telling it , so that readers come away with a sense of some larger meaning or a universal message they can relate to. The best essays often do this subtly and leave room for the reader’s own interpretation.

How can I make my essay stand out?

We are primarily looking for good storytelling, as explained above. But we’re also looking for writing that is vivid and engrossing. A few tips:

Hook your readers right from the start by dropping them into the scene .

Write from your own point of view in your real voice . We want to see your personality come through on the page.

Follow the adage “ show, don’t tell. ” For example, don’t simply say: “my brother was angry.” Instead, describe his clenched fists or flared nostrils. Such imagery elicits a more powerful response because readers can imagine the scenes you describe, and feel what the narrator is feeling. But be careful to avoid overly ornate or complicated wording that could detract from your story.

Try to avoid sweeping conclusions, clichés and platitudes (like “it’s always darkest before the dawn”). A strong story will clue us onto its themes without having to state them overtly.

I have no idea what to write about. Where should I start?

Everyone has a story to tell. Read essays from the Times’s personal narrative columns (linked below) or look at winning essays from 2019 and 2020 .

You might also scroll through our list of “ 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing ” that includes questions about childhood memories, friendship, travel, social media, food, sports, school and more. Try responding to a few that interest you. You might choose one that you enjoyed writing about to turn into your piece.

Can I submit my college application essay?

As long as it suits the requirements of this contest and our definition of a personal narrative above, your entry will be considered.

However, please keep in mind that we are not looking for a résumé of your accomplishments or a reflection on the themes or patterns from your life thus far, which many college applications ask for. Instead, we want a concise, compelling story about a life experience that transformed you, whether it was in a small or profound way.

Can I have someone else check my work?

You are welcome to get suggestions for revising and editing your narrative, of course, but the work you submit should be fundamentally your own.

Where can I find examples of personal narratives in The Times?

Start with the Lives column, the inspiration for this contest. It ran from 1996 to 2017 and invited writers to tell short, powerful stories about meaningful life experiences in 800 words.

Here are several more personal narrative columns from around The Times:

Modern Love , a weekly column about relationships, feelings, betrayals and revelations.

Rites of Passage , essays that explore notable life transitions and events, big, small and absurd.

Metropolitan Diary , reader tales from New York City.

On Campus , dispatches from college students, professors and administrators on higher education and university life.

Disability , essays, art and opinion exploring the lives of people living with disabilities.

Menagerie , essays that explore the strange and diverse ways the human and animal worlds intersect.

QUESTIONS ABOUT JUDGING

How will my narrative be judged?

Your work will be read by New York Times journalists as well as by Learning Network staff members and educators from around the United States. We will use this rubric to judge entries.

What’s the prize?

Having your work published on The Learning Network and being eligible to be chosen to have your work published in the print New York Times.

When will the winners be announced?

About two months after the contest has closed.

My essay wasn’t selected as a winner. Can you tell me why?

We receive thousands of entries for this contest, so, unfortunately, our team does not have the capacity to provide individual feedback on each student’s essay.

Questions About the Rules

Who is eligible to participate in this contest?

For this contest, we invite students ages 11 to 19 in middle school or high school to write a personal narrative. For students in the United States, we consider middle school to begin in 6th grade; students outside of the United States must be at least 11 years old to enter.

The children and stepchildren of New York Times employees are not eligible to enter this contest. Nor are students who live in the same household as those employees.

If you are not sure if you are eligible for this contest (for example, if you’re taking a gap year), please see our more detailed eligibility rules .

My personal narrative was published in my school newspaper. Can I submit it to this contest?

No. We ask that your narrative be original for this contest. Please don’t submit anything you have already published at the time of submission, whether in a school newspaper, for another contest or anywhere else.

Who can I contact if I have questions about this contest or am having issues submitting my entry?

Leave a comment on this post or write to us at [email protected].

QUESTIONS ABOUT TEACHING WITH THIS CONTEST

I’m a teacher. What resources do you have to help me teach with this contest?

Start with our unit plan for personal narrative writing . It includes writing prompts, mentor texts and lesson plans that can support this contest. To learn more about how to teach with this unit, watch our on-demand webinar .

You can also use winning essays from 2019 and 2020 as student examples.

Do my students need a New York Times subscription to access these resources?

Students can get free access to Times pieces through The Learning Network . All the activities for students on our site, including mentor texts and writing prompts, plus the Times articles they link to, are free. Students can search for articles using the search tool on our home page.

However, if you are interested in learning more about school subscriptions, visit this page .

How do my students prove to me that they entered this contest?

After they submit their essays, students should receive an email from The New York Times with the subject heading “Thank you for your submission to our Personal Narrative Contest,” which they can forward to you to show their entry has been accepted.

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How to Win an Essay Contest

Last Updated: February 28, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Daniel Santos . Daniel Santos is a College Admissions & Career Coach and Prepory's co-founder and CEO. Prepory is a leading college admissions consulting firm that has guided over 9,000 students from 35 countries through the US college admissions process. Prepory is a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling and a trusted admissions counseling partner to several competitive high schools across Florida. Prior to founding Prepory, Daniel worked at various leading law firms and the United States House of Representatives. Daniel has been featured as a college admissions and career coaching expert across several major publications, including the Wall Street Journal, FORTUNE, and The Harvard Crimson. There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 169,971 times.

If you're hoping to write an essay that will win a contest, there are several ways to make your writing stand out. Before you start writing, make sure you read the essay guidelines so that you're following all of the rules. Come up with a topic that fits the contest's theme and craft a detailed, descriptive, and interesting essay. By making your essay original and error-free, you'll be much more likely to win the contest.

Crafting and Editing the Essay

Step 1 Read the essay contest rules before starting.

  • If you don’t follow one or more of the rules when writing and submitting your essay, your essay may be disqualified, so make sure to read over the rules several times if necessary.
  • It’s a good idea to print out the guidelines so that you can refer to them as you’re writing.

Step 2 Brainstorm essay ideas to pick a topic that works with the theme.

  • It’s super important to stick with the theme when you’re writing and not get off-topic.
  • For example, if the contest asks you to write about a person who has influenced you, make a list of the people that have had a big impact on your life and choose the person who you can write lots of descriptive examples about.

Step 3 Write a draft of your essay to get out all of your ideas.

  • It’s okay if you have several different drafts of one essay.
  • Make an outline of your essay before you start to help you organize your thoughts.

Step 4 Revise the essay to create a final draft.

  • Ask a friend or family member to read over your essay to see if it’s interesting and makes sense.
  • It may help you to put the essay aside for a day or two after you’ve written it so that you can revise it again with a fresh perspective.

Step 5 Proofread the essay carefully to check for any mistakes.

  • It may help to ask another person to read over the essay to see if they spot any mistakes.

Step 6 Submit your essay before the deadline.

  • Check to see when the submission deadline is in the contest’s guidelines and rules.
  • It may help you to put the essay deadline on your calendar so that you don’t forget when it is.
  • If you're sending the essay by mail, make sure you send it far enough in advance that it will reach the judges in time.

Making Your Essay Stand Out

Step 1 Choose an interesting essay beginning to grab the reader’s attention.

  • An example of an attention-grabbing introduction might be, “I held my breath for 82 seconds before I was yanked out of the water,” or “Sarah walked slowly up to the door, her body drenched in nervous sweat, before firmly knocking.”

Step 2 Come up with a creative title.

  • The title should give the reader a glimpse of what your essay is about while leaving them intrigued.
  • For example, if you’re writing an essay about a lemon picker, you might title the essay, "Living with Sour Fingers."

Step 3 Bring your essay to life by using lots of descriptive words.

  • Instead of saying, “The wheelbarrow fell down the hill,” you could say, “The rusty wheels of the wheelbarrow skidded over smooth rocks and sharp blades of grass until it skidded to a stop at the edge of the water.”

Step 4 Be original in your writing to make your essay stand out.

  • Read over your essay and look for sentences or ideas that would likely not be found in another person's essay.
  • If you're having trouble figuring out if you have an original element, have someone else read over your essay and tell you which parts stand out.

Step 5 Format your essay so that it looks neat and professional.

  • Review the essay guidelines to see if there’s a special way they’d like the essay formatted.

Expert Q&A

Daniel Santos

  • If you don't win, take a look at the winning entries if possible and see what they did that you didn't. Try to learn from this and incorporate it into your next essay. Thanks Helpful 18 Not Helpful 2
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help if you have a hard time! As long as your work is original, getting feedback from others is a great way to make your writing stronger. Thanks Helpful 12 Not Helpful 2
  • If you have difficulty understanding the topic or the guidelines, try to get in touch with the judges. Thanks Helpful 12 Not Helpful 2

essay contest ideas

  • Failure to follow the format requirements may disqualify your essay. Thanks Helpful 44 Not Helpful 8
  • Be aware of the deadline to ensure you get your essay submitted in time. Thanks Helpful 18 Not Helpful 3

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Expert Interview

essay contest ideas

Thanks for reading our article! If you'd like to learn more about essay contests, check out our in-depth interview with Daniel Santos .

  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/brainstorming/
  • ↑ https://mlpp.pressbooks.pub/writingsuccess/chapter/8-3-drafting/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/proofreading
  • ↑ https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/planning/intros-and-conclusions/
  • ↑ https://writing.umn.edu/sws/assets/pdf/quicktips/titles.pdf
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/essay_writing/descriptive_essays.html
  • ↑ https://www.oxford-royale.com/articles/write-original-essay/
  • ↑ https://facultyweb.ivcc.edu/ramboeng2/handout_essayformat.htm

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 53 stellar college essay topics to inspire you.

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College Essays

feature_orange_notebook_pencil_college_essay_topics

Most colleges and universities in the United States require applicants to submit at least one essay as part of their application. But trying to figure out what college essay topics you should choose is a tricky process. There are so many potential things you could write about!

In this guide, we go over the essential qualities that make for a great college essay topic and give you 50+ college essay topics you can use for your own statement . In addition, we provide you with helpful tips for turning your college essay topic into a stellar college essay.

What Qualities Make for a Good College Essay Topic?

Regardless of what you write about in your personal statement for college , there are key features that will always make for a stand-out college essay topic.

#1: It’s Specific

First off, good college essay topics are extremely specific : you should know all the pertinent facts that have to do with the topic and be able to see how the entire essay comes together.

Specificity is essential because it’ll not only make your essay stand out from other statements, but it'll also recreate the experience for admissions officers through its realism, detail, and raw power. You want to tell a story after all, and specificity is the way to do so. Nobody wants to read a vague, bland, or boring story — not even admissions officers!

For example, an OK topic would be your experience volunteering at a cat shelter over the summer. But a better, more specific college essay topic would be how you deeply connected with an elderly cat there named Marty, and how your bond with him made you realize that you want to work with animals in the future.

Remember that specificity in your topic is what will make your essay unique and memorable . It truly is the key to making a strong statement (pun intended)!

#2: It Shows Who You Are

In addition to being specific, good college essay topics reveal to admissions officers who you are: your passions and interests, what is important to you, your best (or possibly even worst) qualities, what drives you, and so on.

The personal statement is critical because it gives schools more insight into who you are as a person and not just who you are as a student in terms of grades and classes.

By coming up with a real, honest topic, you’ll leave an unforgettable mark on admissions officers.

#3: It’s Meaningful to You

The very best college essay topics are those that hold deep meaning to their writers and have truly influenced them in some significant way.

For instance, maybe you plan to write about the first time you played Skyrim to explain how this video game revealed to you the potentially limitless worlds you could create, thereby furthering your interest in game design.

Even if the topic seems trivial, it’s OK to use it — just as long as you can effectively go into detail about why this experience or idea had such an impact on you .

Don’t give in to the temptation to choose a topic that sounds impressive but doesn’t actually hold any deep meaning for you. Admissions officers will see right through this!

Similarly, don’t try to exaggerate some event or experience from your life if it’s not all that important to you or didn’t have a substantial influence on your sense of self.

#4: It’s Unique

College essay topics that are unique are also typically the most memorable, and if there’s anything you want to be during the college application process, it’s that! Admissions officers have to sift through thousands of applications, and the essay is one of the only parts that allows them to really get a sense of who you are and what you value in life.

If your essay is trite or boring, it won’t leave much of an impression , and your application will likely get immediately tossed to the side with little chance of seeing admission.

But if your essay topic is very original and different, you’re more likely to earn that coveted second glance at your application.

What does being unique mean exactly, though? Many students assume that they must choose an extremely rare or crazy experience to talk about in their essays —but that's not necessarily what I mean by "unique." Good college essay topics can be unusual and different, yes, but they can also be unique takes on more mundane or common activities and experiences .

For instance, say you want to write an essay about the first time you went snowboarding. Instead of just describing the details of the experience and how you felt during it, you could juxtapose your emotions with a creative and humorous perspective from the snowboard itself. Or you could compare your first attempt at snowboarding with your most recent experience in a snowboarding competition. The possibilities are endless!

#5: It Clearly Answers the Question

Finally, good college essay topics will clearly and fully answer the question(s) in the prompt.

You might fail to directly answer a prompt by misinterpreting what it’s asking you to do, or by answering only part of it (e.g., answering just one out of three questions).

Therefore, make sure you take the time to come up with an essay topic that is in direct response to every question in the prompt .

Take this Coalition Application prompt as an example:

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

For this prompt, you’d need to answer all three questions (though it’s totally fine to focus more on one or two of them) to write a compelling and appropriate essay.

This is why we recommend reading and rereading the essay prompt ; you should know exactly what it’s asking you to do, well before you start brainstorming possible college application essay topics.

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53 College Essay Topics to Get Your Brain Moving

In this section, we give you a list of 53 examples of college essay topics. Use these as jumping-off points to help you get started on your college essay and to ensure that you’re on track to coming up with a relevant and effective topic.

All college application essay topics below are categorized by essay prompt type. We’ve identified six general types of college essay prompts:

Why This College?

Change and personal growth, passions, interests, and goals, overcoming a challenge, diversity and community, solving a problem.

Note that these prompt types could overlap with one another, so you’re not necessarily limited to just one college essay topic in a single personal statement.

  • How a particular major or program will help you achieve your academic or professional goals
  • A memorable and positive interaction you had with a professor or student at the school
  • Something good that happened to you while visiting the campus or while on a campus tour
  • A certain class you want to take or a certain professor you’re excited to work with
  • Some piece of on-campus equipment or facility that you’re looking forward to using
  • Your plans to start a club at the school, possibly to raise awareness of a major issue
  • A study abroad or other unique program that you can’t wait to participate in
  • How and where you plan to volunteer in the community around the school
  • An incredible teacher you studied under and the positive impact they had on you
  • How you went from really liking something, such as a particular movie star or TV show, to not liking it at all (or vice versa)
  • How yours or someone else’s (change in) socioeconomic status made you more aware of poverty
  • A time someone said something to you that made you realize you were wrong
  • How your opinion on a controversial topic, such as gay marriage or DACA, has shifted over time
  • A documentary that made you aware of a particular social, economic, or political issue going on in the country or world
  • Advice you would give to your younger self about friendship, motivation, school, etc.
  • The steps you took in order to kick a bad or self-sabotaging habit
  • A juxtaposition of the first and most recent time you did something, such as dance onstage
  • A book you read that you credit with sparking your love of literature and/or writing
  • A school assignment or project that introduced you to your chosen major
  • A glimpse of your everyday routine and how your biggest hobby or interest fits into it
  • The career and (positive) impact you envision yourself having as a college graduate
  • A teacher or mentor who encouraged you to pursue a specific interest you had
  • How moving around a lot helped you develop a love of international exchange or learning languages
  • A special skill or talent you’ve had since you were young and that relates to your chosen major in some way, such as designing buildings with LEGO bricks
  • Where you see yourself in 10 or 20 years
  • Your biggest accomplishment so far relating to your passion (e.g., winning a gold medal for your invention at a national science competition)
  • A time you lost a game or competition that was really important to you
  • How you dealt with the loss or death of someone close to you
  • A time you did poorly in a class that you expected to do well in
  • How moving to a new school impacted your self-esteem and social life
  • A chronic illness you battled or are still battling
  • Your healing process after having your heart broken for the first time
  • A time you caved under peer pressure and the steps you took so that it won't happen again
  • How you almost gave up on learning a foreign language but stuck with it
  • Why you decided to become a vegetarian or vegan, and how you navigate living with a meat-eating family
  • What you did to overcome a particular anxiety or phobia you had (e.g., stage fright)
  • A history of a failed experiment you did over and over, and how you finally found a way to make it work successfully
  • Someone within your community whom you aspire to emulate
  • A family tradition you used to be embarrassed about but are now proud of
  • Your experience with learning English upon moving to the United States
  • A close friend in the LGBTQ+ community who supported you when you came out
  • A time you were discriminated against, how you reacted, and what you would do differently if faced with the same situation again
  • How you navigate your identity as a multiracial, multiethnic, and/or multilingual person
  • A project or volunteer effort you led to help or improve your community
  • A particular celebrity or role model who inspired you to come out as LGBTQ+
  • Your biggest challenge (and how you plan to tackle it) as a female in a male-dominated field
  • How you used to discriminate against your own community, and what made you change your mind and eventually take pride in who you are and/or where you come from
  • A program you implemented at your school in response to a known problem, such as a lack of recycling cans in the cafeteria
  • A time you stepped in to mediate an argument or fight between two people
  • An app or other tool you developed to make people’s lives easier in some way
  • A time you proposed a solution that worked to an ongoing problem at school, an internship, or a part-time job
  • The steps you took to identify and fix an error in coding for a website or program
  • An important social or political issue that you would fix if you had the means

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How to Build a College Essay in 6 Easy Steps

Once you’ve decided on a college essay topic you want to use, it’s time to buckle down and start fleshing out your essay. These six steps will help you transform a simple college essay topic into a full-fledged personal statement.

Step 1: Write Down All the Details

Once you’ve chosen a general topic to write about, get out a piece of paper and get to work on creating a list of all the key details you could include in your essay . These could be things such as the following:

  • Emotions you felt at the time
  • Names, places, and/or numbers
  • Dialogue, or what you or someone else said
  • A specific anecdote, example, or experience
  • Descriptions of how things looked, felt, or seemed

If you can only come up with a few details, then it’s probably best to revisit the list of college essay topics above and choose a different one that you can write more extensively on.

Good college essay topics are typically those that:

  • You remember well (so nothing that happened when you were really young)
  • You're excited to write about
  • You're not embarrassed or uncomfortable to share with others
  • You believe will make you positively stand out from other applicants

Step 2: Figure Out Your Focus and Approach

Once you have all your major details laid out, start to figure out how you could arrange them in a way that makes sense and will be most effective.

It’s important here to really narrow your focus: you don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) discuss every single aspect of your trip to visit family in Indonesia when you were 16. Rather, zero in on a particular anecdote or experience and explain why and how it impacted you.

Alternatively, you could write about multiple experiences while weaving them together with a clear, meaningful theme or concept , such as how your math teacher helped you overcome your struggle with geometry over the course of an entire school year. In this case, you could mention a few specific times she tutored you and most strongly supported you in your studies.

There’s no one right way to approach your college essay, so play around to see what approaches might work well for the topic you’ve chosen.

If you’re really unsure about how to approach your essay, think about what part of your topic was or is most meaningful and memorable to you, and go from there.

Step 3: Structure Your Narrative

  • Beginning: Don’t just spout off a ton of background information here—you want to hook your reader, so try to start in the middle of the action , such as with a meaningful conversation you had or a strong emotion you felt. It could also be a single anecdote if you plan to center your essay around a specific theme or idea.
  • Middle: Here’s where you start to flesh out what you’ve established in the opening. Provide more details about the experience (if a single anecdote) or delve into the various times your theme or idea became most important to you. Use imagery and sensory details to put the reader in your shoes.
  • End: It’s time to bring it all together. Finish describing the anecdote or theme your essay centers around and explain how it relates to you now , what you’ve learned or gained from it, and how it has influenced your goals.

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Step 4: Write a Rough Draft

By now you should have all your major details and an outline for your essay written down; these two things will make it easy for you to convert your notes into a rough draft.

At this stage of the writing process, don’t worry too much about vocabulary or grammar and just focus on getting out all your ideas so that they form the general shape of an essay . It’s OK if you’re a little over the essay's word limit — as you edit, you’ll most likely make some cuts to irrelevant and ineffective parts anyway.

If at any point you get stuck and have no idea what to write, revisit steps 1-3 to see whether there are any important details or ideas you might be omitting or not elaborating on enough to get your overall point across to admissions officers.

Step 5: Edit, Revise, and Proofread

  • Sections that are too wordy and don’t say anything important
  • Irrelevant details that don’t enhance your essay or the point you're trying to make
  • Parts that seem to drag or that feel incredibly boring or redundant
  • Areas that are vague and unclear and would benefit from more detail
  • Phrases or sections that are awkwardly placed and should be moved around
  • Areas that feel unconvincing, inauthentic, or exaggerated

Start paying closer attention to your word choice/vocabulary and grammar at this time, too. It’s perfectly normal to edit and revise your college essay several times before asking for feedback, so keep working with it until you feel it’s pretty close to its final iteration.

This step will likely take the longest amount of time — at least several weeks, if not months — so really put effort into fixing up your essay. Once you’re satisfied, do a final proofread to ensure that it’s technically correct.

Step 6: Get Feedback and Tweak as Needed

After you’ve overhauled your rough draft and made it into a near-final draft, give your essay to somebody you trust , such as a teacher or parent, and have them look it over for technical errors and offer you feedback on its content and overall structure.

Use this feedback to make any last-minute changes or edits. If necessary, repeat steps 5 and 6. You want to be extra sure that your essay is perfect before you submit it to colleges!

Recap: From College Essay Topics to Great College Essays

Many different kinds of college application essay topics can get you into a great college. But this doesn’t make it any easier to choose the best topic for you .

In general, the best college essay topics have the following qualities :

  • They’re specific
  • They show who you are
  • They’re meaningful to you
  • They’re unique
  • They clearly answer the question

If you ever need help coming up with an idea of what to write for your essay, just refer to the list of 53 examples of college essay topics above to get your brain juices flowing.

Once you’ve got an essay topic picked out, follow these six steps for turning your topic into an unforgettable personal statement :

  • Write down all the details
  • Figure out your focus and approach
  • Structure your narrative
  • Write a rough draft
  • Edit, revise, and proofread
  • Get feedback and tweak as needed

And with that, I wish you the best of luck on your college essays!

What’s Next?

Writing a college essay is no simple task. Get expert college essay tips with our guides on how to come up with great college essay ideas and how to write a college essay, step by step .

You can also check out this huge list of college essay prompts  to get a feel for what types of questions you'll be expected to answer on your applications.

Want to see examples of college essays that absolutely rocked? You're in luck because we've got a collection of 100+ real college essay examples right here on our blog!

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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Berggruen Prize Essay Competition

The Berggruen Prize Essay Competition seeks to stimulate new thinking and innovative concepts while embracing cross-cultural perspectives across fields, disciplines, and geographies. By posing fundamental philosophical questions of significance for both contemporary life and for the future, the competition will serve as a complement to the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy & Culture, which recognizes major lifetime achievements in advancing ideas that have shaped the world.

The inspiration for the competition originates from the role essays have played in the past, including the essay contest held by the Académie de Dijon. In 1750, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's essay Discourse on the Arts and Sciences , also known as The First Discourse , won and notably marked the onset of his prominence as a profoundly influential thinker. Similarly, our competition aspires to create a platform for groundbreaking ideas and intellectual innovation.

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The annual Berggruen Prize Essay Competition will accept submissions in two languages: Chinese and English. Each language category will have a prize of $25,000 USD and intends to recognize one winner, though there may be multiple winners in any given year.

The Berggruen Institute will host an award ceremony and convene the authors of the winning essays in dialogue with established scholars and thinkers at one of our global centers. We plan to publish the winning essays in our award-winning English-language magazine Noema and Chinese-language magazine Cuiling , giving readers insight into perspectives of both East and West.

We are inviting essays that follow in the tradition of renowned thinkers such as Rousseau, Michel de Montaigne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Submissions should present novel ideas and be clearly argued in compelling ways for intellectually serious readers. We are not seeking peer-reviewed academic work. Below is a selection of exemplary essays that epitomize the genre and style we look for. While some of these pieces are authored by already distinguished thinkers, we have chosen them primarily for their exceptional embodiment of genre and style.

  • Chomsky, N. (1967). The responsibility of intellectuals. The New York Review of Books .
  • Frankfurt, H. G. (1971). Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. Journal of Philosophy , 68(1), 5-20.
  • Fukuyama, F. (1989). The end of history? The National Interest , 16, 3–18.
  • Huntington, S. P. (1993). The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs , 72(3), 22-49.
  • Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? The Philosophical Review , 83(4), 435-450.
  • Sontag, S. (1966). Against interpretation. In Against Interpretation and Other Essays (pp. 3-14). Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Walker, S. (2023). AI is life. Noema Magazine .
  • Zadeh, J. (2021). The tyranny of time. Noema Magazine .

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2023 Essay Contest Now Open: Ideas Have Consequences

The Buckley Institute is proud to announce that the 2023 essay contest for U.S. high school students and Yale undergraduates is  officially open .

The annual essay contest is comprised of one competition for American high school students and another for Yale undergraduates. 

The first, second, and third place winners in both competitions will win $1,000, $500, or $250 respectively and be invited to the Buckley Institute’s annual conference in New Haven on December 1 to receive their awards. 

The 2023 essay contest submission deadline is Sunday, October 22 at 11:59pm. This year’s essay contest asks students to respond to the following quote from Richard Weaver’s  Ideas Have Consequences , published 75 years ago, and answer the question below:

Certainly there is no more innocent-seeming form of debauchery than the worship of comfort; and, when it is accompanied by a high degree of technical resourcefulness, the difficulty of getting people not to renounce it but merely to see its consequences is staggering. The task is bound up, of course, with that of getting principles accepted again, for, where everything ministers to desire, there can be no rebuke of comfort. As we endeavor to restore values, we need to earnestly point out that there is no correlation between the degree of comfort enjoyed and the achievement of a civilization. On the contrary, absorption in ease is one of the most reliable signs of present or impending decay.

In his book  Ideas Have Consequences , excerpted above, Richard Weaver argues that “absorption in ease is one of the most reliable signs of present or impending decay.” Weaver wrote in 1948 but America has only become wealthier and more comfortable since. Has an obsession with opulence and comfort put America on a path to decay or has America’s unprecedented wealth allowed it to flourish?

See the full submission guidelines  here .

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Winning essays must demonstrate an outstanding grasp of the philosophic meaning of Atlas Shrugged .

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Atlas Shrugged  is a mystery novel like no other. You enter a world where scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors are inexplicably vanishing—where the world is crumbling.

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Curious to know what makes for a winning essay in the Atlas Shrugged   contest? Check out some of the essays written by our most recent grand-prize winners. 

To varying degrees, they all display an excellent grasp of the philosophic meaning of Atlas Shrugged .

Click here to see the full list of 2022 contest winners.

Jacob Fisher

Graduate Student

Stanford University

Stanford, California

United States

Mariah Williams

Regis University

Denver, Colorado

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Nathaniel Shippee

University of Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

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Samuel Weaver

St. John’s College

Annapolis, Maryland

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Patrick Mayles

Graduate student

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

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Christina Jeong

College Student

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Indiana

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The Big List of Essay Topics for High School (120+ Ideas!)

Ideas to inspire every young writer!

What one class should all high schools students be required to take and pass in order to graduate?

High school students generally do a lot of writing, learning to use language clearly, concisely, and persuasively. When it’s time to choose an essay topic, though, it’s easy to come up blank. If that’s the case, check out this huge round-up of essay topics for high school. You’ll find choices for every subject and writing style.

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Research Essay Topics

Argumentative essay topics for high school.

When writing an argumentative essay, remember to do the research and lay out the facts clearly. Your goal is not necessarily to persuade someone to agree with you, but to encourage your reader to accept your point of view as valid. Here are some possible argumentative topics to try. ( Here are 100 more compelling argumentative essay topics. )

  • The most important challenge our country is currently facing is … (e.g., immigration, gun control, economy)
  • The government should provide free internet access for every citizen.
  • All drugs should be legalized, regulated, and taxed.
  • Vaping is less harmful than smoking tobacco.
  • The best country in the world is …
  • Parents should be punished for their minor children’s crimes.
  • Should all students have the ability to attend college for free?
  • Should physical education be part of the standard high school curriculum?

Should physical education be part of the standard high school curriculum?

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  • Schools should require recommended vaccines for all students, with very limited exceptions.
  • Is it acceptable to use animals for experiments and research?
  • Does social media do more harm than good?
  • Capital punishment does/does not deter crime.
  • What one class should all high schools students be required to take and pass in order to graduate?
  • Do we really learn anything from history, or does it just repeat itself over and over?
  • Are men and women treated equally?

Cause-and-Effect Essay Topics for High School

A cause-and-effect essay is a type of argumentative essay. Your goal is to show how one specific thing directly influences another specific thing. You’ll likely need to do some research to make your point. Here are some ideas for cause-and-effect essays. ( Get a big list of 100 cause-and-effect essay topics here. )

  • Humans are causing accelerated climate change.
  • Fast-food restaurants have made human health worse over the decades.
  • What caused World War II? (Choose any conflict for this one.)
  • Describe the effects social media has on young adults.

Describe the effects social media has on young adults.

  • How does playing sports affect people?
  • What are the effects of loving to read?
  • Being an only/oldest/youngest/middle child makes you …
  • What effect does violence in movies or video games have on kids?
  • Traveling to new places opens people’s minds to new ideas.
  • Racism is caused by …

Compare-Contrast Essay Topics for High School

As the name indicates, in compare-and-contrast essays, writers show the similarities and differences between two things. They combine descriptive writing with analysis, making connections and showing dissimilarities. The following ideas work well for compare-contrast essays. ( Find 80+ compare-contrast essay topics for all ages here. )

  • Public and private schools
  • Capitalism vs. communism
  • Monarchy or democracy
  • Dogs vs. cats as pets

Dogs vs. cats as pets

  • Paper books or e-books
  • Two political candidates in a current race
  • Going to college vs. starting work full-time
  • Working your way through college as you go or taking out student loans
  • iPhone or Android
  • Instagram vs. Twitter (or choose any other two social media platforms)

Descriptive Essay Topics for High School

Bring on the adjectives! Descriptive writing is all about creating a rich picture for the reader. Take readers on a journey to far-off places, help them understand an experience, or introduce them to a new person. Remember: Show, don’t tell. These topics make excellent descriptive essays.

  • Who is the funniest person you know?
  • What is your happiest memory?
  • Tell about the most inspirational person in your life.
  • Write about your favorite place.
  • When you were little, what was your favorite thing to do?
  • Choose a piece of art or music and explain how it makes you feel.
  • What is your earliest memory?

What is your earliest memory?

  • What’s the best/worst vacation you’ve ever taken?
  • Describe your favorite pet.
  • What is the most important item in the world to you?
  • Give a tour of your bedroom (or another favorite room in your home).
  • Describe yourself to someone who has never met you.
  • Lay out your perfect day from start to finish.
  • Explain what it’s like to move to a new town or start a new school.
  • Tell what it would be like to live on the moon.

Expository and Informative Essay Topics for High School

Expository essays set out clear explanations of a particular topic. You might be defining a word or phrase or explaining how something works. Expository or informative essays are based on facts, and while you might explore different points of view, you won’t necessarily say which one is “better” or “right.” Remember: Expository essays educate the reader. Here are some expository and informative essay topics to explore. ( See 70+ expository and informative essay topics here. )

  • What makes a good leader?
  • Explain why a given school subject (math, history, science, etc.) is important for students to learn.
  • What is the “glass ceiling” and how does it affect society?
  • Describe how the internet changed the world.
  • What does it mean to be a good teacher?

What does it mean to be a good teacher?

  • Explain how we could colonize the moon or another planet.
  • Discuss why mental health is just as important as physical health.
  • Describe a healthy lifestyle for a teenager.
  • Choose an American president and explain how their time in office affected the country.
  • What does “financial responsibility” mean?

Humorous Essay Topics for High School

Humorous essays can take on any form, like narrative, persuasive, or expository. You might employ sarcasm or satire, or simply tell a story about a funny person or event. Even though these essay topics are lighthearted, they still take some skill to tackle well. Give these ideas a try.

  • What would happen if cats (or any other animal) ruled the world?
  • What do newborn babies wish their parents knew?
  • Explain the best ways to be annoying on social media.
  • Invent a wacky new sport, explain the rules, and describe a game or match.

Explain why it's important to eat dessert first.

  • Imagine a discussion between two historic figures from very different times, like Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I.
  • Retell a familiar story in tweets or other social media posts.
  • Describe present-day Earth from an alien’s point of view.
  • Choose a fictional character and explain why they should be the next president.
  • Describe a day when kids are in charge of everything, at school and at home.

Literary essays analyze a piece of writing, like a book or a play. In high school, students usually write literary essays about the works they study in class. These literary essay topic ideas focus on books students often read in high school, but many of them can be tweaked to fit other works as well.

  • Discuss the portrayal of women in Shakespeare’s Othello .
  • Explore the symbolism used in The Scarlet Letter .
  • Explain the importance of dreams in Of Mice and Men .
  • Compare and contrast the romantic relationships in Pride and Prejudice .

Analyze the role of the witches in Macbeth.

  • Dissect the allegory of Animal Farm and its relation to contemporary events.
  • Interpret the author’s take on society and class structure in The Great Gatsby .
  • Explore the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia.
  • Discuss whether Shakespeare’s portrayal of young love in Romeo and Juliet is accurate.
  • Explain the imagery used in Beowulf .

Narrative and Personal Essay Topics for High School

Think of a narrative essay like telling a story. Use some of the same techniques that you would for a descriptive essay, but be sure you have a beginning, middle, and end. A narrative essay doesn’t necessarily need to be personal, but they often are. Take inspiration from these narrative and personal essay topics.

  • Describe a performance or sporting event you took part in.
  • Explain the process of cooking and eating your favorite meal.
  • Write about meeting your best friend for the first time and how your relationship developed.
  • Tell about learning to ride a bike or drive a car.
  • Describe a time in your life when you’ve been scared.

Write about a time when you or someone you know displayed courage.

  • Share the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you.
  • Tell about a time when you overcame a big challenge.
  • Tell the story of how you learned an important life lesson.
  • Describe a time when you or someone you know experienced prejudice or oppression.
  • Explain a family tradition, how it developed, and its importance today.
  • What is your favorite holiday? How does your family celebrate it?
  • Retell a familiar story from the point of view of a different character.
  • Describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision.
  • Tell about your proudest moment.

Persuasive Essay Topics for High School

Persuasive essays are similar to argumentative , but they rely less on facts and more on emotion to sway the reader. It’s important to know your audience, so you can anticipate any counterarguments they might make and try to overcome them. Try these topics to persuade someone to come around to your point of view. ( Discover 60 more intriguing persuasive essay topics here. )

  • Do you think homework should be required, optional, or not given at all?
  • Everyone should be vegetarian or vegan.
  • What animal makes the best pet?
  • Visit an animal shelter, choose an animal that needs a home, and write an essay persuading someone to adopt that animal.
  • Who is the world’s best athlete, present or past?
  • Should little kids be allowed to play competitive sports?
  • Are professional athletes/musicians/actors overpaid?
  • The best music genre is …

What is one book that everyone should be required to read?

  • Is democracy the best form of government?
  • Is capitalism the best form of economy?
  • Students should/should not be able to use their phones during the school day.
  • Should schools have dress codes?
  • If I could change one school rule, it would be …
  • Is year-round school a good idea?

A research essay is a classic high school assignment. These papers require deep research into primary source documents, with lots of supporting facts and evidence that’s properly cited. Research essays can be in any of the styles shown above. Here are some possible topics, across a variety of subjects.

  • Which country’s style of government is best for the people who live there?
  • Choose a country and analyze its development from founding to present day.
  • Describe the causes and effects of a specific war.
  • Formulate an ideal economic plan for our country.
  • What scientific discovery has had the biggest impact on life today?

Tell the story of the development of artificial intelligence so far, and describe its impacts along the way.

  • Analyze the way mental health is viewed and treated in this country.
  • Explore the ways systemic racism impacts people in all walks of life.
  • Defend the importance of teaching music and the arts in public schools.
  • Choose one animal from the endangered species list, and propose a realistic plan to protect it.

What are some of your favorite essay topics for high school? Come share your prompts on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, check out the ultimate guide to student writing contests .

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essay contest ideas

from ideas to reality

From ideas to reality from ideas to reality, ** submissions now closed**, who was abdus salam.

essay contest ideas

Abdus Salam was Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate and remains, to date, the only scientist who has this honor. While a Professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College London , Salam revealed the connection between electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force, bringing to light a beautiful symmetry of nature that had previously lay hidden. It was for this that he, along with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg, was awarded the Physics Nobel Prize in 1979 . Salam’s ground-breaking work forms the basis of what has come to be called the Standard Model ­– the formalism that underlies all of contemporary particle physics.

Salam was more than just a brilliant scientist. He believed that science should be equally accessible to everyone around the globe and was immensely dedicated to the cause of spreading knowledge. In a divided world, Salam set out to build common ground. While continuing to be active at the forefront of research, he worked tirelessly to establish the International Center of Theoretical Physics (ICTP), where scientists from developing countries could enjoy facilities  not otherwise available to them, and interact on an equal footing with their counterparts in the developed world. “Scientific thought and its creation is the common and shared heritage of mankind,” he said. The Center (which has since been renamed the Abdus Salam ICTP in his honor) is a testament to his passionate advocacy of that sentiment. 

Salam was the best champion Pakistani science has ever known. He was the founding director of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and the initiator of the NathiaGali Summer College (an international conference designed to bring leading scientists from all over the world to Pakistan).

In addition to these high-profile projects and his cutting-edge research, Salam also concerned himself with less glamorous, grassroots, issues like the welfare of farmers. He was the one who proposed the tube-well scheme to help solve Pakistan’s problems with water-logging and salinity.

Salam was incredibly well-read, well-spoken and had a vast range of interests. With his breadth of vision and his generosity of spirit, Salam has left an indelible mark on history.

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS CONTEST

essay contest ideas

Biographies are not merely historical records to be passively absorbed. If engaged with actively, they can be blueprints for possibility.    When we are awestruck by the magnitude of someone’s achievements, it is tempting to hold them at a distance - to consider them different somehow, from ourselves. But in so doing, we deny ourselves the opportunity of learning from their stories, of taking them on as mentors we may never otherwise meet.    The people we admire cannot be reduced to a list of their accomplishments, even if these seem superhuman. Behind the ‘what’ of each worthy achievement, lies the ‘how’ and the ‘why’: the setbacks faced, the challenges navigated, the perseverance and the drive. If we look for it, there is a personal message for us in every tale of human triumph.     In his 70 years on Earth, Salam had many rich and varied experiences. His story is more compelling, more fantastic and more inspiring than most others. As his biographer, Nigel Calder put it:

“Here is a wonderfully romantic story of a young lad in a turban from a market town in the Punjab, that nobody had ever heard of, who became a leader in physics and faced up to politicians as a champion of the world’s poor. He wore the same kind of turban as he had worn as child, to collect his Nobel Prize from the King of Sweden.”

No matter what you want to achieve in your own life, odds are you can learn something by studying Salam’s. Hence, this contest.

SALAM & IMPERIAL COLLEGE

Imperial College London was Salam’s academic home for much of his professional career. It is where he did his Nobel Prize winning research and where he founded and directed the Theoretical Physics Group .

To honour his contributions to science and the promotion of science to the developing world, Imperial College London is driving a series of long-overdue initiatives, including a day of Abdus Salam Celebrations on January 29th 2024, date marking his birthday. Celebrations will include the unveiling of the newly renamed Abdus Salam Library and a public talk by Brian Cox and Atish Dabholkar, director of ICTP. Imperial College London will be hosting a day of outreach activities that seek to excite the public’s imagination around theoretical physics and to raise awareness about Salam’s legacy. A historical exhibition will be held on campus, and as part of the exhibition, Imperial College London will display the winning entries of this essay contest.

essay contest ideas

IDEAS AND REALITIES

( The title is a tribute to Ideals & Realities - a volume of Salam’s collected essays)

 Writing is thinking. The process of writing can help shape and sharpen your ideas. To that end, here is a little fragment Salam inscribed as a reminder to himself, in one of his many notebooks. 

“To write, to learn to write, to convey to others the vision of your knowledge, your learning, your wisdom.”

 In this contest, we invite creative and thought-provoking essays sparked by Abdus Salam’s life and work. Entries should be 400 words (or less) on a particular aspect of (or incident in) Salam’s life that most resonates with you. What about the context, or circumstances, makes it personally relevant to you? What insights arise and how do they impact your attitudes? How are you inspired to take action?

15 November, 2023     Open to Submission

31 December, 2023      SUBMISSION DEADLINE 00:00 PST

5 January, 2024           Finalists Contacted

15 January, 2024         Winners Announced

29 January, 2024         Winning Essays displayed as part of Salam Exhibition at Imperial College London.

ELIGIBILITY AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

Participants must be between 14 and 19 years of age, currently residing in Pakistan.

The content of the essay must be original, and written solely by the participant. AI-generated content is not allowed, neither are co-authors.

Entries must be submitted in English. A word limit of 400 words will be strictly enforced. Only one essay may be submitted by each contestant.

You own the copyright to your writing and give us permission to publish your story online and in the Abdus Salam Exhibition, taking place on 29 January in Imperial College London.

Imperial College London will attribute all works and ideas.

Submission Format:

Page size: 8 ½ x 11-inch page, 1-inch margins. Include page numbers.

Text: size 12pt Arial or Times New Roman font only.

Spacing: Double spaced.

 Essays will be judged anonymously, so the title page should include ONLY your name, date of birth, school, grade, mailing address and email address. The essay itself should start on the second page, and be no longer than 400 words.

The essay should be emailed in .docx or .pdf format to [email protected] before 00:00 PST on 15th December 2023.

 Please go over your essay thoroughly, checking for typos and other errors, before submitting it. Edits and resubmissions will not be allowed. Once your essay is submitted, you should receive a confirmation email saying your submission has been received. If you do not receive this email within 24 hours of submission, please check your spam/junk mail folders before contacting us.

EVALUATION CRITERION:

Entries will be separated into two groups, based on the contestant’s age. There is a category for students between the ages of 14 and 16, and one for students between the ages of 17 and 19. Both will be judged separately, and three prizes will be awarded in each age bracket. Winning essays will be displayed at the Abdus Salam Exhibition at Imperial College London, and published online in the digital exhibition. Winners will be awarded certificates.

A panel of experts will rate the entries according to how interesting, creative and relevant they are. Essays will be evaluated for clarity and originality. Your writing should reflect your personality and your unique perspective. We want to see you grapple with the topic, consider it deeply and justify your conclusions.  

We are looking for essays that are an easy and enjoyable read. Keep in mind the fact that simple language makes far more of an impact than obscure words and elaborate sentence constructions.

As a case in point, here is an anecdote from Salam’s own student life.

As his command of English improved, Salam began experimenting with fancy words and phrases, without first checking their proper meaning or context, and peppering his texts with quotations. Despite his teacher’s warning, he found this fun and stubbornly continued. When exam time came, he duly lost five points for each wrong word, with disastrous effects on his performance, and the teacher read out Salam’s efforts to the entire school. Humiliated, Salam finally complied with the teacher’s instructions. But he did not bear a grudge. Later he said ‘I feel that it was the proper medicine administered to me. The net result of this shock therapy was that I stopped using difficult words altogether.’         - Gordon Fraser, in Cosmic Anger.

The ‘shock therapy’ of course was rather drastic, but those were different times and different norms prevailed. The methods notwithstanding, the underlying message holds: words have power.

Use them intentionally. 

JUDGEMENT AND PRIZES:

Submissions will be judged by a panel of scientists, science writers and members of Abdus Salam’s family.

Essays deemed offensive in any way will be immediately disqualified. Offensive content includes, but is not limited to, inappropriate language, and statements that denigrate specific groups of people. The selection of the Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of the judges. All decisions are final.

Finalists will be announced by 1 January 2024, and the winners on 15 January 2024.

Winning entries will be featured at the Abdus Salam exhibition at Imperial College London and published on the Imperial College website. Winners will be awarded certificates, as well as a set of books on and by Abdus Salam. These books - Ideals and Realities , Salam + 50 , and the Memorial Volume on Abdus Salam’s 90th Birthday - generously donated by World Scientific Publishers, are full of engaging anecdotes and invaluable insights into Salam’s life, work, and his legacy.

Copyright: By submitting an entry, the Entrant hereby grants Imperial College London permissions to post the essay in its entirety, or any excerpts thereof, for publication online and for internal distribution in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereafter invented.

Original work only: By submitting an essay, the Entrant represents and warrants that the essay is the Entrant's own creation and is 100% original work; is not subject to, and does not infringe upon, the rights of any third parties, including without limitation, copyright, trademark or privacy or publicity rights; and is not defamatory, obscene or otherwise illegal.

Identification: All Entrants must have a valid email address and must not misrepresent who they are. In case of dispute as to identity, the entry will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the email address from which the essay is submitted. 

An increased access to information is among the many advantages of the current age, so you will find countless articles about Abdus Salam, online and in print, and many videos that are freely available. The challenge you will face – in researching this essay, and indeed in any other matter you choose to focus on – is to assess the quality of the information you are faced with. Make sure to check your sources. It is your responsibility to ascertain that your essay is not based on an incorrect anecdote, a misreported story, or someone else’s analysis. Your writing should reflect the conclusions you come to, based on the facts of Salam’s life and science, and not opinions borrowed from others.

That said, here are some resources to start you off on your search:

Hassan, G. & Lai, C.H. (1983) Ideals and Realities: Selected Essays of Abdus Salam. World Scientific.

Singh, J. (1992) Abdus Salam. Penguin.

Duff, M. (2008) Salam +50 – Proceedings of the Conference. Imperial College Press.

Fraser, G. (2008) Abdus Salam, the First Muslim Nobel Scientist. Oxford University Press.

Kamran, M. (2013) The Inspiring Life of Abdus Salam. University of the Punjab.

Brink, L., Duff, M. & Phooa, K.K. ed (2017) Memorial Volume on Abdus Salam’s 90th Birthday. World Scientific.

The Dream of Symmetr y  

Salam - The First **** Nobel Laureate

essay contest ideas

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  • Essay Contest Call for Submissions: Solving the Military Recruiting Crisis

MWI Staff | 07.19.23

Essay Contest Call for Submissions: Solving the Military Recruiting Crisis

Update: We’re thrilled to announce that the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has joined the Modern War Institute in organizing this essay contest and evaluating submissions. In addition to the top essays being published by the Modern War Institute, authors of the best submissions will have an opportunity to discuss their ideas with TRADOC senior leaders. TRADOC will also review all essays to evaluate their contributions to resolving the military recruiting crisis.

Essay requirements and the submission deadline remain the same, and authors who have already submitted their entries should not resubmit.

“Credible defense begins with our ability to steadily attract and retain the men and women who would assume the initial burden of a fast breaking war.” More than forty years ago, Vice Admiral Robert B. Pirie, Jr. eloquently described why recruiting was a national security issue.

This year, the Army will again fail to meet recruiting goals after falling fifteen thousand short last year. Likewise, the Navy anticipates falling six thousand sailors short of its target. The Air Force has issues too , with Secretary Frank Kendall acknowledging in March that his service would fall 10 percent short this year. Except for the two smallest services—the Marine Corps and Space Force—the United States’ armed forces continue to face recruiting woes.

With this serious issue as a backdrop, the Modern War Institute and the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) are launching an essay contest that seeks to explore the problem and identify solutions that could help the services address it.

Essay Prompt

Essays must answer the following prompt: What novel approaches can the United States military employ to solve the recruiting crisis?

This topic is broad. Essays might address new incentives, lessons from other countries or uniformed services, the impact of telework, messaging and marketing, how to resolve tensions created by years of recruiting shortfalls, ideas from labor economics or other academic fields, historical perspectives on recruiting challenges and solutions, or other ideas related to recruiting. Essays can take any form, to include speculative fiction. However, because of length limits, we strongly encourage authors to clearly articulate one idea or concept in their responses to the prompt.

Your ideas will inform internal conversations and workshops in support of the Modern War Institute’s human resources research theme. Based on the ideas presented in their essays, authors may be invited to contribute to future MWI publications or events on this topic.

Eligibility

  • Essays will be accepted from any person in any field, and submissions from non-US participants are welcomed.
  • Up to two people may coauthor an essay entry.
  • Participants may submit only one entry to the competition.
  • Essays must be original, unpublished, and not subject to publication elsewhere.
  • Essays will not exceed 1,500 words.
  • Use the standard submission guidelines for the Modern War Institute.
  • Email your entry to [email protected] with “ Recruiting Essay Competition ” in the subject line. Once submitted, no edits, corrections, or changes are allowed.
  • Submission deadline: essays will be accepted until 11:59 PM EDT on September 3, 2023.

Selection Process

Submissions will be reviewed and evaluated by a team from the Modern War Institute and TRADOC. Submissions will be assessed based on how well and creatively they address the topic of the contest and provoke further thought and conversation, as well as their suitability for publication by the Modern War Institute (e.g., style, sources, accessibility, etc.). Evaluation criteria include:

  • Does the essay clearly define a problem and present a solution?
  • Does the essay show thoughtful analysis?
  • Does the essay inject new provocative thinking or address areas where there needs to be more discussion?
  • Does the essay demonstrate a unique approach or improve current initiatives?
  • Does the essay take lessons from history and apply them to today’s challenges?
  • Is the essay logically organized, well written, and persuasive?

Winning Submissions

The top three essays will be announced publicly and will be published by the Modern War Institute. Depending on the evaluation of the Modern War Institute editorial team, revisions may be required before publication.

Additionally, the authors of the top submissions with senior leaders from TRADOC and the US Army’s Recruiting Command. Furthermore, TRADOC will review all essays to support the Army’s recruiting efforts.

Image credit: Spc. Kelsea Cook, Indiana National Guard

B.C.

Although I am not much of an essay writer, perhaps the thesis, etc.. that I provide below will allow someone — who is a decent essay writer — to develop and provide a good essay for this competition. Here goes:

First, the essay prompt/question: "What novel approaches can the United States military employ to solve the recruiting crisis?"

Next, the proposed answer to this such essay prompt/question:

In order for the United States military to solve its current recruiting problems, the United States military must become able — in some way, shape or form — to better assure potential military recruits — and their families and friends — that they (these potential military recruits) will now (a) be less likely to be used to prosecute unnecessary, improper, ill-advised and/or ill-conceived and executed engagements and wars and, thus, will now (b) be less likely to find themselves in a position to be badly injured and/or killed in such unnecessary, improper, ill-advised, etc., engagements and wars.

(Herein to note that this such thesis and approach takes direct aim at the our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan of late and, thus, potentially gets directly to the/a true "root cause" of our current recruiting problems?)

It is not so much the fact that potential military recruits — and their families and friends — are unlikely to join/want their children and friends to join because they understand that these children and/or friends might get seriously injured and/or kill while engaged in our military profession.

Rather it is the fact that these such potential military recruits — and their families and friends — are unlikely to join/want their children and friends to join because they see the trend (think Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) wherein these such injuries and deaths were/are incurred in what now is considered to be unnecessary, improper, ill-advised and/or ill-conceived and executed engagements and wars.

(Herein, it will be important to address the "common nature" of these such unnecessary, improper, Ill-advised, etc., engagements and wars — this being — that they were ultimately undertaken to achieve "revolutionary" political, economic, social and value "change" in the states and societies of the world — that is — states and societies in the world who are most different from ultra-modern "us.")

Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

Today's recruiting problems, thus I believe, can be traced to the fact that our potential military recruits — and their families and friends — :

a. Do not agree with the "transformative" political objective of the United States post-the Old Cold War and/or:

b. Do not agree with the manner (war; military engagement) in which the U.S. has chosen to pursue this such — "transformative" — post-Cold War political objective.

Dan F

B.C I believe after reading this long-winded comment. That you have a problem with Americas terrible policy and foreign policy decisions. You of course would be correct. For the same reasons they can't figure out foreign policy, our leaders can't figure out Retention and Recruitment problems. In both cases the American people are becoming aware that little of the decisions being made are done to benefit the country as a whole. Instead, they are to line the pockets of certain individuals and companies. For example, the Ukraine conflict, Billions of taxpayer dollars for no strategic goal or benefit. This coming off the back side of 20 years of Iraq and Afghanistan which obviously served little purpose at this point. Where is Kurdistan? Was Dick Chaney ever charged? There are many more such examples. But to your original point, I would believe that contest submissions would need to limit the material to only what the military itself could do to correct the recruitment shortfalls.

Bryan

Don't worry. I wrote a very direct but elligent version of thus. You're welcome. Shoot me an email if you want it, [email protected]

Willie Gillespie

Bring back the 6 month active duty with 4 years active reserve and free college education.

Ben

So, when it is time to combat, they will retreat with the excuse that I got in to get the college, not to go to war. My father (RIP) lived this cluster, and it was ridiculous seen young men and women played the Army. My son and I did active duty, did the required services, and every time that we hear the national anthem "of the land of the brave", we meant it. We never embrace college free benefits to defend our nation. and money

Justin

If you would like access to at least 250 papers on this topic get with the Sergeants Major Academy. Class 73 wrote a lot on this topic between white paper, capstone papers, and possibly a focus papers.

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Catholic Education

Religious liberty essay contest.

  • @USCCBCatholicEd

Witnesses to Freedom 

USCCB Religious Liberty Essay Contest 2024

thomas-more-270x200.jpg

Share the story of a witness to freedom.  Choose one person (or group, such as an organization or community) who is important in the story of freedom.  Was there a key moment in the person’s life that bears witness to freedom?  Or was it the life as a whole?  Did the person articulate important concepts for religious freedom, and if so, what arguments did she or he make?  Why is this person a witness to religious freedom? What lessons can we learn from this person’s witness? 

Please include a bibliography.  Any reference style is acceptable as long as it is consistent throughout the document.  Essays should be no longer than 1,100 words . 

The first-place essay will be published  Our Sunday Visitor , and the author will be awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

Second place will receive a $1,000 scholarship, and third place will receive a $500 scholarship.

Submissions

Essays are due March 29, 2024 .  Winners will be announced in May.

Please complete the consent form and include with submission .

Email submissions  [email protected] .

See contest rules for details .

essay contest ideas

About OSV Institute

Our Sunday Visitor Institute seeks to Serve the Church by inspiring and encouraging innovative and effective Church-related programs and activities.  Learn more at www.osvinstitute.com .

Past Winners

First place:  Little Strokes Fell Great Oaks: The Story of the Littlest Witness , by  Sofia Cornicelli

Second place:  Joy at the Guillotine , by  Cara Magliochetti

Third place:  Saint Justin: Philosopher, Apologist, and Martyr , by  Margaret Nornberg

Highest participation: Bethlehem Catholic High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

First place: Father Anthony Kohlmann: An Early witness to Religious Liberty , by  Elizabeth Bernadette Rudolph

Second place: St. Thomas Becket: The Witness in the Cathedral , by  John Douglas Hill

Third place: Nijole Sadunaite: A Radiance of Freedom , by  Paul Liulevicius

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  4. Essay Writing Contest at EssaysCapital.com

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  5. 2020 Student Essay Contest prompt

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COMMENTS

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