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10 Awesome Essay Competitions for High School Students

Whether you’re interested in STEM or the humanities, if you are a high school student looking to bolster your college applications and resumes, be sure to check out these essay competitions! These competitions provide you with a platform to express your ideas, enhance your writing skills, and demonstrate your ability to think critically and creatively about various topics. Engaging in such contests not only sharpens your writing but also allows you to explore and articulate your thoughts on a range of subjects, showcasing your depth of knowledge and interest in broader worldly issues. 


Winning or even just participating in these competitions can add significant value to your college applications. It highlights your initiative and intellectual curiosity, qualities that colleges and universities deeply value. Essay competitions also often come with accolades, scholarships, or opportunities to have your work published, further bolstering your academic profile. 


In this blog, we cover 10 amazing essay competitions for high school students.


Deadline: January 12

Eligibility: All high school students are eligible

Prize: Grand prize of $10,000 cash award. If the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation holds the 2024 Profile in Courage Award event in person, the winner and her/his/their family will be invited to travel to Boston to accept her/his/their award in May 2024. Travel and lodging expenses will be paid for the trip to Boston for the winning student and her/his/their parents.


The Profile in Courage Essay Contest, hosted by the JFK Presidential Library, allows you to showcase your writing skills and your understanding of political courage. This contest challenges you to write an original and creative essay that reflects your grasp of the concept of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in his book, "Profiles in Courage." You are tasked with exploring an act of political courage by a U.S. elected official who served during or after 1917, the year of Kennedy's birth. Your essay, with a word limit of 1,000 and a minimum of 700 words, excluding citations and bibliography, should not only describe the act but also delve into a detailed analysis of the obstacles, risks, and consequences associated with it. By participating in this contest, you are not just demonstrating your writing and analytical abilities; you are also engaging with important themes in American political history and contributing to the discourse on leadership and moral courage.


Winning the Profile in Courage Essay Contest comes with significant recognition and a substantial reward – a $10,000 cash award. This accolade is not only a testament to your academic and creative abilities but also a noteworthy achievement that can enhance your college applications and resumes. Moreover, the act of researching and writing about a U.S. elected official's courageous act allows you to delve into the intricacies of political decision-making and leadership. For tips on how to win, check out this article!


Deadline: April 1

Eligibility: All high students whose parents are not in the Foreign Service

Prize: $2,500 to the writer of the winning essay, in addition to an all-expense paid trip to the nation’s capital from anywhere in the U.S. for the winner and his or her parents, and an all-expense paid educational voyage courtesy of Semester at Sea.


The AFSA's National High School Essay Contest is a prestigious competition organized jointly by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). This annual contest is designed to engage you in learning and writing about critical issues related to peace and conflict, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy in building partnerships for peacebuilding and protecting national security. Whether or not you have a background or family connection to the Foreign Service, this contest is open to you, offering a platform to explore and express your views on international relations and the vital role of diplomatic efforts. The challenge is to craft an essay that not only reflects depth of thought but also demonstrates a clear understanding of the complex dynamics of international diplomacy and peacekeeping.


If you win, you will receive a $2,500 cash prize, an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., and a remarkable opportunity to enroll in the Semester at Sea Program with a full scholarship for one semester, contingent upon your admission to an accredited university. This experience offers an unparalleled opportunity to gain a global perspective, traveling the world while engaging in a rigorous academic program. The runner-up is also rewarded with a cash prize of $1,250 and a full scholarship to the National Student Leadership Conference's International Diplomacy Program, which is another exceptional avenue to deepen your understanding of global diplomacy and leadership. For a deep dive into this contest, check out this article!


Deadline: May 19

Eligibility: US citizens and US-based young people who are between the ages of 13 and 19 and enrolled in middle or high school

Prize: $10,000


The We the Students Essay Contest, sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, is an opportunity for you to dive into the world of civic understanding and appreciation. As a participant, you will explore the intricacies of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, understanding not just their historical context but also their relevance in today's world. The contest challenges you to articulate your thoughts and arguments effectively, fostering a deeper understanding of the principles that underpin American democracy. By engaging in this essay contest, you will not only enhance your writing and critical thinking skills but also deepen your understanding of the foundational concepts of rights and liberties. 


The grand prize winner will receive $5,000, a significant financial boost that acknowledges the quality of their work, in addition to a scholarship to the Constitutional Academy. Moreover, six runners-up will each be awarded $1,250, and eight honorable mentions will receive $500 each, ensuring that a range of participants are recognized and rewarded for their efforts. Eligibility for this contest extends to citizens or legal residents of the United States between the ages of 14 and 19, encompassing a broad spectrum of high school students. Participating in this contest is an opportunity to engage with critical issues surrounding individual rights and societal needs. For a deep dive into this contest, check out this article!


Deadline: February 1

Eligibility: Students in grades 3-12

Prize: Grand prize of $1,000


The Engineer Girl Annual Essay Contest allows you to showcase your understanding of engineering's role in the world. Each year, this contest focuses on different aspects of engineering and its impact on our daily lives, challenging students to research and write about these topics creatively and informatively. Prize money of up to $500 is available, serving as a great incentive and recognition for your hard work and creativity. Participating in this contest is not just about winning prizes; it's also an opportunity to deepen your understanding of engineering concepts and their practical applications. As a high school student, engaging in this competition allows you to explore and articulate the significance of engineering in everyday life, enhancing your research and writing skills in the process.


For the 2024 EngineerGirl Writing Contest, the challenge is to write an essay exploring the lifecycle of an object that you use in your daily life. This topic prompts you to think critically about the products around you, from their creation and use to their eventual disposal or recycling. It's an invitation to consider the broader environmental, economic, and social impacts of these objects, reflecting on how engineering contributes to every stage of their lifecycle. The word limit for submissions varies depending on your grade level. Whether you are in elementary, middle, or high school, the contest is tailored to your level of education, ensuring that the challenge is appropriate and engaging. This contest is an excellent way for you to bridge the gap between technical understanding and expressive writing, skills that are invaluable in both academic and professional settings.


Deadline: June 1

Eligibility: All high school students are eligible

Prize: $1,000 scholarship, plus free registration and two nights’ lodging for JASNA’s upcoming Annual General Meeting


If you have an interest in literature, the Jane Austen Society Essay Contest is a great opportunity for you. By entering this contest, you have the chance to win up to $1,000 by crafting an essay on a specified topic related to Jane Austen's novels. The 2024 contest topic presents a particularly intriguing challenge: you are to engage in a formal debate-style discussion on the resolution, "That Jane Austen’s novels are still relevant and speak to us after 200 years." This approach requires you to first attack this claim, scrutinizing and challenging the relevance of Austen's works in the modern context. Then, in the second part of your essay, you will shift gears to defend this claim, highlighting the enduring significance and impact of Austen's novels. As a participant, you will also receive a year of membership to the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) and a collection of Norton Critical Editions of Austen's novels, enriching your literary journey.


To excel in this contest, you will need to demonstrate a deep understanding of Austen’s works, backing up your positions with quotations and examples from at least one of her novels. This requirement not only tests your knowledge of Austen's literature but also your ability to engage with the text in a meaningful and analytical manner. Citing Austen’s unfinished works is also permitted. This contest is not just about showcasing your writing skills; it's an opportunity to delve deeply into the literary world of Jane Austen, exploring how her novels, written over 200 years ago, continue to resonate in the contemporary world. The winning essays will be featured on the JASNA website, providing you with a platform to share your insights with a wider audience of Austen enthusiasts and literary scholars. For tips on how to win, check out this article!


Deadline: March 2024

Eligibility: All high schools students are eligible

Prize: $1,000 for student and $1,000 genetics materials grant


The ASHG's DNA Day Essay Contest is a fascinating opportunity for you to explore and deepen your understanding of genetics. DNA Day, celebrated to commemorate the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003 and the discovery of the double helix of DNA in 1953, serves as the backdrop for this contest. Open to students in grades 9-12 worldwide, the contest asks you to examine, question, and reflect on key concepts in genetics. The 2024 question focuses on the complex interplay between genetics and the environment in shaping human health. You are challenged to provide an example of how this interaction can influence diseases or health conditions. This task requires not only a deep understanding of scientific concepts related to genetics but also the ability to reason and argue effectively. 


If your essay is selected as the first-place winner, you will receive a $1,000 prize. In addition, a $1,000 genetics materials grant is awarded, providing further support for your academic or research pursuits. The contest is evaluated by ASHG members through three rounds of scoring, ensuring a fair and thorough review of your work. Participating in this contest not only offers the chance for monetary rewards but also allows you to showcase your understanding of genetics to a panel of experts. This exposure can be invaluable, especially if you are considering a future career in genetics, medicine, or a related field. For tips on how to win, check out this article!


Deadline: May 31

Eligibility: All high school students are eligible

Prize: $2000 towards the cost of attending any John Locke Institute programme, and the essays will be published on the Institute's website


The John Locke Institute Essay Competition is designed to encourage young people like you to develop the qualities that define great writers and thinkers: independent thought, depth of knowledge, clear reasoning, critical analysis, and persuasive style. By entering this competition, you are not just participating in an academic exercise; you are stepping into an arena that challenges you to think deeply and critically about a range of complex and thought-provoking questions. These questions span across various disciplines, offering you the freedom to explore areas of interest in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, History, Psychology, Theology, and Law. This competition is an excellent way for you to delve into topics that fascinate you, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of these subjects. 


Engaging in the John Locke Institute Essay Competition is more than just an academic endeavor; it is a chance to have your work evaluated by some of the most distinguished academics from renowned universities, including Oxford and Princeton. This not only provides you with invaluable feedback but also gives you a sense of the standards expected at the highest levels of academia. The competition is divided into several categories, ensuring that students of different ages and interests can participate and be recognized for their work. The judges will select a favorite essay from each subject category, as well as a junior category for those under 15, before choosing an overall 'best essay' across all subjects. Whether you win a prize or not, the experience gained from participating in the John Locke Institute Essay Competition is invaluable, setting you apart as a critical thinker and a persuasive writer. For tips on how to win, check out this article!


Deadline: June 10

Eligibility: Students ages 11-18 who are enrolled in middle school or high school (or the homeschool equivalent) worldwide.

Prize: Grand prize of $1,000


The 13th annual Ocean Awareness Contest offers you, a student aged 11-18, a unique platform to express your concerns and perspectives on environmental issues through the lens of art and creativity. The 2024 contest theme, "Tell Your Climate Story," invites you to become a climate witness, sharing your personal experiences, insights, or perceptions about the rapidly changing climate. This is more than just a competition; it's an opportunity for you to explore your relationship with the world as it evolves due to climate change. By participating in this contest, you are encouraged to delve into the impacts of the climate crisis on your family, community, and personal life. This is your chance to creatively express how these changes are affecting you and your surroundings. 


Depending on your age at the time of entry, you can enter either the Junior Division (age 11-14) or the Senior Division (age 15-18). This ensures that your work is evaluated alongside peers in a similar age range, making the competition fair and encouraging. You have the flexibility to participate as an individual or as part of a club, class, or group, allowing for collaborative as well as individual expressions of creativity. Your participation in this contest can be a significant step towards becoming a more informed and active environmental advocate. For tips on how to win, check out this article!


Deadline: February 19

Eligibility: All high school students are eligible

Prize: Scholarship awards are provided,


The SPJ/JEA High School Essay Contest, sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association, is a great opportunity for you to contemplate the crucial role of the press in American society. You will be tasked with writing an essay, between 300 and 500 words, that explores the interconnectedness of media literacy and democracy. This topic is especially relevant in today's digital age, where the media plays a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and democracy. The challenge lies in proposing top strategies to engage people of all ages with media literacy and democracy, a task that will require you to think critically and creatively about the current media landscape and its impact on democratic processes. 


Entering the SPJ/JEA High School Essay Contest is a chance for you to showcase your writing skills and your understanding of media literacy's role in supporting democracy. The competition is open to students in grades 9 through 12 across the United States, with a registration fee of just $5. The first-place winner receives a $1,000 scholarship, second-place a $500 award, and third-place a $300 prize. Participating in this contest is more than just a chance to win a scholarship; it's an opportunity to contribute to an important conversation about media literacy and its crucial role in a democratic society.


Deadline: November 6

Eligibility: Open to all high school, college, and graduate students worldwide.

Prize: Grand prize of $10,000


The Atlas Shrugged novel essay contest offers you a unique opportunity to delve into the provocative and philosophically rich world of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." This contest is open to students globally and challenges you to engage deeply with Rand's heroic mystery novel by choosing one of the provided prompts to write an 800-1,600 word essay in English. Your essay will require you to critically analyze and interpret the novel's concepts, making connections to your own experiences or societal observations. This is a chance to not only showcase your understanding of one of the 20th century’s most influential novels but also to express your own perspectives and insights in a well-crafted essay.


The contest boasts a generous first prize of $10,000, along with three second prizes of $2,000, five third prizes of $1,000, 25 finalist awards of $100, and 50 semifinalist prizes of $50. With entry being free, this contest is an accessible way for you to demonstrate your analytical and writing skills while competing for noteworthy awards. This experience will not only enhance your critical thinking and writing skills but also provide you with a deeper understanding of Rand's influential ideas, potentially shaping your perspectives on literature and philosophy. 


One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you would like to further enhance your applications, you should also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. 


Jessica attends Harvard University where she studies Neuroscience and Computer Science as a Coca-Cola, Elks, and Albert Shankar Scholar. She is passionate about educational equity and hopes to one day combine this with her academic interests via social entrepreneurship. Outside of academics, she enjoys taking walks, listening to music, and running her jewelry business! 


Image Source: Profile in Courage

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